Waiting–and Hoping

Dr. Rachel Coleman

Waiting. As I’ve been in Mexico for the past several days, I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting. The country is experiencing a radical reduction in the amount of gasoline that the government is releasing for distribution to local gas stations. People have lined up for hours, waiting—for a tanker to arrive, for the gas station to open, for their car to make it to the front of the line before the limited supply is gone. You can imagine the desperate quality of the wait for those who depend on driving to earn their living, as well as the overwhelming disappointment when the long wait is fruitless and the supply is used up before your turn comes.

Waiting. A key word in the Book of Psalms, which 18 pastors and leaders are studying this week and next here at the Bible Seminary of Mexico. The thing about biblical waiting, however, is that it is inseparable—linguistically and theologically—from hoping. The act of waiting and the decision to hope are both rooted in the character of God. This morning we spent time with Psalms 42 and 43, in which the language of faith alternates between expressions of lament over the status quo and the resolute decision to wait/hope in God.

green leafed plant on sand
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Waiting. I’m guessing that as 2019 is rushing towards the end of its first month, many of you are waiting on God to act. Maybe your waiting is already into the days, weeks, months, or years category, and you are clinging tenaciously to hope that God will step in to transform the status quo that just doesn’t seem to match his promises. Maybe it is the job that hasn’t materialized, or the relationship that hasn’t healed, or the illness that hasn’t been cured, or some ridiculously impossible challenge that hasn’t been conquered. Dear brothers and sisters, hold fast! Don’t hesitate to lay your lament before God, because the very act of speaking it to him expresses your hope-filled faith that he will indeed act. In the midst of your waiting and lamenting, may you say with the psalmist: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God [wait on God], for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5, NIV).

 

 

Word of the Year

Dr. Rachel Coleman

Dear BUMC Family, we’re standing at the edge of the new year, with twelve months of blank calendar pages in front of us. Those blank pages represent not absence of activity but presence—the presence of yet-to-be-imagined possibilities as we walk forward hand in hand with the God of hope, who can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine for ourselves, our families, our church, and our community.

A New Year’s tradition that has been gaining quite a following over the past several years is the selection of a “word of the year.” People choose a word to hang on to during the coming year, a word that represents hopes, dreams, desires, commitments, or convictions that can help to shape their lives over the course of the coming months. Maybe you’ve tried this for several years, maybe 2019 will be your first foray into the “word of the year” tradition. I want to encourage each of you to give it a try! And as you gather in small groups—Bible studies, Sunday School classes, JOY Circle, leadership team, work groups, praise band, choir—why not choose together a word that will shape your corporate praying and dreaming for Belmont UMC in the months to come?

word of the year

You can read about my “word of the year” here: writepraylove660813036.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/immeasurably-more/. I hope you’ll share your own in the comments.

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 10 (Mark 15-16)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

This is the final post in our “Repent and Believe” series. We’ve been tracking the rubber-meets-the-road implications of a positive response to that gospel invitation in Mark’s Gospel. What did it look like, in the nitty-gritty of life, for people to repent and believe, leave and follow? (See the previous parts of the series here.) In Mark 15–16, we see three little glimpses of how they followed Jesus in the darkest moments of their journey, and then in the glorious light of resurrection.

repentandbelieve

Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, we meet Joseph of Arimathea, “a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). Matthew tells us that Joseph had become a disciple of Jesus; John qualifies it as a “secret disciple” (Matt 27:57; John 19:38). This secret disciple goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body, so that he can give it proper burial. Something has finally clicked for Joseph; his repentance and belief can no longer operate in the realm of secrecy and hesitation. Witnessing the crucifixion, that apparent defeat of God’s kingdom at the hands of the empire, has unleashed in Joseph a willingness to walk boldly into the den of empire’s power, in order to serve the broken body of Jesus.

Two days later—and we can only imagine the dark grief and questioning of those two days—some of the women disciples come to that tomb where Joseph had laid Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1–8). These women demonstrate that sometimes “repent and believe” means acting in faithful loyalty and love for Jesus even when faith is still lagging behind. The two Marys and Salome fully expected to find a dead body in that garden tomb and a problematic, heavy stone blocking their access to it. Resurrection was not on their horizon that Sunday morning. And yet they went; like Joseph, they were moved by the simple desire to minister to the broken body of the One they had loved. Imagine the mental, emotional, and spiritual bridge they had to cross, to get from faithful loyalty to faith when presented with the angelic announcement of Jesus’ resurrection!

Finally, one of these women, Mary Magdalene, overcomes the initial terror and amazement that kept the women silent, despite the angel’s command to “go and tell” (Mark 16:7–8). Mary bursts into the disciples’ “grief group” with the astonishing news that Jesus was alive—but “they would not believe it” (v. 11). Sometimes, it seems, putting “repent and believe” into action means telling the story, whether they believe you or not!

Questions to consider:

  • What is the impetus (shall we say, “swift kick in the spiritual pants”?) that will shake you from hesitation into resolute action as a follower of Jesus? What risks will you take to serve Jesus by serving his broken body, the fragmented and beautiful lives that make up the Body of Christ?
  • If your faith is faltering, how can faithful loyalty to Jesus keep you moving forward until faith catches up?
  • Where and how and to whom do you need to tell the wild and wonderful story of Jesus’ resurrection, whether you think the listeners will believe you or not?

