Devotional

Compassion, the Touchstone of the Christian Life

Compassion, the touchstone of the Christian life Taken from a Red Rock News Article Rev. Dona Johnson | July 7, 2024 Jesus’ compassion for the sick and suffering was beyond human words and our ability to comprehend. He was so deeply moved with mercy and compassion when he saw the hungry multitudes without food that he fed them. He was so moved by the leper who was contagious and disfigured by his disease that he reached out his hand and touched him. He was so moved when he heard his close friend Lazarus had died that he wept with them. He was so deeply moved by the adulterous woman who was shamed and embarrassed when the Pharisees wanted to stone her and rub her sins in her face, Jesus in mercy forgave her. Jesus also wept over Jerusalem. How often do we weep over the great cities of this country or for people in our midst who suffer and are oppressed? Do we even weep for our own communities when we see poverty, abuse, and suffering? As believers we have a special responsibility to have compassion on the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the hungry and the outcast.      The word compassion comes from the Greek noun “spalgchna,” which means “internal organs.” In other words, compassion is a gut feeling. It means a visceral, gut-wrenching, emotional response that is so strong that we are physically moved to action. It is the willingness to enter into the pain and chaos of others. It is to be fully present to those who suffer. It is every Christian’s commission to announce the mercy of God and be an oasis of mercy and compassion to others. It is the beating heart of the Gospel.      It is true that in his common grace, God enables even unbelievers to display some measure of compassion for the preservation of society. It’s also true that some people, both believers and unbelievers, seem more naturally geared toward compassion than others. But although both these points may be true, it’s crucial to understand that compassion is a virtue that should increasingly characterize all believers in Christ, regardless of personality. No Christian, therefore, can rightly say, “I’m just not a very compassionate person,” thinking that their self-assessment frees them from expressing mercy and compassion towards others.     Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What some people desire most is to dismiss suffering pretending it’s not there. Or they cast judgment on others thinking they deserve to suffer. But as Henri Nouwen says, “Compassion can never coexist with judgement because judgement creates the distance, the distinction and excuse not to enter into the suffering of others.”When Job had lost everything, his family, his wealth and everything known to him, his friends sat with him day and night for seven days and said not one word, because they saw that Job’s suffering was too great for words (Job 2:13). How can we respond to someone’s loneliness unless we are in touch with our own experience of loneliness? How can we be close to handicapped people when we refuse to acknowledge our own handicaps? How can we be with the poor when we are unwilling to confess our own poverty? Those who can sit with their fellow man, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life into a dying heart. Henri Nouwen writes, “Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears of grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.” Amen.

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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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The Birth of the Early Church 

Taken from a Red Rock News Article The Birth of the Early Church Rev. Dona Johnson | May 26, 2024 After the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the eleven Apostles, the first Christian Church was formed—in its infancy. The charismatic proclamation of the Apostles expanded the nucleus of the Pentecost crowd from 120 Jewish people to well over 3,000. And with the help of the Holy Spirit, more people came to faith and were equipped. These people formed the building blocks of the early church. Now the Christian Church was not formed overnight. The early church began as a movement within Judaism, another sect of Judaism and was made up of Jewish-Christians. During Jesus’ ministry, Jesus only preached to Jews, the lost sheep of Israel and his disciples were instructed to not approach Gentiles or Samaritans.          The early Jewish-Christians continued to worship in the Temple, followed the Jewish hours of daily prayer and they also followed the traditional Jewish calendar. Church history scholar Justo Gonzalez, author of Worship in the Early Church writes, “Thus, the first Judeo-Christians did not belong to a new religion, but rather saw themselves as a particular group within Judaism.” But by the end of the first century, more Jewish Christians were being expelled out of the synagogues for their proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection—Jesus as the true Messiah. As tensions grew, the number of Gentile followers were increasing and thus, the number of Judeo Christians began to decline. The early Christians began gathering on the first day of the week, Sunday which was called the Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The main reason that worship was changed from the Passover to Sunday was to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, which took place on Sunday.          As the Christian population grew beyond the boundaries of Judaism, more Gentiles became followers and the Jewish-Christians continued to preach and teach the resurrection of Jesus Christ tensions were heightened with the Roman authorities. From 100-300 A.D. severe discrimination, segregation and persecution took place among the early Christians. They were blamed for fires, epidemics and floods. They were perceived as stubborn for they refused to worship gods and pay homage to idols. When Jews converted to the Christian movement they were shunned by their neighbors and cast out by their families. There was an intense surveillance of Christians and their activities were often reported to the Roman authorities. All of this was brought on by the political factions that existed between Rome and the Sanhedrin.         For the first three hundred years early Christians gathered in houses to worship. The house churches “kat oikon” are mentioned throughout Paul’s letters. Scholar Wayne Meeks author of “The First Urban Christians,” states, “The home was the basic cell of mission. The conversion of entire households took place. The house as church afforded privacy, intimacy and stability.” As the Christian population increased, churches were built for the larger communities.         Moving forward, after the Great Persecution where Christians were tortured, killed and their properties confiscated, in 313 Emperor Constantine came to a decision that would change the history of the church, the ekklesia. He put an end to persecutions ordering the return of the properties of churches. More importantly, Constantine’s edict proclaimed freedom of religion for all, especially for Christians. And eventually Christianity became the official religion of the empire. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the perseverance of the first Christians through all kinds of travail and upheaval birthed Christ’s Church. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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The Spirit Fills The Church With Life And Power

