The image of God (imago dei) – we have lost our freedom

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

“For John Wesley, the “image of God” has three interrelated dimensions.  We reflect God’s free agency in the natural image, which gives us understanding, freedom, and affections (or a disposition of the will).  We reflect God’s role in governing creation in the political image, our capacity for responsible stewardship.  Most importantly, we reflect God’s essential character in the moral image, which is love.  God is love.  ‘Accordingly, ‘ says Wesley, humanity as originally created was ‘full of love’ as the ‘sole governing principle of (all) tempers, thoughts, words and actions.'” (A Year with John Wesley and our Methodist Values by Randy Maddox et. al, page 23).

Due to our fall from grace, we no longer reflect the fullness of God’s love.  We have lost the moral image.  “Consequently, in our natural image we no longer have the freedom to love as God loves, but instead we have a disposition to put self and things we desire ahead of God and our neighbor.  Likewise, in our political image we now misgovern creation, making selfish use of that for which God intended us to care.

The good news is this:  God intends to restore us fully to the image in which we were created.  It is for that purpose Christ came; it is for that purpose the Holy Spirit is at work.  Restoring us to the fullness of love is, says Wesley, the essence of salvation.”  (Maddox et. al, p. 23)

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (by Charles Wesley)

1 Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heav’n, to earth come down,
fix in us Thy humble dwelling;
all Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
pure, unbounded love Thou art;
visit us with Thy salvation;
enter ev’ry trembling heart.

2 Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
into ev’ry troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.  (The United Methodist Hymnal, #384)

Holiness

If someone walked up to you on the streets and asked you, “Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?” you might think they were a bit crazy.  John Wesley, however, thought this was something all Christians should ask themselves.  To him, the holiness of heart and life was paramount for the Christian journey.  He understood it to be a movement toward becoming who God called us to be.  It was quite different than the insistence on a lifestyle or set of practices.  It is the embodiment of love exemplified by Christ in ones relationships with God and others.  Wesley knew that when we became free, really free, we could experience this kind of holiness.

So, today.  Here are a few questions for you.

1.  Are you truly free?  Are you free of the bonds of the world?  The guilt of actions?  The worldly desires?

2.  Is your love of God and others authentic?  Do you care more about others than yourself?

3.  Is your very character that of love or do other things such as jealousy, being judgmental, coveting things or other desires supersede your love of God and God’s children, including your enemies?

4.  Do you desire things, power, glory or God more?

Ponder these things today.

A Hymn by Charles Wesley – O COME AND DWELL WITH ME

1 O, come and dwell in me,
Spirit of power within!
And bring Thy glorious liberty
From sorrow, fear, and sin.

2 The inward, deep disease,
Spirit of health, remove!
Spirit of perfect holiness!
Spirit of perfect love!

3 Hasten the joyful day
which shall my sins consume;
when old things shall be done away,
and all things new become!

Under the Batavia Bridge

R.andom A.ct of M.ercy

On Monday evening we had a meeting for the Fourth Street/FG relationship.  While we were there one of the couples in attendance asked me about a young man who seemed homeless.  They were concerned and bought him some bagels to eat.  “He was just eating butter,” they told me and they had to do something.  Sure enough, the man was sitting in the corner and had many packets of butter opened and was eating them.  He was homeless and dirty.  When I struck up a conversation he seemed very interested in talking and sharing.  He told me how he was under the bridge in Batavia and fell asleep but someone came during his sleep and took most of his belongings.  “They weren’t much really and I guess I wasn’t really robbed because I still have the $12 that was in my pocket.”  Everything to him probably would be trash to most of us reading this, but to him, it was everything.  I told him he looked hungry and could I buy him some soup or something.  He told me that if I was sure and wanted to, he would be very happy to have some.  I asked him what kind and he said, “whatever you want.”  I pushed him to make a decision so he felt some ownership in the gift but he wanted me to decide.  So, I got him some chicken noodle.  As I was about to put my credit card into the reader, another member of the church who was there for the event hip checked me out of the way and quickly thrust his card into the reader.  “You give it to him, I got this,” he said.  When I gave the man his order ticket, he thank me and fist bumped me.  He hesitated and then opened his hand and as I reached for it, he withdrew a bit, I could tell he was nervous about something.  “I have scabs on my hands, it is ok if you don’t want to shake.”  I reached out and held his hand for a few moments.  I could feel him relax.  “Thank you thank you so much” was all he could say.  I said “bless you brother.  You are worth a lot.”

