Power

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The Greek word for power is “δυνάμεις. Using letters more familiar to English readers, dunomos, is the word from which the term, dynamite, comes. In this vein power is not just potential, it’s kinetic. Power is ability put into action. And it would be great if more Christians were dynamic about their faith. As it is, we’re a timid group, typically living quiet lives, imagining what Jesus would do in various situations, spending time with other Christians, comfortable with God and our routines.

JeffWhitesideThis type of Christian experience requires no power, just insulation. Separation from others, distanced from interactions with the very types of people the message of Christ and the outreach of the church is designed to reach. For too many of us, we live in an apartheid of faith: isolated and insulated from others, veritable Jabbas the Hutt; not moving nor being moved by things swirling around us.

But Christians should be a people of power, bearers of the indwelling Holy Spirit, responders to the call of Christ, called to follow Jesus, pick up crosses, and serve as witnesses to those dwelling in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world.

But we don’t always behave like that. Nothing would please Satan more that nullifying our service to  Christ and the witness we should present to the world. Powerless Christians? an oxymoron, a trick, a deception.

Sunday’s sermon about power would be incomplete if we only considered the use or misuse of power. My take-away was that the three major Christian functions, service, forgiveness and peacemaking, are to be performed in power. The power we exhibit is the power of the resurrected Christ, the indwelling Spirit, and supported by the communion of saints, and heaven’s hosts.

But as you already read in this week’s blog contributions, serving others, forgiving wrongs, and actively pursuing peace cannot be done apart from the power of Christ. It requires that the believer embrace the “δυνάμεις” supplied by Jesus Christ. This power transforms us and removes the impotence of disconnected life and replaces our lethargy with the challenge to embrace humanity and our call to interact as Jesus would through our service, forgiveness and peacemaking.

~Post Written by Jeff Whiteside

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I don’t wanna go to school

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Peter Pan is a great story. In the Broadway Musical version there’s a song in which the main character insists, “I won’t grow up. I don’t wanna go to school; just to learn to be a parrot, and recite a silly rule.” Aside from flight, fighting pirates, visiting mermaids and traveling to a distant place that exists beyond the second star to the right, this story line is really familiar.

JeffWhitesideI’ve met lots of people who don’t want to grow up. You don’t have to attend a class or a family reunion to meet them; however it is entertaining to see some people live in denial that life has continued since they were cool. Change is scary. It requires confidence; and that confidence seems to be the characteristic that so many of us deny.

I don’t know why so many Christians are afraid of change. It seems as though we’d rather remain immobile. However, …we’re being transformed into the image of Jesus daily, the whisperings of the Holy Spirit should make us familiar to following his directions, our gift-sets exist for the purpose of benefiting the changing needs of the church. And if we indeed follow Jesus Christ with our lives, it should mean that we have made ourselves available to follow God’s directions. Christians living in denial that the world needs innovation, that how we deliver information about the good news (gospel) may be fine-tuned to meet the needs of today’s changing culture.

I met a friendly couple just yesterday who seemed honestly upset that the world was different than it was when they were young. They identified this change as completely negative. Technology was bad, cultural change was bad, immigrants were bad, what was learned in public schools was bad, the government was bad… I imagine they thought Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album was bad, too. I suspect they’d enjoy reliving the 1960s all over again in a perpetual ‘Ground Hog Day’ sort of way.

But growth and change is foundational to life. Any student of literature will tell you that characters who do not grow during the course of a story are considered flat and static. It’s not a compliment to be undeveloping, whether your name is Peter Pan or it it’s Peter Gunn. It is not admirable to go through an experience and not learn and grow from having gone through it.

Perhaps it’s good to be reminded that our faith needs to change. It’s one thing to have child-like faith. It’s another to have a child-like behaviors. We need to grow with the times, assume responsibilities, adapt to what comes our way, and most of all, heed the call of our God who wants us to serve and stretch, obey and respond, and ultimately learn and grow.

Our World

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The sermon series we’re experiencing at Smoky Row Brethren Church has been challenging.

JeffWhitesideI’ve come to expect that- barring a freak accident- I’ll be healthy. I have come to expect that my neighbors will respect my presence, that I’ll be refreshed after every experience in which I play, that my definition of what it means to be a Christian in this country will always mean what I grew up believing. I’ve been challenged to maintain those routines in which my faith reveals itself, that I’ll maintain my responsibility to my congregation, and maintain my responsibilities to serve people outside the church. That my integrity will remain intact whether I’m in the presence of peers, in the midst of antagonists, or in the company of believers; that I’ll be a good employee, a loyal friend, and a humble Christian, a committed spouse and parent, and a man of who takes little for granted.

Yes, I knew that we live in a fallen world, that our experiences are affected by sin’s presence in this blemished world, and that only our transition to Heaven or the return of Jesus to earth can change our fallen reality. But some of my preconceptions have been shaken.