The Spirit Fills The Church With Life and Power Taken from a Red Rock News Article (May 17, 2024) Rev. Dona Johnson | May 19, 2024 On the fiftieth day after Jesus’ victory over sin and  death—the Day of Pentecost, from his throne on  high, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to mark, claim and  indwell the people of God, all of those who  expressed allegiance to Jesus (Acts 2). And this  underscores the one demarcation of every  Christian who believes in the one true and living  God who has given them his Spirit—the Holy Spirit.   We are told on that day that all the Apostles  were gathered in one place and a violent rush of  wind from heaven swept over them and tongues of  fire landed on each of them. Now the Jews in  Jerusalem were to a large extent pilgrims from  many regions attending the Feast of Pentecost.  Suddenly the Apostle’s began to speak in many  indigenous languages and dialects and many in the  crowd who had gathered heard these new spiritual  utterances in their own language and were amazed  at the exuberant and joyful praise. Those who were  gathered knew without a doubt, that something  strangely new had entered the world—the  supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The same  Spirit Jesus had promised to send his disciples in  John 14:26.   In The Acts of The Apostles, author R. B.  Rackham states, “Every new beginning in thought  or life is inevitably accompanied by disturbance.  There is the struggle with the old, and the re adjustment to the new, environment.” And  eventually, this new beginning wore itself a deep  channel in the spiritual life of the church. The  “gospel” of Acts is the gift of the Spirit. And this is  the distinguishing mark of every Christian. The Spirit is given to individuals, indwells in them and is  their very life. There is one Spirit, and all who  receive the Spirit become one spiritual body, the   church. The fruit of the Spirit is unity and fellowship  which replaces individualism. It fills the church with  life, power and starts it on its course. It also carries forth the proclamation of the death and  resurrection of Jesus Christ, through making  disciples and baptizing them in the name of the  Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the Trinity.   Prior to the Day of Pentecost, the twelve  apostles were basically the church and the  repositories of all authority. But they alone were  unequal to the task of teaching, preaching and  reaching all nations. Due to the Spirit, now other  men and women were raised up with new ideas,  insights and prophetic discernments, and the early  church, once regarded as a nucleus of twelve  apostles expands its leadership and begins to grow.   By the end of the first century, scholars  estimate there were approximately 7,000  Christians. After Jesus’ death and resurrection in 30  A.D., those who believed this truth gathered  together in clusters of house churches. The Spirit  created a new energy and excitement causing  these new believers to give their lives to the  apostle’s teaching. They worshiped, communed and prayed together. They were of one heart and  mind and had meals together. Some of the  members of this new movement sold their  possessions and property and generously gave to  one another when a need arose. And Scripture tells  us that the Holy Spirit added to their numbers  daily—thousands (Acts 2:42-45; 4:30-37).  For those of us who live in Sedona, seeking  the spiritual is our claim to fame: astral planes, quantum consciousness, exploring the mystical  with drugs and of course crystals charged with  vortex energy (see Sedona Chamber of Commerce).  Yes, people come here seeking these things because they are spiritually hungry. And it was  really no different in Jesus’ day or when the  churched was birthed on the Day of Pentecost. As  Christians, we know by faith that the supernatural  power that is given to us is not found in a vortex or  a crystal but is found in the third person of the  Trinity—the Holy Spirit. It is one the “true” spiritual  power (the tour de force) in all the world. Nothing  else compares to its power. And so we praise Jesus,  who sends us the Holy Spirit to multiply our efforts,  sustain our lives and ministry on earth until Jesus,  our Savior and Redeemer returns! Amen. 