When we came back out of the meeting, he was gone.  The rains were pouring and I heard we were under flash flood warnings.  I was hoping he wasn’t under the bridge any longer and went to find shelter at Hesed or Lazarus House like I had suggested.  I did stop on the bridge to look under but he was not there.

Thank you to those of you who noticed this man and who offered your money no questions asked to feed a brother in Christ.

Ready, Set, Action

2 Corinthians 7:1 “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

Paul, in his letters to the churches, continues to remind them of the promises of God.  He proclaims the freedom of grace, the abundance of love and the forgiveness of sins.  As a response to these gifts, he calls the people to stop acting in sin and those things that counter God’s will.  Note that it is very clear that doing good works is not a way to earn the favor of God, according to Paul.  The gifts of God are free but calls for a response.

If you are nicer today, read the Bible more each day, or spend more time in prayer, is it because you hope to attain salvation of the favor of God?  Doing good works does not get you closer to God’s grace.  God’s grace is free.

The response to God’s grace of living a more holy life is one that is done to honor God for the grace given, to glorify God for the gifts we have been bestowed and to move towards a more complete creation we are to be.  When we live in the fullness we were created to be, we find clarity of purpose, joy of life and a hope for the future.

This Lenten season, move from favor dei to imago dei (living in God’s favor to living in God’s image).

Pure as an Ermine

In the forests of northern Europe and Asia lives little animal called the ermine, known for his snow-white fur in winter. He instinctively protects his white coat against anything that would soil it.

Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don’t set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his home, which is usually a cleft in a rock or a hollow in an old tree. They smear the entrance and interior with grime. Then the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward home but doesn’t enter because of the filth. Rather than soil his white coat, he is trapped by the dogs and captured while preserving his purity. For the ermine, purity is more precious than life.

As Christians, are we willing to live a life pure and holy?  Would we be willing to give up our very lives for what is right and good?

Scripture tells us, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  Matthew 16:25

Holiness

This week in worship we begin our Lenten journey with a look at holiness.

Here is a devotion from odb.org:

We often see surveys that ask people if they are happy, satisfied with their work, or enjoying life. But I’ve never seen an opinion poll that asked, “Are you holy?” How would you answer that question?

One Bible dictionary defines holiness as “separation to God and conduct fitting for those separated.” Author Frederick Buechner said that when writing about a person’s character, “nothing is harder to make real than holiness.” He adds that “holiness is not a human quality at all, like virtue. Holiness is . . . not something that people do, but something that God does in them.”

Romans 6 presents the stunning gift that God gives us through faith in Christ: “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (v.4). The pursuit of holiness occurs daily as we yield ourselves in obedience to the Lord instead of following our old ways of self-gratification. “Now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life” (v.22 NLT).

Are you becoming more holy? By God’s grace and power, the answer can be a resounding “Yes! More and more each day.”

God, I want to cooperate with You in Your work of changing me to become more like Jesus. Help me to walk in Your ways. Without Your work in me, nothing of lasting value will occur in my growth in holiness.
SEE YOU ON SUNDAY!

A devotion for Fat Tuesday from Matt Erion

This is the devotion Matt shared on Tuesday and I thought I would offer it up to everyone in the devotion mailing.

Thank you Matt.

I see a lot of live music. Something that always resonates with me is when the artist takes a moment to share from their life. It’s also a big part of the Christian experience, when the spirit moves in your life to share it with others. God’s grace is such a huge part of my life. I really don’t know where I’d be without it.
I’m a product of this society. A society that says if you want something, go out and earn it. This was the lesson my earthly father gave me. And everything we see is the result of work.

Tonight’s event (Fat Tuesday’s)- dozens of people worked on. The music you hear the result of tens of thousands of collective hours practicing. Everything we have- the result of hard work.

But as Paul writes, everything we see will fade away.

Grace was a tricky concept for me. I have been given grace since I was born. Since before my parents had the idea of me. God had an idea of me, and he gave me grace right along with that idea of me. It’s inseparable from who I am. It’s a radical idea. I have all the grace I will ever need. I can’t earn more. I can’t lose any either. No matter what, I can’t be separated from the Love and Grace of God.

There have been times in my life when I’ve turned away from Grace. Turning back to grace, to God’s family. has made all the difference in my life. Lent is a time of preparing- a time of introspection. I challenge you to think about God’s grace and how you experience it in your life.

