by Aaron Cloud
In the book of Romans Paul reminds us of the reality that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin, or what we rightly deserve because of our sin against God, is death and separation relationally from God. However, the good news of the Christian faith is that we are all “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). In other words, in Christ we are offered forgiveness of our sins and an invitation to a new life in Christ. The new life we have in Christ is one in which we have been set free from sin and death (Romans 6:11)!
The new life that we have in Jesus means that we are no longer who we used to be. Our old self, and our old life, is put to death and we are transformed and made new. Paul says this in a striking way in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” This invitation into new life in Christ is not something that we receive passively but rather we are invited into a new way of living. In short, our lives will never be the same! As Paul describes this process in Ephesians 4, he encourages followers of Christ to “put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words we are to live out of the truth of who we are becoming in Christ.
So here is the core question: How do we live into this new life?
Respond to the invitation of Jesus
New life in Jesus is not something that we do on our own strength. Rather, it is Jesus who makes us new. Romans 6:6 tells us that our old self was done away with, it was crucified with Christ. This means step one is acknowledging who Jesus is—the Son of God—and His sacrifice for us, and responding to this by putting our faith in Him.
Reflect: Have you responded to Jesus' call to follow Him? In not, in prayer offer your life to Jesus, confessing that you are a sinner and need His grace and forgiveness. If you are a Christ-follower spend a moment in prayer thanking God that He has set you free and for the new person He is creating you to be!
Responding to Jesus call to follow Him means that we must surrender our lives to Him. Jesus then is not only our Savior but is the Lord of our life as well. He sets the agenda of our lives. This means that there are old habits and patterns of living that must be confessed and surrendered to Jesus.
Practice: Read through Colossians 3:5-11. Which of these old life characteristics are present in your life and need to be confessed and put to death? In prayer ask Jesus to help you put to death the old life practices and dispositions that Paul mentions.
Cultivate New Practices
Living out our new life in Christ also involves the cultivation of new practices, new ways of living and new dispositions as we actively pursue a relationship with Jesus. The following are key components that we can proactively build into our lives:
Spiritual Disciplines: Such as prayer, reading the Bible and corporate worship become key means of knowing Christ more and opening our lives to his ongoing work of transformation in us.
Practice: HERE is a list of more disciplines. Read through the list and pick a discipline to implement in your spiritual journey.
Develop New Habits
In the daily course of life there are new ways that Jesus calls us to live. in Colossians 3:12-17 Paul describes these habits and dispositions as a new way of living in Jesus.
Read Colossians 3:12-17. What habits and new ways of living need to be cultivated in your life?
Engage in Christian Community
It is vital in our relationship with Jesus to make gathering in Christian community a core practice in our lives. Hebrews 10:24-25 highlights the importance of being a part of Christian community: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Weekly communal worship becomes a place where we can encourage one another and continue to learn and grow in our faith journey.
Reflect: Are you actively engaged in Christian community? How has it been a blessing and encouragement in your faith journey?
God has made each one of us with unique gifts and personalities. As we follow Jesus, He calls us to offer our lives and our gifts and talents in service to Him. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us that “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” As we serve we not only become a blessing to others but serving becomes a means of spiritual growth and maturity in our lives.
Reflect: What talents and abilities has God blessed you with? How might you serve others with your gifts, talents and abilities?
by Steve Norby
I eagerly anticipate two major times of the year. First is Christmas. Each year, we get an opportunity to enter into the wonder of the birth of God’s Son. God showed up in flesh and made Himself known. I love the sights and sounds of Christmas. Personally, Vicki and I are now making it an annual event to travel to Falls Park in Sioux Falls each December and enjoy the light show they have there. When I think of Christmas, it’s full of joy and nostalgia.
The second time of year I find myself anticipating is Easter. Easter is the rest of the story. God not only showed up in flesh—He came with a divine purpose. He came to atone for sin by His sacrifice on the cross. When I think of Easter, it’s a bit different from Christmas. This is the happiest sad story ever told. It’s so sad that the perfect Son of God had to be crucified for our wrongs. But the resurrection of Jesus that follows His crucifixion and His pain turns sadness into joy. It’s a sad story with a happy ending.