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Jesus Prays For Unity Not Certainty 

Faith Inspires Faith Taken from my Red Rock News Article (5/10/24) Rev. Dona Johnson | May 12, 2024 One of the most powerful prayers in the New Testament and for that matter, all of Scripture can be found in John 17. It is called the “High Priestly Prayer” and for good reason. It is packed with so many truths that one can only grasp fragments of them. It is a deeply intimate prayer. It depicts Jesus’ greatest desire that Father and Son and Jesus and his disciples may all be one. Jesus prays, “It is for them (his disciples) that I pray and not for the world, but for those who you have given me.” Jesus did not pray that the disciples should be taken out of the world, he didn’t pray that they find escape; he prayed that they might endure and have victory. Christianity was never meant to withdraw from the world. A life withdrawn from the world would have seemed to Jesus sadly a truncated version of the faith he died to bring. No, he insisted Christians be totally immersed in everyday life. Although it is true that Christians are not of the world, it is also true that their Christianity is to be lived out in the world. And living out one’s Christian faith does not necessarily mean a comfy life. When lived out fully it requires us to be pruned of our vices, it requires us to stay with our suffering and learn from it and to trust the cycle of death and resurrection that is on-going in the life of faith. However, we go to great efforts to protect ourselves from painful situations.        A few years ago in the Christian Century a writer reminded us of something C.S. Lewis preached at Oxford University on October 22, 1939. Hitler had invaded Poland only six weeks earlier, and England was at war. The college students at Oxford were frightened–many of them would face death soon, and many would die. Here is what Lewis told them: “If we had foolish unchristian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven here on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are now disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.”       While we live in uncertain times, Jesus doesn’t pray for more certainty, he prays for a unity that rests on the common basic attitude of abiding in his love. This is where true safety and protection abound. Leon Morris writes, “It is a divine unity, where all wills are bowing in the same direction, all affections burning with the same flame, all aims directed at the same end—one blessed harmony of love.” It is a unity that by nature is more difficult for us—unity of heart, mind and will.       The prayerful words of Jesus still ring true today, be one with God and one with each other. So when we are tempted to conform to the roughness of this world—to the untruths, to the politicization of the Gospel, when we are tempted to join the corruption and deception in order to win at all cost and right the injustices in this world, God calls us to let go of any anger or revenge that rejects his command to love and forgive. Return every day to the love and forgiveness of God and rest and relax in the security of that love. And then let this love that you feel deep in your bones help you be love, too. Let that unifying love motivate you to do the hard work of figuring out what God wants out of us Christian people. Let love, not hate; good, not evil, guide us. May each of us go forward unified in God’s eternal promise in Jesus Christ to redeem us and the world that already belongs him. Amen.

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Friendship With God Is Its Own Reward 

Friendship With God Is Its Own Reward Taken from a Red Rock News Article (5/3/24) Rev. Dona Johnson | Jan 21, 2024 When many of us think of Jesus, we don’t think of  him as having a friendship with us. Maybe because  we think of God as holy and untouchable. Or  maybe we think a friendship with God would be  way too informal and casual. Or maybe we have  attachment issues and find it hard to befriend God  as a heavenly Father. Wherever you are, in John  15:13-15, Jesus, with great love in his heart for his  disciples called them friends. “No one has greater  love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s  friends. You are my friends if you do what I  command you. I do not call you servants any  longer, because the servant does not know what  the master is doing; but I have called you friends…”         Jesus goes one step further and affirms his  love for his disciples when he says, “I no longer call  you servants but I call you friends.” Jesus is  referring to servants who have no rights or access  into the presence and royal courts of their master.  Instead, Jesus declares the disciples as his friends.  It’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t call  himself a friend to the disciples. They are friends of  his and not the other way around. Jesus lays out  that they are not on equal ground but subordinate  to him. What does this type of friendship look like?  In Jesus’ understanding of friendship it is distinct  from a modern western understanding of friends  as equals. There is no equity between Jesus and his   friends and yet he dies for those who are  subordinate to him.   Jesus understood all too well what laid ahead for  his disciples. And he wanted them to grow in love  for each other, a love that would sacrifice,  encourage and bind and unite through all the  struggles they would face. God chose them for this  specific time and place to take on his mission. They  did not choose God, nor did they choose their  mission. And it is the same with us. We always tend  to feel that the initiative is on us but it is not. Like  the disciples, Jesus chooses us, calls us friends,  appoints us with the responsibility of   ambassadorship and gives us the task to bear  fruit—share the message of salvation with the  world. Friendship with Jesus is not divorced from  risks, responsibilities and obedience. The very  mission given the disciples, to preach the gospel  would bring them into collision with worldly mindsets and the religious powers of the day.         Sometimes it seems as if Christians are sent  out into the world to compete against one another,  or dispute one another or even quarrel with one  another. And many times this type of behavior  weakens the Church’s witness. But if Christ’s  Church remains obedient to the same mission Jesus  gave to his disciples, to proclaim the Easter  message of the death and resurrection of Jesus  Christ and while doing so are called to deeply love  one another, then that may mean dying to our  pride, it may mean reaching out and bridging  denominational boundaries in order to sustain the  apostolic banding together, abiding in Jesus’ love  and finding common ground.         It is both astounding and beyond belief,  that the God of the universe through Jesus would  call his followers friends, would want to die for  them and hold nothing back from them. God’s  friendship with his people brings great benefits and  God has a special interest in the welfare of his  people. Friendship with God is its own reward. Amen. 