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him”

Brothers and sisters, this grace God has already given you can change your life. Brothers and sisters, it truly is an AMAZING GRACE…

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.  While we will be sharing the ashes this evening at a special worship service, many would like to be reminded throughout the day.  As a personal witness during the day until you come to worship I invite you to take a marker and place a cross on your hand so that you are reminded throughout the day of your need for repentance.  I will be placing a small cross between my thumb and index finger.  I invite you to do the same.

According to umc.org:

“Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.

Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality. The service focuses on both themes, helping us to realize that both have been triumphed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During some Ash Wednesday services, the minister will lightly rub the sign of the cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship. Historically, ashes signified purification and sorrow for sins.

It is traditional to save the palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday service to burn to produce ashes for this service. Sometimes a small card or piece of paper is distributed on which each person writes a sin or hurtful or unjust characteristic. The cards are then brought to the altar to be burned with the palm branches. The ash cross on the forehead is an outward sign of our sorrow and repentance for sins.”

The name comes from “Dies Cinerum” in the Roman Missal and is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The concept originated in Rome sometime in the 6th century.  Though the exact origin of the day is not clear, the custom of marking the head with ashes on this Day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (590-604).
Tonight at 7pm, we will gather at Flowing Grace United Methodist Church to share in the beginning of our Lenten journey.  Please come and reflect on your life, your faith and what God has made you to be.  We will present a very special Lenten challenge for all of us, the palms we blessed on Sunday have been burned and will be used to mark our heads with the sign of the cross and we will pray for one another.  Please join us.

Shrove/Fat Tuesday

Today is Shrove/Fat Tuesday.  For many, it is just another day.  For some, it is the start of preparation for the Lenten Season.  Tonight, please join us for a chili supper at 6pm and special Jazz concert at 7:30pm at Fourth Street United Methodist Church in Aurora.

Some of you probably do not know what Shrove Tuesday is.  So, here is a brief synopsis.  It comes from Greg Garrison at al.com.

It’s Shrove Tuesday, also known as Shrovetide Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. So what does “Shrove” mean? And why are so many people eating pancakes today?

Pancakes were traditionally eaten on the day before Ash Wednesday because they were a way to use up eggs, milk, and sugar before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. Liturgical fasting during Lent emphasizes eating plainer food and refraining from “pleasurable” foods such as meat, dairy and eggs. Many people “give something up” during Lent as a way to prepare for Easter.

Shrove is the past tense of shrive, which means to gain absolution of sins by confession and repentance. Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Tuesday in some western European countries. The pancake aspect is not as widely observed in the United States as it is in England.

Episcopal churches (and United Methodist Churches), being affiliated with the Church of England, carry on the tradition of Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers.

Of course, in America, today is more popularly known as Mardi Gras, which is “Fat Tuesday” in French. It’s the same idea: the last day to eat “fat” before Lent.
It’s called Fat Tuesday because it’s the last day of indulgence before Ash Wednesday, when ashes are imposed on the forehead in the mark of a cross, with the minister quoting Genesis on the mortality of human beings.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, a period of 40 days, not including Sundays, which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.

Christians who observe Lent use it as a time for prayer and penance to be spiritually prepared for Easter, which commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus.

Easter will be celebrated April 1 in Catholic and Protestant churches. Orthodox churches will celebrate Easter on April 8.

Happy preparation and happy eating!

Daily Devotions – See the Injustice, See the Beauty

My child, give me your heart,
    and let your eyes observe my ways. – Proverbs 23:26

Our eyes are very complex.  They weigh, on average only 7 or 8 grams but are full of intricate and incredible machinery.  There are light sensitive rods and cones, lenses, fibers, muscles, chambers and so much more.  An eye can detect slight movement or can witness the vast mountain ranges and beautiful sunsets.  Eyes can also witness the tragedies of shootings, hurricanes and other sources of pain.

Our Spiritual eyesight does the same.  When we witness the beauty of a gorgeous snowfall our spiritual eyes give God glory for creation.  When we see the newborn baby open her eyes for the first time, our spiritual eyes sees God in the midst.

When we see injustice or oppression in the world, our spiritual eyes call us to action.

As Christians do not just see with your eyes, open your Spiritual eyes as well and give God the glory for all that is good and seek to correct all that is bad and evil.

“Open my eyes for just one second, open my eyes so I can see, everything that I keep missing, give me your love for humanity.”