I watched, with amazement, the births of our six children. Each time, the moments leading up to delivery were full of pain and anxiousness. But, once the child was born, everything changed so quickly. The pain was soon forgotten (easy for me to say!), replaced with great joy.
This is why I call Easter the happiest sad story ever. There’s so much suffering in the passion of Jesus, but once the Resurrection happens, there is great joy. I think we humans tend to experience joy when we see a wrong righted or the unlikely succeed. As I consider the joy of the Resurrection, I think its source goes way beyond reasons like these. It was such a tangible demonstration of the power of God. Jesus says in John 10 that He has the power to lay down His life and the power to take it up again. When I see this power of God unleashed, it causes me to rejoice.
Recently, Vicki and I traveled to Nevada for a conference, and we spent some extra time in the area taking in some sights. One afternoon, we went to the Hoover Dam. You can walk across a sidewalk that’s part of a highway bridge, which overlooks the dam to provide a full view of it. It is so massive. It fills your view.
When you read about the construction of the dam, you realize what a huge endeavor it was to build. It contains large electric turbines that produce and supply power to the Las Vegas area. I looked at that dam, and the word power stuck in my mind—a source of great power. For a few moments on that bridge, as I stared at the dam, I marveled at the accomplishment. It was a moment of rejoicing in this significant accomplishment of others.
When I think of the Resurrection, Power was at work. The grave could not contain Jesus. The power of God prevailed, and Jesus was raised. The power of God to raise the dead brings joy to me. I cannot stand up against my enemy Death, but God can. The bullies on the block, sin and death, have met their match.
The Bible tells us the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. The older I get, the more meaningful this has become to me. Death has lost its sting. Death has lost its grip on me. God’s power at work in me brings me great joy.
As I reflect on Easter, I love the progression of Holy Week. We go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the grief of Good Friday as we remember Jesus’ crucifixion. And then we go back to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning!
This was the emotional roller coaster experienced by those present with Jesus. It’s good for us to remember this. I have to admit that even in the dark moment of a Good Friday service, the joy of the Lord is rumbling in my soul—because I know and celebrate that the same power at work in raising Jesus from the dead is at work in me. (Ephesians 1:19-20)
by Aaron Cloud
This winter in South Dakota was long and seemingly unrelenting. Spring felt like a distant hope as we navigated the cold, dark winter days. In many ways, the rhythm of the seasons provides a powerful reminder of the God we serve, and His redemptive work on our behalf.
This month, we entered a season in the Church’s calendar known as Lent. The term Lent comes from an old Anglo Saxon word, lencten, which means spring. In historical Christian worship, Lent referred to the 40 days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter.
Traditionally, these 40 days before Easter were a time of intense preparation for new believers who would be baptized on Easter Sunday. This preparation involved prayer, fasting, reflection, and anticipation of the coming baptism. The 40 days of Lent also commemorate Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert, mentioned in Matthew 4:1-11. Today, Christians continue to observe Lent as a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when, in some practices, ashes are placed on the foreheads of Christian believers. The ashes have two key symbolic elements. First, in Scripture, ashes are a symbol of repentance and mourning—a reminder of our sinfulness before God. Second, ashes are a symbol of our mortality. In an Ash Wednesday service, ashes are applied to a person’s forehead, accompanied with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So, let’s go back and think about the rhythm of the seasons I mentioned previously. Winter is a time when the world experiences a sort of death. Trees, plants, and fields lie fallow as vegetation dies off or goes dormant. Later, spring—and the refreshing rains that come with it—bring a time of restored and renewed life. In the dark depths of winter, the hope of spring is anticipated... hoped for... longed for.
Similarly, in Lent, we’re reminded of our sinfulness, and the death sin brings. We’re reminded of our need of a Savior, and we’re reminded of Jesus’ brutal death on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. However, in the season of Lent, when we practice prayerful reflection, we also cultivate a deep sense of hope and anticipation, as we look toward Easter and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. With the renewal of life in spring, we’re reminded that we serve a God Who brings life where death reigned—Who conquered sin through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
How might we engage this Lenten season in a meaningful way? Here are some practices to consider.
