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THE REGIONAL BLOG

Are You Saved?

By Steve Bentley - Tuesday May 7, 2013

My seminary thesis was on the Healing Miracles of the Synoptic Gospels.    Most often, the Greek word used to proclaim the healing was SOZO, i.e. your faith has SAVED you.  It is unfortunate that today this word has been given a meaning it was never intended to have and lost the meaning that it was intended to have.

Today, when people hear a Christian use the word "saved" they think of saved from Hell, a fiery lake at the end of life if we do not believe.  It is always future based - When you die. In today's understanding, Hell is an eternal punishment.  It so often is used the frighten people into a relationship with a god who is so much a dictator, that if you do not confess Jesus you will go to this place when you die.

This is not the way Jesus used this word.  There were people, who because of disease or condition in life had been separated from the rest of society.  They were lepers, woman with the flow of blood, blind, lame, etc.  They are unable to partake in life with the rest of society.  Because of the restrictions placed on them by the LAW and society, they were outcasts.  Some literally living on the outskirts.  They were broken, damaged goods.  In a very real sense, their existence was a hell, never being able to participate in society.

The word SOZO means so much more than just saved.  It carries within it the Hebrew understanding of SHALOM.  Shalom is a way of being that is at peace with all else.  It describes the world as it was created to be.  There were no classes of people as we were all created equal.  It proclaims a society where the LOVE and PEACE and JUSTICE of God and for each other and all else live in harmony.  It is the Peaceable Kingdom where the "Lion lies down with the Lamb." In this Kingdom, relationships with God are born out of mutual love not fear. This God proclaims God's love for us where ever we find ourselves in life. Francis Thompson calls this God "The Hound of Heaven." http://www.houndsofheaven.com/thepoem.htm

So when Jesus pronounces SOZO on these people, He is calling them back to society as it was meant to be.  They were NOW, in the present, welcomed back to a place where they had been excluded. Over and over again Jesus used the phrase, "This Kingdom of God is . . ." It is not somewhere in the future, it is here and now. In his life, Jesus sought to build this present Kingdom and as his followers, we too need to build this Kingdom in the here and now.

So what does this say to us today?  Who are the people who have been excluded from life with the rest of  society? There are so many people who need to hear this word SOZO pronounce upon them.  The poor, the LGBTQ community, undocumented immigrants, women, people of differing colors or cultures, people of differing faith traditions, and the list could go on and on.  How is Jesus calling us to bring SOZO or salvation? Imagine what our world might look like if we Christians took all the time and energy we spend to "save people from a Hell" in the future and put it into bringing about a world of SHALOM in the present for all of God's people. This is our calling.

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Prayers for Boston

By Bill Edwards - Wednesday April 17, 2013

"Behold, I will bring health and healing to the city; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth." ~ Jeremiah  33:6

     Our hearts are heavy over the violent tragedy which occurred at the Boston Marathon this week. We grieve for those who have died and pray for healing for those injured. It was difficult to watch the images of terror in the media. Please continue to pray for the victims. Pray for the marathoners, and the spectators of the race. Pray for the first responders, our government officials, and the media who work with such trauma. We pray that God will continue to bring comfort to those who mourn, healing to those who are injured, and peace to those who are living in fear and uncertainty in this difficult time.

     However, even as we grieve, we will remain steadfast in love, defiant in hope, and constant in prayer. In this time of uncertainty and fear, we cling to the sure promises of our God that we are not forsaken or left alone. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, may our God indeed bring health and healing to the city.


May God's Blessings be With You,  

Bill

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God's Transforming Presence

By Steve bentley - Wednesday April 18, 2012

John 14:18
"I will not leave you orphaned."

One of the main themes of the entire Bible is that "God is Present."  As the people are leaving Egypt, God was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by Night.  Shepherd David tells of his faith when he sings, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . ."  Even those who once felt abandoned by God as they were taken into the exile, came to understand that this God of theirs went with them into exile.  