 

Repent and Believe, part 9 (Mark 13-14)

“Repent and Believe,” part 9 (Mark 13–14)

 Dr. Rachel Coleman

Mark’s Gospel begins with the grand invitation to “repent and believe” and the inseparable imperatives, “leave and follow.” In this series we’ve been following the disciples through Mark to see what the real-life implications of “repent and believe” were for them as they left all to follow Jesus. (See the previous parts of the series here.) As we near the dark Friday event on Golgotha, Mark’s focus is squarely on Jesus and the disciples fade into the background, but there are still some glimpses of how “repent and believe” played out in their life with Jesus.

Mark 13 is not one of those passages that offers warm, fuzzy comfort. What Jesus does offer in this sermon is a reality check about four aspects of lived-out repentance and belief. First, it requires intimacy with Jesus—knowing him well enough not to be fooled by the inevitable pretenders or disturbed by tumultuous events (13:5–8). Second, it means accepting that the cruciform path Jesus leads us on will inevitably and inescapably lead to hostility, that such hostility will lead to opportunities for faith-sharing, and that the Holy Spirit will provide any words necessary in those moments (13:9–13). Third, “repent and believe” means standing firm to the end (13:12–19), holding on to Jesus in the midst of internecine betrayal and bewildering, troubling, frightening circumstances. Fourth, living in intimacy with Jesus, accepting his cross-shaped path, and holding tightly to him through the tumult, requires staying awake (13:32–36). Pay attention, stay alert, keep your eyes open, don’t get lulled into passivity or apathy or clouded vision—stay engaged, with a vision sharpened by the Spirit to anticipate and notice the times and places where God is at work through Jesus.

In Mark 14, we catch a couple more glimpses of the real-life implications of “repent and believe.” First, it means doing what Jesus asks, even when it’s something odd, risky, or illogical (14:12–16). That kind of action requires trusting that Jesus has already selected the space and made the necessary provisions for what he is asking us to do. (I’m struck by the fact that when he sends the two disciples off for the audacious takeover of an unknown host’s guest room, Jesus calls it “my guest room.”) Second, in that infamous moment of collective hesitation around the Passover table, immortalized by DaVinci’s painting, we see that “repent and believe” means acknowledging that we are all vulnerable and fallible if we take our eyes off Jesus and try to set the agenda ourselves (14:17–20). Every single man seated around that table recognized his potential to turn intimacy into betrayal.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the tumults that shake your faith or threaten your intimacy with Jesus during this season of your life? What keeps you from holding tightly to him in the storm? What holy habits will help you stay alert, engaged, expectant?
  • In what odd or risky or illogical thing is Jesus inviting you to partner with him? How will you respond?
  • What agendas—yours or those of others—are drawing your gaze away from Jesus, leaving you vulnerable to the power of deception and betrayal? What do you need to do to refocus your attention on Jesus and his agenda?

 

Repent and Believe, part 8 (Mark 11-12)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

We’ve been on a challenging, encouraging, and sometimes surprising journey with Jesus and the Twelve through Mark’s Gospel. We’ve been tracking the real-life implications of answering the grand gospel invitation, “repent and believe,” and responding in obedience to the costly gospel imperative, “leave and follow.” (See the previous parts of the series here.) As Jesus and his disciples move into Jerusalem, with the shadow of the cross looming darkly over them, what it means to “repent and believe” takes on sharper edges.

In what is almost like a Shakespearean aside, Mark throws in a conversation between Jesus and the disciples about faith and prayer, sandwiching it between some big, public controversies. In Mark 11:22–25, Jesus teaches the disciples that a prayer life shaped by “repent and believe” will be grounded in three inseparably woven strands: trust God unreservedly (v. 22), ask boldly (vs. 23–24), and forgive extravagantly (v. 25). Asking boldly and well flows out of the relationship of confident trust in God and the disposition to forgive others.

The longer Jesus hangs out in Jerusalem, the more he finds himself in sharp conflict with the religious leaders. And for most of Mark 12, the disciples sort of fade into the narrative background as Jesus and his hostile opponents stand at center stage. Maybe, just maybe, “repent and believe” means that sometimes you have to step back, keep your mouth shut, and just watch and listen as Jesus does his thing, learning from him how to respond to hostility and opposition.

At the very end of Mark 12, there’s another wonderful little aside, with Jesus stepping back from the public stage to have a very intentional conversation with his disciples. Jesus’ words about “the widow’s mite” (12:41–44) make painfully clear that “repent and believe” means giving God the best, the fullest, and the necessary, rather than the leftovers, the “discretionary income,” or the expendable portion of our treasures, talents, and time. It means the kind of giving that expresses not just gratitude but dependence—a total reliance on God that will almost certainly look like foolish risk-taking in the eyes of the world.