Fasting: Fasting means denying one’s self for the purpose of focusing on spiritual connection with God. We give up something we enjoy, in order to focus that time on cultivating an awareness of God’s presence. Fasting also cultivates anticipation as we look toward Easter, when we will again engage in that which we gave up for Lent. Believers might choose from a wide range of things to fast from, such as food, social media, sweets, etc.
Reflection on sin and death: Lent is a time to reflect on our lives and our spiritual condition. We might ask ourselves questions such as, Where is sin still present in my life? or What areas have I not surrendered to God?
Reflection on Jesus’ death on the cross: Lent is a season in which we’re reminded that our sins bring about serious consequences. As we focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, we appreciate the gravity of the lengths God will go to on our behalf, and the sacrifice He deemed necessary to save us before we even knew Him.
Anticipation of the Resurrection: Lent is also a season in which we look forward to the resurrection of Christ on Easter. The Resurrection is the great hope of our faith—knowing Jesus not only died for our sin, but rose again so we may be alive in Him, conquering sin and death for eternity.
Prayer and reading: Lenten observance often includes intentional moments of prayer and daily Scripture readings, as a way of focusing our reflection on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
How are you engaging in prayerful reflection this Lenten season? As we wade through the last, waning days of winter, slogging through the cold and dark, and as we experience a longing for spring and warmth, may this anticipation be a reminder of our spiritual life—that when we were dead, God brought us life! And may we have a deepening desire to walk in relationship with Jesus, as we look forward to celebrating His resurrection on Easter.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, an early preacher, wrote a sermon on the Gospel of John, which reads in part:
“The text, ‘God so loved the world,’ shows such an intensity of love. For great indeed and infinite is the distance between the two. The immortal, the infinite majesty without beginning or end loved those who were but dust and ashes, who were loaded with ten thousand sins but remained ungrateful even as they constantly offended Him. This is who He ‘loved.’ For God did not give a servant, or an angel or even an archangel, ‘but His only begotten Son.’ And yet no one would show such anxiety even for his own child as God did for His ungrateful servants… He laid down His life for us and poured forth His precious blood for our sake.”
“How Do You Observe Lent?” https://www.wesleyan.org/how-do-you-observe-lent-6102
“Mark: A Devotional for Lent” https://resources.wesleyan.org/mark-devotional-lent
by Dave Hopewell and Serenity Miller
“What’s love got to do with it?” asks ’80s-era singer/songwriter Tina Turner. It’s a question I often found myself pondering following Valentine's Day, a day dedicated to expressing our love to those we care about.
Back when I coached volleyball, I’d have each member of our team share about themselves during a 30-minute session. When they were finished sharing, the rest of us could ask questions during the remaining time. My favorite was to ask, “How would you define love?” After hearing some of the responses, I began to realize the complexity of the word—or rather, our complicated understandings of the word.
Take a second. How would you define love? (Pastor Jessey would take this a step further and ask how you would explain it to a child.)
Would you define love based on your emotions, your experiences, or what you think is the right answer? As the song lyrics indicate, Ms. Turner would continue to lament love, taking the emotional reaction route: Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken…
Love can be tricky. There’s risk involved. Some prefer to play it safe. Why would we even try the “game,” when we could end up heartbroken? (Apparently having played and lost, another ’80s artist came to the title conclusion, “Love Stinks.”) Ultimately, we’ll only be able to reckon with our yearning for love when we can define love on God’s terms.
To believe “love is good,” we have to throw out many jaded affections and add the modifier: love, as God intends it, is good. But there are plenty of skewed understandings out there about the meaning of love—and our sense of entitlement to “the love we deserve.” There’s a book by John D. Moore called Confusing Love with Obsession: When Being in Love Means Being in Control, which says a lot in the title alone.
Simply put, a lot of what we call “love” is not “good,” and not really “love” at all. Biblically, love is self-giving, oriented toward the wellbeing and enjoyment of another. Culturally, our definition is broken—we think of love more in terms of what we get, rather than what we give. Consequently, relationships all over the world are driven by fear, pride, and self-centeredness, as people worry about getting “enough,” getting “more,” and losing what we’ve “got."
