Author Archives: rob.haynes


Rev. Robert E. Haynes, PhD
Director of Education and Leadership
World Methodist Evangelism

I don’t always have the best sense of direction. That is one reason why I was particularly thankful when GPS systems became available for your car. I no longer had to pull over to look at a map, rather I could just obediently listen to the voice traveling with me, telling me where to turn. When I strayed from the best path, the voice in the GPS gently reminded me that the device is “recalculating,” and told me where I needed to go.

Some years ago, I was in visiting family in another city. We had to run an errand in a part of the city that was unfamiliar to me, so I got out my GPS. Our eight-year-old son with us and, to have a bit of fun with him, I set the voice on the GPS to “Yeti.” Yep, Yeti. I’m just weird that way. (I have no idea how the programmers “knew” what a Yeti sounded like.) Well, Joshua loved to hear the funny sounds that the “Yeti” made when it gave you directions in its “Yeti” language.

To have even more fun with our son, we intentionally disobeyed the GPS’s directions so that the “Yeti” would have to correct us. The more we drove, the more it yelled at us in its unintelligible, nonsense language. The more he yelled, the more Joshua laughed at the funny voice. I drove blissfully along, not really knowing where I was going, while we all laughed at Joshua laughing at the funny voice. You see, I had the form and function to accomplish what I needed to do. But rather than listen to the voice that would get me where I needed to go, I decided to listen to the voice that was cute and novel.

The Bible tells us that, in life, we have a guide who reminds us of what we should be doing and where we should be going: the Holy Spirit. Throughout Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit only affirms what is written in God’s Word to us and is to be our source of direction in all things. This means that individuals and communities will flourish under the Spirit’s guidance. But I’m not so sure we are always listening as we should.

I have an evangelism mentor who tells me, “In order to share your faith, show up in someone else’s life and pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing.” Discerning the many competing voices in our lives and the lives of others can seem difficult. We can face pressures to follow the voices around us, though they may be in direct conflict with God’s desires for us. For those who want to share with faith with others, trying to be winsome when the world’s novel voices contradict Jesus’ commands can be exhausting.

However, we do not have to navigate this alone. This is a key reason why John Wesley instructed the early Methodists to “attend upon all the Ordinances of God.” These, he said, included, but are not limited to: The public worship of God, the study of Scriptures, celebrating Holy Communion, private prayer, and fasting/abstinence. These are ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us so that we can discern the Lord’s voice from all the competing voices in world. We best recognize the voices of those with whom we spend the most time. Simply put: To recognize God’s voice, spend time with Him.

I might still be lost on the errand with my son if it had not been for the fact that I took along a brother-in-law who lived nearby. He knew the way we were to go and guided me over the “noise” of the Yeti and my son’s laughter. All I had to do was to discern which voice was just for fun and which one would get me where I needed to go. So it is in our spiritual journeys. We could all use some “recalculating” to make sure we are listening, and obeying, the Holy Spirit’s perfect directions.


Share your faith…again

Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

IHave you ever watched a caterpillar transform into a butterfly? It is a miraculous sight. The plain, ordinary caterpillar becomes something spectacular. A transformation, a metamorphosis, has occurs when it emerges from the cocoon. The Christian life is one of transformation, one of metamorphosis, and of regular renewal thereafter.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome about transformation: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1, 2) The root word for “transformed” here is where we get the word for “metamorphosis.” Unlike the butterfly, however, the transformation described here is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime emergence from a dark cocoon.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Jesus must save you multiple times. Not at all. His sacrifice and our confession of our need for this forgiveness is enough. (see Romans 10:9, for example). Paul is writing to the church gathered in Rome whom he says “are called to be saints” and whose “faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:7,8). This group of early Christians are living in a place and time when it is not always easy to be a follower of Jesus. Despite these difficulties, their faith is an example to be heeded by other Christ followers.

If things are going so well, why would he still tell them to be “transformed”, to offer themselves as “sacrifices”, to be “renewed”? Paul knows that the Christian life can be hard. Trials and temptations abound, and there are many distractions. He also knows that regular attention to the means of grace like worship, prayer, Scripture reading, small group discipleship, celebration of the sacraments, and others is vital to growing more in the image of Christ. Relying only on the first experience is not enough.