Questions to consider:

  • Of the three strands that weave together a strong prayer life—trust fully, ask boldly, forgive extravagantly, which is the “weakest link” for you, and how can you strengthen it? What might change if you do?
  • Where does Jesus’ “conflict management strategy” impact your life? And where might he be calling you to “zip the lip” and let him speak into that situation?
  • How’s the level of risk-taking dependence reflected in your giving?

 

Repent and Believe, part 7 (Mark 10)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe, leave and follow”—Mark’s Gospel is giving us an extended look into the real-life implications of the gospel’s invitation-imperative package. (See the previous parts of the series here.) In this installment, we’ll consider some of those implications from Mark 10. Warning—these come with a serious “ouch!” factor.

In Mark 10:13–16, the Evangelist gives us a glimpse of something that makes Jesus angry. Mark observes that Jesus becomes “indignant” (v. 14) when his people put up barriers to keep the powerless, the humble, and the vulnerable (like children) away from him. “Repent and believe” means recognizing that we bring nothing of power or privilege or status to the table—the invitation we have accepted is sheer grace. Out of that “graced” reality, we fling wide the gates and clear a path so that other “unworthy” sinners have direct access to Jesus. We don’t have to “keep Jesus safe” from the unruly, rambunctious realities of the human condition.

On the heels of that encounter with some of the “least” in that culture (children), Jesus meets a representative of “the greatest”—a very wealthy man who is contemplating the gospel’s invitation and imperative (Mark 10:17–22). Jesus loves this man who is enslaved to his possessions, and his heart must have broken when the man allowed his wealth to stand as an insurmountable barrier to intimacy and commitment. “Repent and believe” means the deliberate act of releasing ourselves from self-imposed bondage to other masters; it means resolutely relinquishing any other loyalties that would keep us from honestly acknowledging Jesus as Lord.

As the rich man goes away submerged in a grief of his own making, Jesus makes this disconcerting announcement: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). The disciples are dumb-founded—isn’t material wealth to be interpreted as a sign of God’s blessing? In that kind of worldview, if the rich can’t get in, what hope is there for the un-rich? And what are the implications for disciples who have given up everything to follow Jesus (v. 28)? Jesus offers them a promise—whatever security or relationships or possessions they have left behind to “leave and follow,” they will receive from him an extravagant abundance in return. “Repent and believe” means embracing the “different abundance” of the kingdom, which is only possible when we lay aside the world’s definitions of success and greatness to accept the cross-shaped path of service and humility (see Mark 10:32–43).

Questions to consider:

  • How am I involved in putting up barriers that keep “those people” from entering into relationship with Jesus? What will “repent and believe” look like for me at this point?
  • Are there “little loyalties” that I have allowed to become lords in my life? What will it take to de-throne them so that Jesus is truly Lord?
  • Am I willing to embrace the different kind of abundance that Jesus offers? What are the obstacles to that choice?

 

“Repent and Believe,” part 6 (Mark 9)

Dr. Rachel Coleman

“Repent and believe, leave and follow”—the grand invitation and costly imperatives of the gospel. We’ve been tracking what they look like in Mark’s Gospel, and asking about the implications for discipleship in our own here and now. (See the previous parts of the series here.) In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 9.

At the end of Mark 8, we hear Jesus telling his disciples some really hard words about the cost of following him. Phrases like “deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life for my sake” are echoing in their ears. The very next episode Mark narrates is a literal mountain-top experience (we call it the Transfiguration), but he introduces it with a little phrase that caught my attention: “Six days later” (9:2). Between the costly imperatives and the astonishing glimpse of glory, Jesus gives them some time to ponder the truth of who he is and to do some hard thinking about what it means to follow him. Sometimes “repent and believe” means taking time to process the gospel’s invitation and to consider the cost. The initial bold enthusiasm must be paired with serious reflection that cements and anchors the commitment in a robust and resolute decision rather than in a momentary burst of emotion.

At the end of that glorious mountaintop scene, the already-stunned Peter, James, and John are further awed by a voice from heaven (Mark 9:7). “This is my Son, the Beloved,” declares the Father. “Listen to him!” There’s no punctuation in the Greek text, but I’m sure that if Mark were relating this on Facebook or Twitter, he would have written: “LISTEN.TO.HIM!” Sometimes “repent and believe” means that, in the midst of swirling confusion, awe, fear, and questions, the number one choice we make is to listen to Jesus, to hear his voice and heed his authority.

Wouldn’t you expect that the next episodes in Mark 9 would show the disciples living out that kind of listening? Unfortunately, by the end of the chapter, Jesus has to take advantage of a teaching opportunity provoked by their refusal to pay attention to the kind of life he is modeling for them. When he catches them in an argument about power and position, Jesus drops this word of correction into their shame-faced silence: “Whoever want to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35).  “Repent and believe” means giving up any jockeying for power, position, or privilege.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you taken time to “count the cost” of following hard after Jesus, on a path that is inevitably cross-shaped?
  • How are your ears? Are they tuned to Jesus’ voice—and is your will set to obey what you hear him saying?
  • Where are you clinging to a “me first” mentality or to the sneaky, subtle temptation to promote your interests over the interests of others? (Paul gives us a beautiful, Jesus-shaped corrective to this tendency in Philippians 2:1–11.)