Now, to be clear, our basic desires are not “bad.” We want to meet, associate, and procreate, and we’d like to be reasonably comfortable while we do it. “We all certainly desire to live happily,” early church philosopher Augustine wrote, “and there is no human being but assents to this statement almost before it is made.” That’s not wrong. God did not design us to live lonely, ascetic existences. And God never asks us to completely ignore all of our desires, but to desire the edification of others more than the edification of ourselves.
If we allow love to be defined from our own worldview, then it’s easy to end up with a narrow perspective of love. Then love is something that makes us “feel good”. It’s using another person to fill the holes in our lives. It’s a desire to live happily, contingent on other people meeting our expectations. And when we allow love to be defined through the actions of fallen humanity, we’ll always be disappointed.
Jesus takes our perspective of love and turns it upside down. He shows us love has nothing to do with getting what we want from other people, but everything to do with giving it away!
Look at the famous “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13. Brother Paul lays out a beautiful ode to love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (v. 4), and the beat goes on.
Consider the beauty of the love described here. Now consider that Paul’s teaching isn’t meant to evoke fantasies about what love does for us, but a picture of what it can make us. Surely we’d all like to receive such love, but this passage is about how we are to give such love! Paul says if we go through all the right motions, “but do not have love” (v. 3), we gain nothing. In context here, he isn’t referring to having the love of others, but having love for others. It’s not about “getting”—it’s about “giving.”
Read the list of virtues in v. 4-7 once more. These are all attitudes and actions of submission, serving, and surrender. We can choose to be patient. We can choose to be respectful and courteous. We can choose to stop keeping score. Kindness and humility are gifts we can offer every day—to our closest companions, and to complete strangers!
But what about when love hurts? Disillusionment about love can creep up when others crush our expectations about what love is and what it should do for us. We may even experience this the most with the people we love the most—those we allow “in” and let down our guard around. We’ve given our closest loved ones a front-row seat to our lives, and their opinion matters more than anyone else’s—and that means they can hurt us like no one else can!
I try to explain this in our pre-marriage seminars, but I find it staggering to explain the complexity of marriage when so many relationships are already primarily plagued by disillusionment about love. Henri Nouwen explains it this way: “The mystery of [love] is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.” Human love is not the standard to which we aspire. To truly understand and appreciate love, we look to the source. And we are not the source of love. God is.
To express Himself, God shows us countless examples of love in Scripture, His Spirit-breathed love letter to us. Consider our current Sunday sermon series exploring the Minor Prophets. There’s a reason this series is subtitled Because of His Love. Through these books, we see the character of a relentless God pursuing His beloved. We see God’s character of love praised through generations of prophetic voices, prefacing God’s ultimate expression of love through the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ. We're pointed toward the image of the invisible God, seeing God’s love demonstrated exponentially in the New Testament, illustrated by grace on top of grace. As image-bearers ourselves, then, we love with the love of God shed abroad in our hearts—love as God intends it. In 1 John 4:7, we read the call clearly: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
To know “how” to love, we begin responding to the one who IS love! Knowing who God is and what He has done tells us who we are and what we’re to do. You are God’s beloved. And because you are loved, you can love as Christ loves. Ask Him to move your heart. Ask for the tenderness to fall in love with His Word, become devoted in prayer & learn to serve others. Make it your ambition to give love away, instead of trying to get it for yourself—and just see if you find you have love!
Author Donald Miller envisions how our lives would change if we lived this way: “Imagine how a man’s life would be if he trusted that he was loved by God. How he could interact with the poor and not show partiality, he could love his wife easily and not expect her to redeem him, he would be slow to anger because redemption was no longer at stake, he could be wise and giving with his money because money no longer represented points, he could give up on formulaic religion, knowing that checking stuff off a spiritual to-do list was a worthless pursuit, he would have confidence and the ability to laugh at himself, and he could love people without expecting anything in return. It would be quite beautiful, really.”
So the question becomes… now what? How do we become givers instead of takers? I’m going to say, against Tina Turner’s misgivings, that love has everything to do with it!
This week, read 1 Corinthians 13, asking God to search your heart. Then reflect on the following questions:
* How do you define love?
* Which attitude or action of love do you struggle with the most?
* Do you trust that you are loved by God? How does this change the way you live your life?