John Wesley stressed this important principle to the People Called Methodists. Wesley saw many Christians who were relying upon a weak and static faith. He warned them to “not lean on the broken reed of their baptism” (See his “Marks of the New Birth” sermon). Wesley was adamant that God had raised up the Methodist movement to reform the church which was full of people who would already consider themselves Christ followers. Yes, transformation was still required. This ongoing movement of encouraging people to actively peruse a life that seeks renewal remains vital today. One of the richest lessons of the Methodist movement is that we don’t have to do this on our own. Rather than merely preach to them once and then leave them to their own devices, Wesley organized the Classes, Bands, and Societies to help people experience the continuing transform offered through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we refer to the transformation Romans commands and Wesley taught as “discipleship.” True discipleship is personal, but it is not private. Each of must take personal responsibility for response to Christ’s offer of salvation, and growth in Christ is done in community. Notice how many of those means of grace that we mentioned above are done in community, things like worship, small groups, and Holy Communion.

When it comes to faith-sharing, we need to practice the personal-not-private posture. Part of evangelism is to tell someone else the Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time. It is also sharing faith with others while walking in Christian fellowship with them and telling them the Good News of Jesus Christ when they need to hear it again. And again. And again. For example, later in Romans 7 Paul laments that he does not always do the things he should be doing. Yet, he can celebrate that God rescues us from this dilemma though Jesus. We all need to be reminded of the ongoing transformation that God offers in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. Simply put: sometimes faith-sharing requires sharing faith again.

Redeeming the Tragedy

Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

In 1940, Sergei Prokofiev shook the world with his ballet adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev, an accomplished composer and artist, brought many new elements to his rendition of Romeo and Juliet. However, he stirred a great deal of controversy when he gave this well-known tragedy a happy ending. Audiences were appalled at the idea.

Since 1597 people have watched Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers play out their calamity. Across the world, audiences know that the show they are about to watch is going to end in the most tragic of circumstances. If someone were to arrive unaware, the narrator lays out the ending in the opening lines of the prologue. To paraphrase, the narrator tells us, “Welcome to our show. They die in the end. Enjoy the story.” But why do we still listen to the story when we know the disastrous results?

I have a hunch that  it is because none of us are immune from tragedy. We live in a fallen world that is racked by the effects of sin. Everywhere we turn we can see brokenness and decay. But we long for something more. We enter into the stories of tragedies in hopes that they will turn out differently. But as Prokofiev learned, we still want to know that someone else knows our pain.

To sing a sad song, to tell a tragic story—as if it might end differently this time—is an exercise is both mourning and hope. We mourn for what was and what is. And we hope for what could be. We long for something more. We long for the world to be the way that it could be, not just the way it is.

The Scriptures tell us that God is making all things new. The Spirit is at work to restore things as revealed in the Revelation of John. This is exemplified in Jesus Christ. The gospel’s message is that we do, in fact, have someone who knows our pain. There is no temptation, nor sorrow, in any of humanity that Jesus himself does not know.

Believe it or not, Advent and Christmas are perfect occasions to remember that we live in tragedy. The first Christmas was full of lament. Mary and Joseph faced the difficulty of their plight. The people of Israel were under occupied rule, and they longed for deliverance. The fact that Jesus enters the world in such a state proves at an even deeper level that he is no stranger to any difficulty we face. The baby born in the manger knew that the tragedy of the cross that was to come. He also knew the victory over all of life’s tragedies that would come through the Resurrection.

We are still journeying through tragedies. Justice is denied to those who deserve it. The innocents suffer at no fault of their own. Exiles long for home. In our modern Christmas commemorations, we sing this in the well-known carol “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” We desire that God would hear our cries and know our struggles.

Evangelism with honesty and integrity admits this reality. There is no need to gloss over the pain; there’s plenty to go around. However, we can also acknowledge that there is more to life than the pain we see now. As the words of that hymn remind us, we can sing for what we long for:

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

This is an Advent Season like no other. People around the world, and around your community, are living through some tragic situations. Maybe you are going one yourself. Unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, the message of Christmas is that Christ has conquered all the tragedies we may endure. Through the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, may this truth bring us peace in whatever difficulties we may face.