I’ve begun to change my expectations. I’ve held tightly to an expectation that my health, my job, and my civil rights are immune to the effects of the fallen world in which we live. After all, Christian people have the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence, in my expectation, creates a sphere of immunity that surrounds me. He keeps believers from ever going through any negative experience

That awful theology does not explain why Christian school children are still being held by kidnappers in West Africa, that Christian villagers in the middle-east need to flee to a mountain to escape persecution, and that saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes can earn a student suspension time in our own country.

I’m learning to realize that Christians are subject to two realities. First we are characterized by our membership in God’s domain. Whether you call this ‘God’s family’ or ‘God’s church’, the point is that God’s protection and provisions are available to his people. God responds to our prayers, and can and may bend and suspend laws of normal existence. But the other reality is that we are still part of the fallen creation for the time that we’re on earth. Bad things do happen to good people. Our bodies age, ail, and fail. Worry, panic, and anxiety, as Pastor Rich pointed out, coupled with loss and shame, are normal feelings for fallen human beings. That side of us continues to be a reality we face.

God promises to be faithful to the promise he has made with all believers, regardless of what we deal with. We are redeemed, but not yet perfected. We are being transformed, but we are not yet who God intends for us to be. Any feeling possible among human beings are feelings believers might have. We are tempted but provided with resources to be able to say ‘no’.

There is one stream of Christianity that teaches that after conversion to the faith, Christian people living with worry, anxiety, and panic show evidence of faithlessness, self-absorption, or even Godlessness. Why? They believe that believers in Jesus Christ have put those issues behind them. The Bible is clear that once a person has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord that they have been delivered from these human problems and have been delivered to life in the Holy Spirit and the accompanying peace, joy and love that can be found most deeply in him. I can’t disagree with that. However, what these Overcoming teachers fail to keep in mind is that we live in a world that is less than what the creator intended.

Our world is messed up. Sin crept into the garden, was embraced by our human ancestors, and the world has not been the same. God’s ideal was compromised by human failure. Yes, I’m holding Adam and Eve equally responsible for the situation, but the truth is that I would have done the very same thing they did. I’m convinced that in the identical situation, you would likely do the same.

So let me say that in the ideal world, the topics of this week’s blogs, fear, anxiety, and depression, would not exist. When Jesus returns, they’ll be wiped away with every tear that accompanies pain, regret, and failure. But until he comes back, we have to deal with living in a twilight zone a place where we have one foot firmly planted in this fallen world and the other rooted in God’s realm. It’s not an easy place to exist.  but may we take comfort in knowing that worry, panic, anxiety, loss and shame, will one day be a distant memory. Until then, they’ll continue to be part of the broken world we live in. May we increasingly take comfort in our Lord than in the world. May we increasingly find confidence in our Lord than in our circumstances. May we increasingly grow dependent on our Lord as we straddle life in two realities.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

Living Intentionally

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One of the challenges presented last Sunday at Smoky Row Brethren Church was summed up in the question, “Do you live intentionally?” Intentionality requires a goal, an objective (and for my fellow teachers) a learning target. What’s your outcome and how does that shape who you are today? Everyone in attendance was asked to consider those practices we do that move us closer to the purpose God has in mind.

JeffWhitesideTo even tackle this issued requires a belief in God, that he is approachable and that we can know what his expectations are.

I took several ideas away from Sunday’s message. The chief was the call to live intentionally; despite where the believer finds him or herself. Does God have expectations for his people if one is a believer huddled in a war-torn Iraqi basement as he does for a believer comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in suburban Columbus Ohio? Perhaps, but nobody needs to go to such extremes to find out how intentional a Christian should be about his or her faith.

My students constantly hear me remind them that whatever they practice they get good at. When pushed, I’ll suggest it applies to homework, housework, sports, and healthy habits. It also applies to how one lives life. Christians especially need to consider this challenge. Paul reminded the believers in Philippi “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). It’s an exhortation to intentionally put into practice those habits that leave a positive impact on each individual.

Pastor Rich was specific about being transformed; transformed into the image of Christ. This takes time. This also takes commitment and practice. Becoming a Christian away from the structure and programs offered by your church community also takes perseverance. Transformation happens best when the believer is well-rooted in Scripture, the Spirit, and the Church. Whatever the believer practices in the safe womb at home is what they will likely continue when they’re away.

~ Post written by Jeff Whitside

Not Wired To Relax

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During last Sunday’s sermon, I made a commitment. The plan was to not work after dinner. Relax. I was sure that I should do that. Why? Well, I just heard from my pastor that it was a responsible thing to do.

However, I am not wired to do relax.

JeffWhitesideAs a child, I watched adults in my life live productively. Mom worked tirelessly so my father was free to work his 80 hour weeks. The start-up family business demanded lots of my father’s time. We all pitched in and did our part.

Childhood stories about busy ants and bees earned rewards of extended lives through bleak times.

The pattern was imprinted from an early age; playing, relaxing, and recreation are occasional activities.

But children today have learned an important lesson from Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. Cookies are a sometimes food. A steady diet of the work is about healthy as substituting vegetables for cookies.