New Year’s Resolutions vs. Year-Round Discipline
by Serenity Miller
"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline… He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:7, 9)
So, how 'bout them New Year’s resolutions? Some surveys say four out of five people will break their resolutions, and a third of them will do so in the first month! While the beginning of a new year comes with a new sense of motivation (like starting a GracePoint blog—yay!), what does it take to follow through the rest of the year?
In short, the answer is discipline, but we’re not exactly born with that. If we were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! Maybe some people can wake up one day and say, “I’m gonna get in shape this year” and actually do it, but for most of us, there’s a difference between the idea of making resolutions and the disciplined process of setting attainable goals.
Earlier this month, The Wesleyan Church posted “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” https://www.wesleyan.org/10-personal-questions-to-start-2019-well Looking at all of this potential, where do we start? Author Dan Reiland states, "My advice is not to make a list too long. That can be overwhelming. If you do make a long list, then prioritize it and start with a short list of the most important things first.”
I don’t know about you, but I like to have a goal. I have long-term goals, short-term goals, in-between goals… and about every six months or so, I end up re-evaluating, re-prioritizing, and re-focusing on the goals that are most important. Otherwise, I can lose track and never make much progress on any goals. We can’t do everything all at once! So I’m continuously re-learning to start with one thing, and focus on doing one thing well, before adding another thing.
That ties in with our Big 3 philosophy about starting points for church connection...
This can feel frustrating at first, when we want to get involved, make a difference, and see big changes right away. We want to go all in! But discipline builds on itself. Discipline in one area of life builds discipline into other areas of life.
So, how do we decide which goals are the most important? Sometimes, God leads me to set a major life goal that determines many decisions and takes years to accomplish (like ordained ministry, a 2020 goal set way back in 2013). Other times, though, I hear myself throwing around a lot of vague, guilt-based, half-hearted goals, like “I really need to start working out again” or “I’ve really gotta work on that savings account” or “We should really stop eating out so much." When I catch myself, I have to stop and ask, “Am I honoring the Lord in this area of my life?”
Then it’s not about how I feel or what I want or what you think I should do. Then it's about being called to honor the Lord with my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), be faithful with the resources He’s given me (Luke 16:10-11), and encourage others to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
God’s will has a way of simplifying a lot of decisions. "Is what I'm doing honoring to God?" Yes? Well, do that, then. No? Then change that. Here’s a way to start...
Part 1: Set a SMART Goal.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost...?” (Luke 14:28)
Once you’ve identified a change that’s important enough to follow through, let’s get “SMART” about it. A reason most people fail to achieve goals is we don’t set specific goals to begin with. The advice is given so frequently it sounds cliché, but the fact is, creating a written set of goals can be a first step toward actual, tangible progress. After all, if you’ve never written down your goals, and you do that today, then you’ve already made more progress today than you have before. Ta-da!
Effective goal-setting is outlined in the SMART model:
To develop a SMART goal, don’t be afraid to dream—embrace God’s potential for your life! Now articulate...
Part 2: Create an Action Plan.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3)
When we break down a “big” goal into a series of “small” goals, change starts to look sustainable. For instance, it might feel overwhelming to say, “I want to read the whole Bible in a year.” But this is actually a quite specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal. With this SMART goal identified, an action plan provides a set of logical steps to follow. For example:
With a SMART goal broken down into an action plan (even one this simple), it doesn’t look so overwhelming after all! And the smaller we break down the action steps (for example, book by book or even chapter by chapter), the quicker we gain momentum.
To draft an action plan, first picture your end result: the completion of the goal you’ve identified, in the time you’ve set to complete it. Now, work backward from there:
Moving forward means taking the first step, then the next step after that, and the next step—and so on. So, what's the next step you can see from where you’re at right now? (Don’t worry, we’ll always be asking God to adjust the course as needed, as we go.)
Take another look at the “10 Personal Questions to Start 2019 Well.” https://www.wesleyan.org/10-personal-questions-to-start-2019-well Pray about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring your attention to an area where you need God’s help, to live in His purpose and grace. Then ask for His power to do it!
What specific, measurable, attainable, right, and time-bound goal has God given you in the year ahead?