I stand at the door…of your church

Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” –Jesus, Revelation 3:20

When I was a boy, my grandmother had a picture of Jesus standing outside a door. He was knocking gently, as if asking politely to come inside. This image was burned in my mind when, years later, I heard an evangelistic sermon built around this text and the accompanying painting. The preacher reminded us that there is no handle on the door of that painting. Rather, is it up to us to open the door to Jesus. Maybe you have heard a similar message preached on this passage.

Jesus’ proclamation by itself sounds like something he would say in an open field to a large group of people, calling unbelievers to follow him for the first time. While there is certainly an evangelistic message in Jesus’ words that is consistent with his teaching throughout Scripture, the content of this verse deserves a closer look. Jesus’ words are found at the end of his message to the seven churches in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation. He is speaking to the church at Laodicea. If you have heard a sermon or Bible Study on this before, the teacher probably emphasized this church as being the “lukewarm church.” 

While the church in Laodicea was once on fire for the Kingdom of God, Jesus points out that it has become neither hot nor cold. They had begun to rely on their own wealth, fine clothes, and medical abilities. They were tempted in several ways by worldly comforts and accomplishments, and Jesus points them out, one by one. About ten years before these words were written, the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. The population of the city was so wealthy, they completely rebuilt without government assistance. Can you imagine a city today recovering from a natural disaster and not expecting the government’s help? There were hot springs near the city, and they were one of the first to have hot and cold running water in their homes. They raised sheep that produced fine wool, which made great clothes. They produced a unique ointment that was known to cure certain eye problems. The Laodicean church didn’t have any problem meeting the budget, clothing the community, or with medical missions. Yet, Jesus says they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (v17) Ouch! He calls them to repentance and says that he does so in great love.

His solution to their wayward state is to come to them and knock at the door. He wants to be invited in and to share a meal together. Don’t miss the significance of this: Jesus could have disowned the church or easily have wiped the city off the map. Yet, he is standing at the door and asking to be invited in. There are three things in verse 20 that he invites them to do:

  1. PAY ATTENTION: There is a saying that goes, “Power doesn’t move.” I learned this when I was an elementary school student and was called to the principal’s office. The weaker one comes to the one with power. Yet, here is Jesus, the one who sits on the throne in Revelation, who has emptied himself to call his church to repentance. Because of this posture, he is highly exalted and praised. (See Philippians 2:6-11) This is the type of leader that deserves our attention, and we should listen to him.
  1. OPEN: It is important to point out that Jesus says we should open the door for him. He does not force himself upon us, though he certainly could. God respects our divine right of refusal. This is another demonstration of his love for us. Love does not coerce or force itself on another. If you cannot say “no” to the offer, then your “yes” would mean nothing. The church in Laodicea is asked to say “yes” to Jesus’ love again and again.
  1. FEAST: The original Greek translation gives the image of people sharing a feast together. The word used here indicates that all formalities of a banquet are dropped– no heavy rules of protocol and decorum. Rather, the meal that Jesus wants to share is a reciprocal relationship between two people who share a deep bond.

Around the world, there is a great deal of anxiety about the future of the church. The pandemic is but one of the concerns I hear from people. However, the lesson to the first-century church in Laodicea is just as relevant today. Jesus is still knocking at the door, still inviting, and still admonishing: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” 

Where the People Are

Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Many people want to impact their world for the sake of God’s mission but are unsure where to begin, especially when today’s churches face unprecedented challenges. Church participation has shifted dramatically in the last year and, when looking at empty pews, many faithful church-goers are asking: “When will people come back?”

As the effects of the Pandemic continue to manifest themselves in new and unanticipated ways, I have heard Christians in different parts of the Church and the Globe express a persistent concern. They wonder when things will go back to “normal” for their local church community. Frequently, they mean “When will people come back inside the doors of our sanctuaries?” In this case, uncertainty is the only certainty. However, this crisis presents unique opportunities for mission and ministry. Though we cannot control the complexities of our current context, we can answer the needs in innovative ways. We can look to our past to teach us how to communicate this truth now and in our unclear future.

Missional ministry is about going where the people are. It is much easier to throw open the doors of the church and shout, “Come on in!” However, mission requires movement—of both place and heart. This is the example of Scripture and of the Methodist revival.

