June 2024

God Longs for Us to Listen  to Our Lives 

God Longs for Us to Listen to Our Lives Taken from a Red Rock News Article Rev. Dona Johnson | June 30, 2024 We live in a world of ubiquitous information—the information age and now AI. Our schedules are overbooked with more and more responsibilities and activities. We cannot detach ourselves long enough from the dopamine rush that comes from scrolling our devices to listen to what is really going on deep in our souls.      In Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35, 6:31 Jesus slips away to a quiet place to pray. He did this many times in his life to escape from the crowds, the daunting list of needs and the noise of the world. Sometimes, he chose solitude over people. In that quiet space Jesus rested. He caught his breath. He let go and released himself to his Father. Letting go, resting and releasing ourselves to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are what our souls truly long for the most. In prayer, Jesus placed his entire life—his thoughts, his relationships and feelings before God and found comfort and guidance. In prayer, he listened for the deep recesses of his soul to speak. And so it is with us, our task as human beings is to pay attention, to stop, look and listen for what God is doing.      Many people today, including a great many Christians, are afraid of silence. They fear silence, losing control and finding out something about themselves that they would rather suppress or not deal with. So we devote enormous amounts of energy and time creating noise and distractions to numb the troubling thoughts and voices that rob us of our peace of mind. Maybe the real issue is that we are under-resourced with opportunities to truly listen to our lives, to listen deeply to our longings, our joys, our conflicts and our losses. Augustine said in his Confessions, “I am scattered.” Do you ever feel scattered? Do you find your heart is sometimes divided, plagued with too many opinions, too many critical voices and self-doubts competing and overshadowing God’s voice that speaks from your heart.      Our culture has been schooled in consumption, pseudo connections, and insecure attachments. One way to find rest from these pseudo connections is to truly stop and listen to your life. Create an intentional space, a listening space where all the internal chatter is muted. Stop. Listen. Look for signs of life—they are all around you. In the presence of God lay out your life. Welcome everything that comes to mind and resist nothing. As soon as we accept how we really feel, who we really are, then and lonely then can we begin to live and n the world not out of a false sense of self but our true self. Welcome feelings of shame and guilt, joy and grief, anger and complaint. Welcome those triggers and don’t be afraid to explore were they come from. God wants you to live a life of freedom.     Fredrick Buechner writes, “If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”     God longs for us to listen to our lives. To be attentive to the unforced rhythms of God’s grace. In the resting, in the releasing, the Holy Spirit gently speaks to our hearts and we will come away refreshed—fully known and fully loved by God. And you will come to know yourself maybe for the first time or in a new and better way. Listen to your life, let your life speak to you—all of it. For your soul so longs to be heard.

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The Birth of the Early Church – Part 2

The Birth of the Early Church – Part 2 Rev. Dona Johnson | June 2, 2024 During the first three centuries of the early church,  Christians suffered intense persecutions, shunning  by Jewish neighbors and outcasted by family  members. There was an on-going surveillance by  Roman  authorities and the Sanhedrin.   Constantine became Emperor  of Rome, he put  But, when an end to the persecutions, ordered the return of  the church properties which were confiscated and  proclaimed freedom of religion, especially for  Christians. He even had his soldiers engrave the  Chi-Rho symbol, (the first two Greek letters in  Christ) on their shields. Constantine thought if he  paid homage to God, God would make him  victorious in battle. Of course this was a skewed  view of faith. Since he was also worshiping the Sun  god.            Constantine eventually had a conversion  which prompted him to do make more sweeping  declarations. One has to remember that up until  Constantine’s reign, Jewish and Gentile Christians worshiped in homes. The home was the basic cell  of the church. The early Christians also worshiped   in cemeteries and gathered in catacombs.           By the second century, Bishops were   introduced to oversee teaching, theological disputes and confront heretical teaching. Pagan  beliefs were constantly being woven into the  proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And  this was a huge threat to the Christian message.            After his conversion, Constantine began to  institute a more imperial protocol. He introduced incense (pagan ritual). Officiating ministers who  once wore plain clothes were asked to wear  luxurious vestments. Gestures of respect used in  the presence of the Emperor were now  incorporated within the worship experience, large  choirs and alters were also added. Thus, the  imperial/secular protocols of the Emperor were  integrated into the structure of worship within the  more elaborate churches.           The Roman Catholic Church is not on the  scene as of yet. Christians were by and large still  gathering in homes and the larger churches that  had been built. Constantine found by organizing  the new Jesus movement, he could solidify the  Empire and be victorious against invading armies  and marauders. Eventually, Christianity became the  official religion of the Roman Empire and it spread  as far as northern Europe. The state also had the  power to settle theological issues and/or conflicts.  And of course, there were many.            Christians who rebelled against the wealth,  luxuries and all the pomp and circumstance of the  more formalized church its worship protocols, fled  to the deserts to withdraw from society. This began   what we call today the Monastic Movement. They  moved into the deserts of Egypt and Syria, ate  sparse meals, renounced most material  possessions, prayed and memorized in their hearts  the Scripture.            During his reign, Constantine called several  councils. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., called  Bishops from all over the Empire to discern the  Arian controversy. The Nicene Creed, a beautiful  credo was written as a way to put guardrails  around the interpretation of Scripture and to  reduce heretical teachings. Also during this time, there was an intense effort made in theological writings, to establish and interpret the deep meaning of Scripture in their original languages—an attempt to get everyone on the same page.          Eventually Rome fell to barbarian invaders in 476 A.D. Pope Leo, who at that time had been the Bishop of Rome became the first Pope (Pope means father). This was done to reinstate stability. He expanded authority of the papacy and declaring authority over bishops and secular matters. This begins the very early history of the Roman Catholic Church.          It was not until the mid 1500’s, that the authority of popes and the Roman Catholic Church were finally challenged. Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest protested against the church’s corruption and the selling of salvation through the sale of indulgences. He called for the Pope to institute reforms. The Roman Catholic Church held Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” But Luther trusted Scripture and said, Faith in Christ alone, sola fide is what saves a person. Salvation can be found outside the church but not outside Christ. Let me preface this statement with Luther also believed the church was the incubator for faith. From Luther’s protest, the Protest-ant Reformation took hold and protestant denominations were also formed by other major reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli.           In concluding, it’s very important to know how the first Apostles formed Christ’s Church. The Church is born out of their eyewitness accounts, gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Apostle’s and those whom the Spirit still calls today to follow Jesus Christ. Iron sharpens iron, so Proverb 27:17 tells us. And so it is with the church. It was formed out of the crucible of trial, pain and suffering. The mission of the church lives on—to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. And you and I have a role in this proclamation. The church is always being forged anew, and always in need of reform as it responds to the changing culture and the sin of humankind.           I will end in the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:17-19 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Amen. Te Deum.

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