Archive for the 'Vinebranch news' Category

New feature in Vinebranch bulletin

August 17, 2011

This Sunday, you’ll notice a new feature on back of our Vinebranch bulletin: a QR code that links your smartphone to Vinebranch-related content. It will look something like this:

Give it a try now. You need a free QR app, which you can download on any smartphone. Open the app. Point your phone at the QR code, and, voila! Instant cool-ness.

The QR code on back of the bulletin will direct you to web content, but these codes can also give you a text message. What does the code above say?

Vinebranch service project video

August 11, 2011

We painted the blue part around the gym. We also painted two principals' offices.

Last Saturday, August 6, 11 adults, two teenagers, and nine kids participated in our first ever Vinebranch service project. We painted a gym and two offices at nearby Manning Oaks Elementary. Here’s a video that my daughter, Elisa, made, documenting the event. Enjoy!

Reflection on this Sunday’s scripture by C.S. Lewis

July 14, 2011

The scripture for this Sunday in Vinebranch is Romans 6:1-11. I enjoyed these words from Mere Christianity, which speak to the issues raised by this text. (I have a copy of Lewis’s book, but the C.S. Lewis Bible tipped me off to this particular quote.)

The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes fo the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, “Be perfect,” He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

C.S. Lewis in “Walk in Newness of Life,” The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1276.

World’s greatest commercial EVER

July 10, 2011

… And I’m not just saying that because it was written, directed, filmed, edited by, and starring my kids. We showed this in Vinebranch this morning to promote an upcoming Vinebranch mission project.

If you’re interested in helping, please sign up. It will be fun.

Romans series: what to leave in, what to leave out

June 25, 2011

I’m enjoying our sermon series in Romans. It’s a challenge for me. Romans is Paul’s masterpiece, and the fullest, most concentrated statement of the gospel in the New Testament. But it’s difficult because it’s packed with meaning. No wasted words, no asides, no unimportant tangents. Every word, we should safely assume, serves Paul’s argument.

With that in mind, I’ve had great difficulty skipping over sections of the letter. If you look at the original schedule, you’ll see that I’ll have spent three weeks saying what I intended to say in one. At the same time, we don’t have time to go through the letter verse by verse.

So I thought I’d give you a brief update on what I’ve left out so far…

Which is mostly Paul’s reason for writing the letter in the first place! Sorry about that!

His main reason goes back to Paul’s thesis sentence in Romans 1:17-18: God’s righteousness. Of course, I’ve talked about God’s righteousness—in terms of God’s justifiable anger over sin and God’s way of dealing with the problem and “putting the world to rights” (as N.T. Wright likes to say). But I’ve talked about it in a very general way so far, whereas Paul also talks about it in a specific way: as it relates to God’s people Israel. This is what Paul deals with in Romans 2 and most of chapter 3 (which my sermons skip).

If God is righteous, that means two things: First, God is committed to justice—and dealing with sin, which is nothing less than a violation of God’s justice. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Jew and Gentile alike. But if that’s the case, where does that leave Israel? After all, God’s righteousness means not only that God is committed to seeing that justice is done (the usual way we think about righteousness), but that God is also a God who keeps his promises to Israel, his covenant people. Has God turned his back on Israel and the covenant—as if God said, “Well, I tried it this way, by establishing a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, but that failed, so I better try something else”?

That may be the way it appears, Paul says, but that isn’t what’s happened at all! It’s true that Israel failed to be faithful in its mission to reveal God to the world. (Given the nature of sin, how could they not?) The Old Testament prophets have a lot to say about this failure. Does that mean, therefore, that God’s promises to Abraham wouldn’t come true? That God had abandoned the covenant? No! Because now, Paul argues—in an unexpected way that few could imagine (although it’s clear from Isaiah 53, among other scriptures)—God enabled Israel to be successful in its mission: through Jesus, God’s Son, the Messiah, Israel’s faithful representative. Jesus did what did what Israel couldn’t do, so that through Abraham’s offspring the world would indeed be blessed.

Among other things, this means that the way Romans 3:22 is often translated (that God’s righteousness comes through “faith in” Jesus) is misleading. It should be translated—as the new Common English Bible translates it: “God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him.” The Greek is ambiguous: it could mean “faith of,” “faith in,” or “faithfulness of.” The faithfulness of Jesus makes the most sense: it carries with it the meaning of both Jesus’ faithfulness to God’s covenant with Israel, and his life of sinless obedience to the Father. The emphasis is on what Christ has accomplished for the world, not on what we accomplish—as if placing faith in Jesus were a kind of meritorious work that Paul himself loudly excludes in the rest of the letter.

