If you joined us for Vacation Bible School you heard that phrase repeatedly throughout the day. The focus of our stories, our crafts, and our games, was to remind us that God is always with us. In the darkest of valleys, in the mundane everyday, and during those mountain top experiences, God is with us.
That’s an important message for us to hear, no matter how old we are. God is with you. A major component of Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God is in our midst. He repeatedly encouraged the disciples, and all who would listen, to notice God’s presence in our midst. Matthew 4:17 recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: ‘Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.’” (The Message)
Jesus reminds us that God is not “somewhere out there.” God is right here, in our midst, with us, right now. However, just because God is present with us does not mean that everything will go smoothly. There will still be trials and tribulations, heartache and brokenness. The recent news from Minnesota, Louisiana, and Dallas just goes to confirm that. We are living in a time where God is presence, but not fully realized. It is like an extended pregnancy, there is new life, but it is not yet fully realized. The child is there, but we can’t yet see or hold her. It is a time of great anticipation, and sometimes substantial discomfort.
Though we cannot see the child, we see evidence of its presence. As the mother’s body changes to accommodate the new life growing within her, we know that there is something new and beautiful taking place. The same is true in our world. I believe, with all of my heart, that there is something new and beautiful taking place. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like, yet.
What I do know is that God’s present, and coming, kingdom requires something on my part. I have to change my thinking, my behavior, and my attitudes. I have to repent. Did you notice the importance of repentance to recognizing God’s presence? Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, the kingdom of God is here if you want it.” He said, “Repent.” We have to change our way of thinking, of acting, and of being to be able to appreciate God’s presence among us.
In just a few weeks we will begin a 30-week journey to do just that. Beginning on August 21st we will be working our way through “Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.” This is the follow-up to “The Story” and will give us the opportunity to answer the question, “So what?” The story of God’s work in and through humanity is a remarkable tale of love and redemption. But if it doesn’t change us, doesn’t move us to be more like Jesus, then what good has that remarkable story done? It’s a great story. So what?
That is the question we will seek to answer as we journey through the 30 weeks of “Believe.” We will begin with 10 weeks asking “What do I believe about …?” During that time we will address what we believe about God, Church, the Bible, humanity, and more. Once we have begun to get a grasp on what we think about those topics, we will address how we act as a response. The question for the second set of 10 weeks will be, “What should I/we do?” During this time we will discuss topics like sharing our faith with others, worship, and prayer.
Finally we will conclude our journey by examining who we are becoming as people of faith. These last ten weeks will be focused on what Paul identifies as the “fruits of the Spirit.” After thinking about what we believe, and how we are to behave, we finally settle on how we know we are becoming more like Christ. We will cover topics ranging from love, to patience, to humility, to self-control.
We will take a short break during Advent to focus on the important message of God’s presence with us through the birth of Jesus. Our Advent celebration will include a special, casual, worship on Christmas morning. (I’m still working on what that looks like, but am considering something which I think will be fun, unique, and significant.) And we will take a break at Easter to focus on the importance of the resurrection in our lives. Our Journey through “Believe” will conclude on May 21st, 2017.
In the next few weeks you will have the opportunity to sign up to purchase materials which will allow you to follow along with us as we work through “Believe” as a community of faith during Sunday school and worship, and throughout the week on our own, or as a family. I am excited about this experience and the potential for transformation in our lives as individuals, and as a community of faith.