We see this in Acts 16 when Paul and his companions are in the city of Philippi. When they did not find a synagogue for worship, they were forced to adapt. They moved to where the people were. They went outside the city, to the riverside, “where we supposed there was a place of prayer” (v.13). There he shared the gospel with Lydia. Her conversion was an important catalyst to the work of the church in that region. The Scriptures are full of such accounts.

The People called Methodists have a strong history of going to where the people are. John and Charles Wesley, among other preachers of the time, were concerned about the lack of participation in the life of the church. For them, the problem was complacency. In the spring of 1739, the Wesleys agreed to move from the traditional church buildings that brought these Anglican ministers some level of prestige, and to “be more vile” by preaching outdoors. Their willingness to preach in open fields, market squares, and industrial centers helped fuel a revival amongst the nation and made Methodism what it is today.

Going “where the people are” continued as Methodism took hold in the American Colonies. Preachers employed a practice of “circuit riding” to keep up with the movements of the people as the nation grew. These young ministers followed the expansion of the population. Francis Asbury was a leader among them. He covered 270,000 miles on horseback and on foot as he preached 16,000 sermons. Asbury’s journey records his preaching “in a tavern”, “in a tobacco house”, and “from a wagon, at the execution of prisoners”. Asbury and the Circuit Riding Methodist preachers knew how to take the message of the gospel to the people.

These lessons are applicable today. Rather than growing anxious about a need to return to worship, discipleship, or evangelism as only an in-person activity, it is important to embrace the opportunity of easily moving to where people are today. People have not merely disappeared, rather they are increasingly online. Before 2020, the number of devices connected to the internet was already twice that of the global population. Our internet-connected devices are everywhere: from our cellphones to our coffee makers to our medical devices. The Pandemic has only accelerated our digital migration, by choice and by necessity. The impacts of the Pandemic are going to continue, to some degree, for the foreseeable future. As a result, people are moving more of their lives online for comfort, for safety, and for their livelihoods. If you haven’t already, it is time to follow them there.

John Wesley’s journal tells us that he had to overcome his own pride and misunderstanding that “I…thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.” He chose the more effective method of taking the gospel message where it was needed most. He trained and empowered people who were called by God to share the gospel in the various places where the people already were. He used the tools of his time to meet the most pressing needs of the cultural moment. Today, with relative ease we can enter the various online communities that people inhabit. For many, this will require hard work, new skills, and unique innovation. For some, this will require becoming “more vile.” However, may we who follow Jesus in the way of the Wesleys follow their example. Mission-minded, faith-sharing movements will embrace the opportunities that the today’s online environment provides.

Living in the In-Between

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Our twenty-year-old son, Joshua recently secured his first apartment. He had been living in the university dormitories, but he was now excited to have a place of his own. My wife and I packed up his things with him and drove them 6 hours to his new place. When we (and all of his worldly possessions) got there, we hit a snag. Due to the ripple effects of the pandemic, we found out that his new place would not be ready for a few weeks. He had his lease agreement settled, his utilities secured, and his deposits paid. However, the place that was to be his new home was still out of his reach. Through the kindness of some of his friends, our son was able to stay in one place, while we unloaded his worldly possessions into a friend’s spare room. Everything he owned was in one place, while he lived out of a suitcase in another. Though his past was behind him, he could not reach all that was yet to be. Joshua was a young man stuck in the “in-between.”

While this was a minor, short-term inconvenience for our son, the story illustrates a much bigger point. Perhaps you are living in an unsettled place due to the change in a job, a relationship, or a life situation. Many of us feel like we are living in a “in-between” time due to a worldwide feeling of uncertainty. The impacts of the pandemic are raging in some parts of the world. In other parts, people are feeling hopeful as vaccinations increase and life returns to something that looks like “normal” again. However, we are not quite there yet. Precautions are still required, people are still at risk, and health experts warn us to not let down our guard. Many people continue to work from home, some schools are still meeting from a distance, and many of the activities we long for are still out of reach. We are all, to some degree, stuck in the “in-between.”

Sociologists remind us that the “in-between” is not always a bad place to be. Rather, during our times in this unsettled space, we have the greatest potential for growth. Though the “in-between” feels chaotic and we have trouble finding our equilibrium, it is here that we find new meanings and understandings as we regain our stability. This process brings about transformation that would not be possible without moving through that middle ground.