I am wired to be productive. But what that meant did not include regularly scheduled recreation. Logically, I knew that God established an example of creative work that lasted six days and that he rested on the seventh. God expected the Israelites to observe a weekly Sabbath day for rest. Jesus is recorded to have left his work among people from time to time. I’ve advised others to take time off, relax, enjoy the company of others and unwind.

Why? Lots of people are too tightly wound. They get so wrapped up in their productive lives that they don’t uncoil. The tension keeps that person taut. That tension diminishes a person’s productiveness, focus, objectivity, health, and relationships, to name just a few things.

Relaxing that tension is important.

Thus my response to Sunday’s sermon.

So, what did I end up doing? It was something I had not done in years. But those who know me know that it is something. In short, Legos. On Sunday evening I built a house out of Legos.

Had I not contributed to the Smoky Row blog, you wouldn’t know about this.

In the end, I ended up with a less tension and a really neat blue house.

I am a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N.

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It’s a little church camp song. I think they’re designed to be quickly memorized by enthusiastic young singers. Yes, it’s catchy. And it does not require a great voice as much as it takes enthusiasm and volume. Here’s the ditty I’m referring to:

“I am a C. (insert two claps here)

I am a C.H. (insert two more claps here)

I am a C.H.R.I.S.T.I.A.N. (yep, two additional claps here)

And I have C.H.R.I.S.T. in my H.E.A.R.T. and I will L.I.V.E.  E.T.E.R.A.L.L.Y.

(repeat ad nausium)

That little chorus summarizes the connections some people have with their faith. It’s simple, takes little thought, can be parroted easily, requires enthusiasm, repetition, and volume.

JeffWhitesideAs a sixth grade social studies teacher, I have all sorts of students in class. Those who are Buddhist or Hindu are able to explain what they believe, and the ways their religion affects their decisions, diets, and duties to family and other faith practitioners. The Jewish and Muslim students are able to articulate what they believe and the ways their religion affects their decisions, diets, and duties to family and other faith practitioners, too. Christians? That’s another story.

It may not be fair to assess Christianity based on what eleven and twelve-year-olds are able to communicate. However, you’d think that some information might be passed on that might explain why a family chooses to identify as Christian. Can you tell how I feel about such branding of my faith?

Our culture insists that faith is a private concern. It does not matter what is believed. What counts is only sincerity, reason, and tolerance of others and their belief systems. After centuries of argument, disfellowship, persecution, and execution, it’s no surprise that American Christians try to get away from those terrible European experiences when people of faith felt that jihad against non-acceptable versions of their faith was God-honoring.  Going back in history is not necessary to understand this. We don’t like to hear how difficult it is to live in China, Northern Africa, the Middle East, etc… as a believer in Jesus Christ.

So, just what does it mean to be a real, authentic, meaningful, purpose-oriented, North American believer in Jesus Christ in 2014? Apparently a lot; because those themes will be explored during the coming summer months at Smoky Row Brethren. If you can join us, the experience may prove to be worth your time. If you can’t, stay tuned to this blog. We’ll be reflecting on the themes explored each Sunday morning at 10:30a.m.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

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Outwit, Outlast, Outplay- Survivor, the ultimate social interaction game. People, strangers to each other, are put in unusual surroundings, asked to cooperate and compete, network and maneuver with the goal of being the ultimate final participant. It’s the most realistic artificial premise Wednesday night offers.

JeffWhitesideOutwit, Outlast, Outplay- the NCAA tournament, the ultimate basketball team interaction tournament. Teams, strangers to each other are put in unusual surroundings, asked to cooperate and compete, network and maneuver with the goal of being the ultimate final participant. It’s the most realistic athletic promise this weekend offers.

Outwit, Outlast, Outplay- the book of First Corinthians. the ultimate social and team interaction challenge. People, strangers to each other, are put in usual surroundings, asked to cooperate and collaborate, network and maneuver with the goal of helping each other reach the final destination. It’s the most realistic authentic premise life offers.

Smoky Row Brethren Church has just wrapped up our series examining the book of First Corinthians. It took a while. Some themes were repeated multiple times. Like most students, there is a time when everybody needs repeated reminders in order for a lesson to sink in. There were a few themes worth repeating: members of the body of Christ are intentionally equal, Spiritual gifts are intentionally distributed, Christians are to intentionally follow Jesus in life’s routines, Christians are to be intentional about our interactions, Christians are intentionally called to be holy. It goes on, but did you see the repeated word? Christian faith is to be intentional. Christian faith has a purpose. And in case you wonder, there is not to be any competition among believers.

We are teammates; teammates pulling together. The Corinthians provide a negative example. Paul’s instructions to those believers are worth listening to in our age: there is no competitive Outwit, Outlast, and Outplay theme in the context of faith. Why? There is no game afoot. The competitors among us need to redirect their energy into constructive team building. Interactions among believers are to be mutually encouraging, positive, and intentional. There should be intentional effort to pull together, establish and accomplish God’s goals. That’s worth thinking about.

~Post written by Jeff Whiteside