All of the Easter stories are about how God's presence in the person of Jesus is still with us.  Jesus' promise to his disciples that he would not leave them orphans.  He would continue to live 'IN THEM."   In other Gospels, Jesus makes similar promises:  "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

The very word "Emmanuel" means God is with us.  

What is the purpose of God's presence with us?  Is God just sitting on our shoulder to keep us company in the loneliness of life?  Is God with us like that heavenly Santa Clause who ". . .sees if we've been bad or good. . .?"   

If you read these stories, it becomes clear that God's presence is "Transformational."  God's presence in the exodus story was transforming slaves into a nation.  In Psalm 23 God's presence was transforming a shepherd into a king. In the Babylon Story, God's presence was transforming the people's understanding from that of a God, who was confined to the temple to a God who loved them so much that God would go into exile with them.  In the Easter Story, God's presence is transforming death into life.

So the question for us is: How is God's presence transforming my life today?  How is God calling me to bring growth to the Church?  How is God's presence in me transformational to the poor and outcast in my own community?  How is God using me to bring spiritual depth in the lives of those around me?  (Thank you Rev. Michael Doerr for a wonderful Regional webinar on increasing congregation Spiritual depth!  Click HERE to check it out.)  

"He Leadeth me; O blessed thought! 
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!  
What e'er I do, where're I be, 
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me."

God, whose presence is with me this day, open me to that transforming Spirit that day by day I might be transformed into the image of you.  Amen.

 

 

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The Message of the Empty Tomb

By Bill Edwards - Monday April 9, 2012

 

For you see, the stone was not rolled away so Jesus could get out, but so others could get in and see that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead just as he promised.  The Angel invited these women to see for themselves the evidence that Jesus was alive.

The evidence of the Risen Christ that these women saw was an empty tomb.  But, "How can there be evidence of the glory of God in emptiness?" Well, the empty tomb is merely a giant fingerprint that the hand of God has touched this place.  The empty tomb is not the reality; the reality is the power of God that makes possible the empty tomb.

The "reality" is the power of God that took the sting out of death and robbed the grave of its victory.   The empty tomb is where Jesus battled death and death came up empty handed.  On this glorious Easter morning, the empty tomb was just a place which Jesus used for a dressing room to pull off death and put on life; where he pulled off mortality and put on immortality; where he pulled off humanity and put on divinity; the empty tomb is where Jesus pulled off pain and put on power; where he pulled off degradation and put on glory.

The Message of the Empty Tomb is a message of hope for those of us living empty lives, those of us who have run out of answers from everywhere else; those of us who are desperately in need of a living hope. The empty tomb lets us know that the emptiness we experience in our lives is not our reality, that there is power beyond what we see in the emptiness. On that first Easter morning, these women were invited into the empty tomb to "come and see" beyond the emptiness, to see by faith the glory and evidence of a resurrected life.

We are invited today to "come and see" what God has done in Christ Jesus and then "Go" and tell the good news with running feet and a transformed life. To "Go" and tell that there is power in the fact that Jesus is the risen Lord and it has significance and relevance for our lives.

In a world that is searching for life, we should go and tell all people that Jesus Christ is the Lord of life. In our homes, on our jobs, in all the places where we find ourselves; we need to go and tell all people - Our Savior lives. The resurrection takes away all fear. In the words of that old hymn: "Because He lives I can face tomorrow; Because He lives all fear is gone."

For Easter gives us the assurance that even in the darkest moments, God is working for our good, that God can bring victory out of defeat, hope out of despair, life out of death. Easter is not only about what happened close to 2000 years ago; Easter is also about what God is doing today and what God will do in the future. It is not just a "back then" thing, it's a "right now" thing. What Easter tells us is that God has the last word. In the end, God wins.

So Easter is not just one day on the calendar, but good news that permeates and transforms all of life.  For long after the Easter lilies have died, the power and glory of the risen Lord still prevails to give meaning to our daily lives.

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