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Stay Close to Jesus, We Stay Close to One Another

Stay Close to Jesus,We Stay Close to One Another Taken from my Red Rock News Article (4/26/24) Rev. Dona Johnson | April 28, 2024 During Jesus’ days vines were grown all  over Palestine. These vines needed a great deal of  attention if they were to produce the best of fruit.  Some vines needed trellises to raise them off the  ground so the plant could receive more light. The  ground needed to be cleared and cleaned. A young  vine was not allowed to produce fruit for three  years and so, each year it was severely pruned and  cut back so it could conserve its life and energy.          Jesus tells his disciples that he is the true  vine and his Father is the gardener. And his Father  cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit so  the branch will bear much fruit. Then he says, “I am  the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me  and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from  me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me,  you are like a branch that is thrown away and  withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into  the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my  words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it  will be done for you” (John 15:1-8).         The vine and branches metaphor teaches us about God’s relationship   with his people and their relationship  with him. God wants to be close to his people and God’s greatest  desire is that his people abide in him. In other  words, God’s great desire is to stay close to his  people. “Abide in me,” means to continue to in a  daily relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust,  prayer, reading his Word and obedience. In other words, safeguard your relationship with me so I  may abide in you fully. A mutually loving and  committed relationship requires cooperation.  All  branches linked to the vine are equal. No branch is  singled out in anyway as being bigger or better,  and all branches are called to do the same: abide in  the vine and bear fruit, and submit to being  pruned. For most of us, abiding will mean to  remain in constant contact with him. Abiding in  Jesus will mean arranging life, arranging prayer,  arranging fellowship with other believers in such a  way that there is never a day when we give  ourselves a chance to forget him and run the risk of  becoming detached from God.          One important textual point of the “vine  and branches” metaphor is the vine not only  represents Jesus Christ but also his Church. Those  people who abide in Jesus Christ also are called to  abide in the koinonia, the community of Christ and  arrange their lives around it. Our current North  American culture is accustomed to high rates of  volunteerism and philanthropy—all very  remarkable gifts. However, there is the temptation  to view our membership and involvement in  nonprofits and faith communities as something  wholly up to us—we initiate our membership in a  particular faith community and its ministry or  terminate our involvement at will. Many people  feel they are entitled to decide whether they  belong, participate or cut ties. Thus, being a  voluntary member of a faith community means  joining and resigning are rather easy things in our  current culture. No big deal. Many of us have  become consumers of religion. We stop abiding in  this congregation or that congregation because it  doesn’t suit our preferences or we run into conflict  and quit altogether. But Jesus conveys to us it is a  big deal to resign or severe ties with the body of  Christ. When we resign or quit, we do damage to  God’s mission. Faith does not grow nor is it  nourished in a vacuum. Together, when we abide  in the life-giving vine of Jesus Christ, God gives us  the spiritual capacity to abide with one another in  genuine love and fellowship.          Together we will always produce more fruit  than if we work in a vacuum or work alone in a silo.  Staying close to Jesus enables us to stay close to  one another. God then multiplies our efforts!  Amen. 

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Lessons on the Road to Emmaus 

