Monthly Archives: August 2012

Walter Wangerin

I’m a fan of books by Walter Wangerin. I read The Book of God while we lived in England and was moved by his portrayal of the Bible in a novelized form. Wangerin has the ability to take the familiar stories of scripture and present them in a way that breathes life into the characters. I found myself understanding the Old Testament more and falling more in love with Jesus as I read the Book of God.

That’s why I was excited to read a book Karen picked up in the 10c bin at the local library. Paul: A Novel is another one of Wangerin’s books, and as you can imagine from the title, it picks up the story of the Apostle Paul and dives deep into his life.

Wangerin’s signature method is to tell Paul’s story through the eyes of different “minor” characters, and so we hear from Timothy, Priscilla, Titus, and James. It provides for many different “voices,” which add to the richness of the story.

One thing this book highlighted for me was the deep divisions that were at play in the Early Church. The issues between Jew and Gentle ran as deep as the conflicts and controversies that we have today. Issues of “tradition” and “God’s new thing” were as heated and passionate then as the “reformed” and “missional” debates that we have in our day.

I also found the book challenging to my understanding of life in the first century. I was reminded of the overarching power that Rome had over everyone’s life. There was nothing that wasn’t touched by that ancient power.

I’m convinced that we live in a culture and society that has more in common every day with the world of the first century. Our influence as Christians is increasingly moving from the center to the margins, and we need to be continually thinking about how we can learn to minister in this new reality. All of us should be studying and reading about the early church to give us a glimpse into a way forward.

Pastor Rick Bartlett

Tagged , , , , ,

The “Other” Message

On August 12, I was privileged to preach here at Bethany on the matter of worship.  I mentioned in the sermon that I prepared a whole other message for the morning, but made a switch.  So what was that other message?

In the book of Romans, Paul goes into a list of imperatives – things he wanted the church to do as a matter of living a life sacrificed to God (Romans 12:1).  One of the things he says is, “Love must be sincere.” (Romans 12:9a)  Some translations say love must be genuine or real.  That’s a very positive way to say something that Paul originally stated as a negative.

When Paul penned these words the first time, he said that love must be anupokritos.  No, that is not a typo.  It’s the Greek word we translate as sincere or genuine.  If Paul were taking it apart for us, he would say, “anu (without) pokritos (hypocrisy).”

When the people of Paul’s day went to the theater, they went to see the hypocrites perform the plays.  Hypocrites were the actors, the people who took on the character of another person.  They usually performed their roles with masks on.  From there, people began to call non-actors hypocrites if they were being someone other than who they really were.  You could say that a person who wears a mask in public life to hide their true nature is a hypocrite.

Paul’s desire for the believers in Rome (and for us) is that our love be without masks.  When we demonstrate our love for each other, it should come without ulterior motives or hidden agendas.  Also, it means that we should not fake our love in front of our brothers and sisters, but choose to love each other, even if we find it hard to do.

You probably know someone who builds relationships for where it can take them in life.  You may know someone who spoke glowingly to you to your face, but then hear through the grapevine this same person spoke only negative things about you to others.

Paul desired something better for us as followers and imitators of Christ.  As Christ came, revealing the true and genuine love of the Father, so we show ourselves to be his disciples as we show genuine and sincere love to each other.  As Christ loves us unconditionally, so we prove we are His kin when we love each other simply because we all belong to the Lord.

I hope you have never been caught by either hypocrite I describe here.  I truly hope you have not taken occasion to be one.  Whether you played the role or have been hurt by a player, let’s decide today that our love for our one another will be sincere, that forgiveness will be offered and received where needed, and that we will have no need for masks in our life together.  Our genuine love will do much to impress and even draw people around us looking for sincere, genuine love.

Mike Spinelli

Tagged , , ,

Olympic Inspiration

The Olympics are on. It’s amazing to me how intense the events get when everything is on the line. Years of training and hoping to win the gold medal. Not everyone is going to win a medal, but the athletes go all out trying to achieve it. When someone falls short, it seems like the end of the world with such a great disappointment.

I was really caught up with one American gymnast who had a chance to win a medal. He did his two vaults and then he enjoyed the rest of the competition. When the gymnast who was favored to win the event came up for his turn, the American said with excitement, “I’ve got to see this.” When the favorite won the gold medal, the American went over to congratulate the winner with a hug and a comment–“That was ridiculous.”

He was right there cheering him on.

When we are in the race of life, I see the church body cheering each other on through the highs and lows, seeking the finish line, and going out a winner.

Paul said it well in Philippians 3: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Pastor Ed Willems

Tagged , , ,

Pastor’s Prayer

As a pastor, I’m always praying with or for people. It’s part of the job. However, when I came to Bethany Church I was encouraged by our prayer coordinator to put together a team of people who would regularly pray for me. I was new to the church, so I asked individuals I’d connected with from the search committee and the Leadership Council to be part of this group.

For the past 3 ½ years I’ve sent out weekly emails sharing my prayer requests for the upcoming week to this group. It’s great to know they are praying. Occasionally this group has gathered to share a meal and hang out together.

Recently, on a Saturday night, the prayer team gathered for dessert and to pray for my wife and me. It was a very encouraging time. There is something special that happens when someone talks to Almighty God about you. My wife commented as we were leaving, “Everyone in the church should have a night like this.”

We prayed for a variety of issues and topics, one of them inviting God to bless the Sunday worship service and the messages. I really want to see God move in people’s hearts from being an idea or commitment to a living, vibrant relationship.

As I was preaching the day after the prayer time I recall feeling like the message was going badly. It felt to me like it was disjointed, I kept losing my place in my notes and in my mind the message lacked focus.

Following the service however, I had 5 different people (who weren’t part of the prayer group the night before) come up and tell me they saw a power and fire in me that they hadn’t seen for quite some time. One person told me the message “touched my heart.” The comments all reflected the point, “God was real today.”

The effects of the prayer also “spilled over” to the music and worship. A few minutes after the service, one of our members posted on Facebook, “Great worship music today! Loved the songs! You Rock!”

I’m embarrassed to admit I was surprised at the response. Knowing that God is good and is continually seeking closer relationships with his people, I shouldn’t be. The fact is, prayer on Saturday night made a significant impact on the preaching and worship for Sunday morning.

Theologically, I believe that God can and does answer our prayers no matter what time of day (or night) we pray them. I know he can answer a prayer that was prayed on Monday for the following Sunday; and yet in this case I think in order to encourage the prayer team there was a direct connection between that Saturday night and Sunday morning.

I’m going to be looking for ways to encourage more people to pray on Saturday nights.

Pastor Rick Bartlett

Tagged , ,