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Following the Lead of the Early Christians

This past Sunday, our worship focus was the early church. In the days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, having left the disciples to continue their mission without him, the church began to grow. However, this was not because the  disciples’ primary goal was to “grow the church.” Their primary goal was living a Christian lifestyle. If they were to fulfill the mission Christ gave them (to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth), what kinds of things would they need to be doing in order for that happen? That was the question before them. Those   early Christians settled on five – 5 spiritual practices – as the answer to that question:

The Apostles’ Teaching (the Word of God)

Fellowship (coming together and gathering together)

Breaking Bread (sharing meals)




Our most recent sermon series, which concluded this past Sunday, was based on the Strategic Plan the council is considering adopting to guide our ministry over the next 3-5 years. The plan happens to have four (4) focus areas –   Neighborhood; Faithful families; Organization; and Generosity. As I was preparing the sermon for October 3, and as I read over those 5 spiritual practices from Acts 2, I was struck by how closely they align with our 4 focus areas.


The Apostles’ Teaching refers to how the early Christians devoted themselves to the Word of God as communicated by Jesus. Our focus on Faithful Families is designed (among other things) to encourage greater participation in activities and programs that help us grow in our biblical knowledge and understanding.


Fellowship refers to how the early Christians overcame regional and individual differences to come together in faith. Our focus on the Neighborhood hopes to reveal how, through faith, earthly differences and distinctions can be           transcended.


Overall, these 5 practices of the early church were an intentional way of giving organization to a movement that was becoming “the church.” They helped turn an otherwise disparate 3,000-plus group of people into the organization we know today as the church. Our focus on Organization similarly asks us to think intentionally about the best way to organize the church in our day and age, just as our ancestors did in theirs.


Finally, the early Christians made in incredibly lasting impact on the world because of their way of generous living. Similarly, our focus on Generosity asks us to consider what kind of impact we might make on the world today.      Granted, our impact will invariably pale in comparison to that of the earliest disciples. But like theirs, we hope ours is lasting.


Whether or not the Council approves this Strategic Plan, I hope you have enjoyed this recent series – not only each of the individual Sunday messages and biblical passages on which they were based, but also thinking about how these scriptures speak to our life as a church today. Moreover, these kinds of things – striving to be good neighbors; supporting families and growing in our biblical knowledge; being intentional about how we are organized; and how we are generous will always remain as important things for us to consider.

Blessings, Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Offering Prayers and Being Prayerful

Last week at our staff meeting, we discussed a distinction between “prayer” and “prayerful.” Prayer is is something we do, but prayerful is someone we are.  Prayer is external, while prayerful is internal. Prayer has a beginning and an end, while prayerful is ongoing. This is why we think of prayer as something we offer (an action that is outside us) and why we think of prayer as being prayerful (in internal way of orienting the person we are in the world). Being prayerful is a way of living out the words of I Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” As one of our staff people suggested (my paraphrase), “None of us can sit with hands folded and heads bowed all the time (i.e. without ceasing).”  But we can live in an ongoing way such that our orientation in the world is prayerful.

Being prayerful is, more specifically, seeking the presence of God in all things.  If it is true – as scripture instructs – that God created all things, then everything in creation bears the imprint of God’s presence. That means God is present in every person, place and thing; every situation, circumstance and relationship. 

In order to seek the presence of God in all things, several things are necessary:

  • First, being open. We must be able to willing to entertain the idea that God could be present in everything we encounter and experience.
  • Being open requires attentiveness. Being prayerful is about listening more than speaking. And it is about “listening” (observing, receiving) with all our senses and not just our ears.
  • Listening is also about removing distractions. While prayer is an action that we “do,” being prayerful is taking things away and moving more slowly through life so that we don’t miss God’s presence when it is revealed to us.
  • Finally, being prayerful is about humility. Everything we hear, observe and receive from the outside world comes to us through the filter of our own desires, hopes and anticipations. The humility of being prayerful is acknowledging these filters and asking God to be revealed through them.  Otherwise we might confuse God’s revelation with our own comfortable interpretation. 