Lessons on the Road to Emmaus Taken from a Red Rock News Article Rev. Dona Johnson | April 21, 2024 ”So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:28- 35).        Many Christians have had an Emmaus experience, where we learn to see God with new eyes and in different ways. In the Christian journey there are times when our faith life gets dry. At times like these, we need to be inspired and renewed to get that spiritual hunger back— whether you are new to the faith or seasoned, it happens to all of us. Jesus had just risen from the dead. But some of his friends, his disciples, didn’t believe it. Some still didn’t get it. Two of them, on the same day this all happened, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking over all the events of the last three days when suddenly a man came up and began walking with them. “What are you talking about?” He asked. The two seemed stunned. Did this guy have his head in the sand? Did he not know what happened? It seemed everyone knew.        They walked and talked. They told him about Jesus. Yet, they still did not understand who Jesus was. This stranger then opened up the Scriptures and told them all about Jesus. When they got to their destination, the man looked as if he was going to continue onward, but the two insisted he come with them into their home and stay with them. They invited him in. Then, as they were at the table and bread was broken, suddenly the eyes of their hearts were opened, the veil had been lifted from their eyes and they realized the stranger was JESUS. As soon as they recognize it was him, he suddenly disappears (From Luke 24:13- 35).       There are several truths we learn from the Emmaus story. First God meets us where we are— in our doubts, confusion and even in times of our disbelief. God doesn’t scold us in these times. Instead, he patiently waits and walks with us. He listens to our hearts. And while others turn away, Jesus remains close. Secondly, we learn Jesus isn’t pushy. He doesn’t force anything on us. The two disciples invited him to stay longer and so he did. Nagging someone about their lack of faith never works. In fact it drives them away. Thirdly, as Jesus broke bread with the two disciples God opened their hearts by grace to receive him by faith. In Holy Communion, God opens our hearts to the real presence of who he is and forgives us our sin. In communion God generously pours out his grace on us. And lastly, we learn that once we meet God face-to-face, just as the two disciples did, we are changed, we are never the same. God puts a hunger in our hearts, a burning desire to know him in deeper ways. Thanks be to God! Amen. When was the last  time you had a  burning desire to  know Jesus, to sit in  his presence and ask  him to stay a little longer?  

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God’s Generosity On Full Display  in the Early Church 

God’s Generosity On Full Display in the Early Church Taken from a Red Rock News Article (April 19, 2024) Rev. Dona Johnson | Jan 21, 2024 For the early church depicted in Acts, the  resurrection of Jesus Christ is less a creedal  statement of individual faith than a creative force of  community formation and fellowship. There was  great passion and fervor being expressed by these  first believers in Jerusalem. They had witnessed a  never-before-seen resurrection. And out of their  faithful witness, God’s divine power and grace was  poured out on them and on all who embraced their  message.          This community was strangely different than  the communities that surrounded it. There was a  deep compassion and love among the people for  one another. Out of this newly formed community,  each person took on an “intense responsibility” for  the other. So much so, they sold their homes and  possessions to provide for others. They shared all  they had. Luke writes, “All the believers were one in  heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their  possessions was their own, but they shared  everything they had…the apostles continued to  testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…those  who owned land or houses sold them, brought the  money from the sales…and it was distributed to  anyone who had need” (4:32-35).          Generosity is a mark of true discipleship and  more importantly it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).  Christian’s who claim to be rich in love towards  Jesus but poor in outward signs of generosity may have other things they love more than God. It’s that  simple. The real tragedy is that there is often some  part of our lives, some part of our activities, some  part of our time and some part or our energy levels  that we, for the life of us cannot let go of. And this  holding on to our lives, holding on to our money  and possessions with such a tight grip is very much  a spiritual issue and a misreading of the gospel.          Over the centuries, the church has been  extremely generous in its capacity to respond to  humanitarian needs. In a 2022 survey, Barna, a  research group found that people give because of  who they are. It is foundational to their identity and  personhood. According to Pew Research Center, 45  percent of adults who pray daily and attend church  weekly volunteered in the past 7 days and 65  percent donated money to the poor and had a  higher rate of care and concern for others.  Christians who devote themselves to worship and  prayer create webs of mutual knowledge,  responsibility and Christ-like support like no other  influence. Although many of us in our culture today  suffer from a consumptive lifestyle, and tend to have a greater desire to protect our lifestyles than  grow in outward generosity towards others, those  who devote themselves to the gospel message  “love God and love one’s neighbor” live in the  overflow of God’s grace and thus, have an insatiable  need to give generously.          Luke gives us a beautiful snapshot of the  early church’s radical generosity on the heels of  Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost.  Witnessing Jesus death and resurrection, they had a  fire in their belly after seeing first hand God’s  ultimate self-emptying and sacrifice. Jesus dies  bankrupt and bereft, stripped of all earthly  possessions (including clothes, Luke 23:34.) It is out  of this experience of complete surrender that God’s  generosity is on full display. Losing his life, Jesus  saves it. Forfeiting “the whole world” of self aggrandizing profit, Jesus gains the true wealth of  God’s kingdom. The crucified and risen Jesus thus  inspires his followers even today to find “new” life  not in accumulating more wealth for self-serving  needs but instead relinquishing all they are and own  into God’s hands to experience the true joy of  giving! How might God be calling you to grow in  generosity towards others? Amen. 

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