Besides, translating it as the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him” avoids the redundancy of the NIV or NRSV, which reads “faith in Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him.” “Faith in Jesus for all who have faith in Jesus” is an awkward thing to say.

I’m not a Greek scholar. I’m leaning heavily, as I so often do, on N.T. Wright. Specifically, his words in Abingdon’s New Interpreter’s Bible commentary.

I hope this helps. If I were teaching a Bible study on Romans, I would talk through this stuff as well. As it is, I’m preaching sermons, and I hope you’re enjoying them!

This morning’s Vinebranch video for graduating seniors

May 15, 2011

This morning we showed the following video as a tribute to the Class of 2011. I asked various adult youth group leaders to give advice to graduating seniors as they begin this next phase of their lives.

About that weird stuff in “John’s Pentecost” from John 20

May 14, 2011

No spoiler alert necessary. None of the following will appear in my Vinebranch sermon tomorrow. It’s too technical, too lengthy, and maybe a little boring for a sermon (as opposed to a Bible study). Needless to say, I find it all terribly interesting. Maybe you will too. It’s about the same passage of scripture I’ll be preaching on: John 20:19-29.

The scripture includes an intriguing image in John 20:22: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” What does it mean to be “breathed on” by Jesus?

This scripture continues the New Creation imagery that I’ve discussed elsewhere (here and here). These words intentionally recall those words found back in Genesis Chapter 2, describing how God “breathed into the nostrils” of that first human being the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7). This breath that Jesus breathed into the disciples was the breath of new life. This was nothing less than the beginning of God’s new world, God’s new creation, and these disciples are being re-created. Jesus is sending his friends into the world to announce the good news of this new creation, which is beginning right now, in the here and now, and will be completed on the other side of our future resurrection.

This passage is sometimes called “John’s Pentecost,” because in John’s gospel, Jesus gives this group of disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit before his ascension—just as he does in Acts 2 after his ascension, while Jews are gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost.

The passage also includes the controversial verse 23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” What on earth does that mean? This has been a source of division in the Western church between Catholics and Protestants. Over the centuries, Catholics began interpreting this verse to mean that Jesus gave his apostles (and by extension their successors, ordained elders) a special role in forgiving sins—thus the Catholic sacrament of penance. Read the rest of this entry »

Vinebranch Mother’s Day video

May 8, 2011

We showed this Mother’s Day video in Vinebranch this morning. We asked some AFUMC people to name an important lesson that their mothers taught them. Enjoy!

“No hands but ours”? I hope not!

May 5, 2011

We’re continuing to look at the resurrection appearances of Jesus in Vinebranch on Sunday. This time, the scripture is Luke 24:36-48. A natural move that I may make in my sermon is something like this:

“O.K., the risen Jesus said to his disbelieving disciples, ‘Look at my hands; touch my hands; look at my feet; touch my feet. It’s really me.’ There was a lengthy period of time during which we could talk to many eyewitnesses who said, ‘I saw the risen Lord.’ And because of that, we can be assured that our faith rests on a firm historical foundation.

“Today, however, we no longer have the ability to touch the hands and feet of Jesus. Rather, we are the hands and feet. We are the evidence. Our lives are the evidence to people to whom we lovingly minister.”

Something like that. I can even relate it to Mother’s Day, as we think about how our own mothers (we hope!) were the hands and feet of Jesus to us.

Having said that, however, I will not make this additional move—employed by one prominent preacher I just read—repeating this oft-quoted drivel, which may or may not have originated with 15th-century mystic St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.

Why does this bother me so much? It’s the “nothing but this” aspect that’s wrong. If you want to get theological, it smacks of everyone’s favorite heresy, Pelagianism. By all means, we the Church are the Body of Christ in the world, continuing, however imperfectly, Christ’s ministry and witnessing to his love. But thank God that Christ’s power isn’t limited to us alone! We have the Holy Spirit alive in this world right now, working God’s good plan for this world—in us, through us, and often in spite of us—in ways that go far beyond our imagination. We are not doing the heavy lifting here.

When we love as Christ loves, we empty ourselves of ourselves. We become empty vessels through which the Spirit of Christ moves—and the emptier the better! It’s about what God does through us, not what we do.

The Vinebranch band is awesome, part 2

April 25, 2011

Detail from the new sign on the Vinebranch chapel on Main Street

Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, the Vinebranch band sent the congregation out on a high note with this rousing rendition of the traditional “Ain’t No Grave.” I recorded it on my iPhone.
The Vinebranch band will be hosting its semiannual Coffeehouse on Friday, May 6, from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. in the newly renovated Vinebranch Chapel. It’s an opportunity to take in some great live music—including a wide variety of rock, pop, country, and gospel—while enjoying free Starbucks coffee and dessert. Free childcare is provided for children in third grade and younger.