While all of us may not feel confident or gifted in the external action of offering prayers, we all can live lives of prayerfulness.

Blessings, Michael

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Pentecost Transformation

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday in the church year.  Pentecost is a word that means “50” because Pentecost takes place 50 days after Easter.  It is celebrated as the day the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and fell upon the followers of Jesus.  He had left them 40 days earlier – 40 days after he rose from the tomb – to ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God.  And so on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down, fell on the followers of Jesus and turned them into “The Church.”  It is even thought of in some ways as the Birthday of the Church.  It is also the when those followers of Jesus “spoke in tongues” and where the history of Pentecostal and charismatic worship began. 

What I love about Pentecost is the fact that it didn’t begin as a Christian “holiday.”  It actually began as a Jewish one.  On that day when the Holy Spirit fell from heaven, the disciples and thousands of others were in Jerusalem to celebrate a Jewish religious festival.  And it was during that festival – that traditional holiday – that God did something new, through the Holy Spirit, to establish the church.


That speaks to me, as a Christian, because it is the reminder that God takes what is traditional – familiar; what is already here - and can transform it into something new.  Not just something new, but something hopeful and life-giving. 


What that means to me is this:

No matter what the condition of your life is now, in the hands of God – and through faith – we can see it as something new, hopeful and life-giving.  Often, when we face obstacles, difficulties or great challenges, our secret prayer is that we wish they would go away; that God would take some kind of cosmic eraser and wipe the slate clean and we could go back to a situation that was easier and safer.  But Pentecost is our hope that no matter what the condition of our present life may be, God can transform even IT into something hopeful and life-giving for us. 


Oh, and one more thing:

We invite you to wear RED this Sunday.  Red shirts, ties, suits, dresses, accessories, socks, hats, etc…  Whatever you have that is RED, wear it!!!  Red is the official color of Pentecost and we hope you’ll help us “Paint the Church Red” this Sunday. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

Shaking Off Dust

In this past Sunday’s service we focused on the passage Mark 6:7-13.  In it, Jesus sends the disciples out as extensions of himself; to be his representatives in the world.  He gives them instructions about what to do and what to take with them, and we are told the ways in which they are successful.  But he also tells them what to do if things do not go well for them.  “If any place does not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (v. 11).

Clearly this sounds pejorative and punitive.  Any time the words “testimony” and “against them” are used in the same sentence it is hard not to come to that conclusion.  And yet, there is a significant spiritual “silver lining” that may be embedded in these words. 


Rabbis, in ancient days, were not only teachers of the Law, they were highly esteemed figures.  They would invite students to come and learn the sacred teachings of God from them.  When students accepted, they would leave home and literally follow the Rabbi everywhere he went.  They would live with other students near the Rabbi.  The world could be the Rabbi’s classroom.  He could use any every-day situation or place to teach a biblical lesson to his students who, as was said, followed him wherever he went.   The students could only hope to soak up as much knowledge, experience and expertise from the Rabbi as possible.  For this reason, there was a blessing that families would impart upon the young boys invited by the Rabbi to follow him and it was this: May the dust of the Rabbi be upon you.  That is, may you follow the teacher so closely that the dust kicked up from his sandals settles upon you.  Dust, in this sense, represents the very presence of the Rabbi to which one would always desire to be near. 


Too often, we see judgment – or “testimony against” – as a license to end a relationship.  Someone doesn’t “get” what we are doing and it is our privilege to write them off; “shake off dust” against them.  Yet, if dust represents the presence of the Rabbi – the presence of Christ; the presence of God - then this verse takes on new meaning.  Even when we are fed up with someone and want to “write them off,” the presence of Christ is still there.  The invitation to be transformed has not been removed from them, even though our presence may be.


I wonder how our attitudes toward others might be impacted if we thought about “shaking off dust” in this way. 

Posted by Michael Karunas with

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