We can see evidence of this throughout Scripture. The most obvious example is in the story of the Exodus when the Israelites wondered through the desert for 40 years while God taught them how to be the people he wanted them to be. When Jesus calls for his disciples to “follow me,” he is asking them to leave behind all that is familiar and move into a space that is yet unknown to them (see Luke 9:57-62). Remember that Saul entered an “in-between” space after encountering the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus. After an intense period of instruction, God used Ananias to move Saul into the greater call on his life.

In fact, all of the Christian life is, to some degree, living in the “in-between.” Christianity requires one to move from the old self to something new. From the view of the Israelites as pilgrims to Jesus’ instructions to leave all and “Follow Me” (e.g. Luke 18:21) to the command “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) to later New Testament references to Christians as “aliens and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11), Christianity is a faith directly connected with living “in-between” what was and what will be.

In the case of our son, we knew where he was going, we could drive the streets of his new community, visit the apartment complex, and even see the exact place where he was going to live. But it was not yet his to occupy. So, it is in Christian discipleship. Jesus’ followers do not wander aimlessly as a people without hope or direction. Rather, his disciples know that he prepares a place for them, one that is secured by his death and resurrection (John 14). The Holy Spirit reminds us of this until we occupy it one day. Therefore, while many people may feel anxious and off-balance in the “in-between,” Christians can feel a sense of comfort knowing that we do not walk alone, and we do not go without direction. This is an excellent time and place to share that hope with others who are looking for a sense of peace in their own lives. A faithful Christian witness in the “in-between” embraces not merely the transition, but also that God does great things in us as he guides us through the middle ground.

The Crowded Road to Emmaus

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Not long ago, a friend shared with me how a series of unexpected difficulties impacted her life. She couldn’t understand how these things could happen to someone like her. She said she believed in God, but was feeling doubtful that God was concerned, or even aware, of her problems and this led her to really question God’s love in these difficult times. In the most trying of circumstances, in the most difficult of situations, where is God? Frequently, the answer is: “Much closer than you think.”

Luke’s gospel recalls the story of Cleopas and his companion who went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Passover and instead left after attending a funeral (Luke 24:13-35). Luke turns the spotlight on these two as they are walking home after witnessing Jesus’ death and burial. For them, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is dark and depressing.

The account begins on the afternoon of the first Easter. Jesus is risen from the dead, but the two companions had not seen Jesus for themselves. They had only heard others talk of the resurrection. As they left Jerusalem that afternoon, they were full of lament and sorrow. Just a week earlier, the people hailed Jesus as a hero as he entered Jerusalem. All over the city that week, people celebrated the Passover, one of the highest, holiest days in the Hebrew year. The remembrances were full of emotions of sorrow for the enslavement of their ancestors and thankfulness for God’s provisions. The culmination of that week was the farce of a trial that Jesus faced and his subsequent torture, humiliation, and public crucifixion. The traveling companions were reeling from the seemingly destroyed hopes of the movement they knew could change the world. In just a few short days, everything they knew was turned upside down. They were hurt and confused. Like my friend, they were full of questions, doubts, and fears.

Have you walked a road similar to the one these companions walked? Perhaps you know the hollowness of walking away from the graveside of a loved one who died much too soon. Maybe you have felt a sense of confusion and betrayal as those in power committed a miscarriage of justice by killing an innocent person. We have all felt the sting of broken promises and the grief of failed relationships. Many of us can relate to the hurt, anger, and despair that the two companions were feeling that day. Pain, bitterness, and confusion are so wide-spread that we walk with them on a crowded Road to Emmaus.

We continue to witness senseless violence perpetuated against the innocent increase at an alarming rate. The headlines are full of stories of leaders who earned peoples’ trust, only to destroy that trust through an abuse of power and position. Though there is optimism in some parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to steal lives and livelihoods. It seems like every time we see a ray of hope, the news is clouded with uncertainties and more confusion. The Road is crowded, indeed.

However, just like the two companions, we do not walk the road without hope, no matter how dark and difficult the circumstances. Jesus appears to the companions and asks why they are so troubled. When they explain their situation to him, Jesus gently chides them and gives them most remarkable of lessons when “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (v.27) The Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why the two travelers could not recognize Jesus on that road. However, it is important to remember that Jesus was with them as they journeyed. Though they were confused, hurt, and skeptical, Jesus walked alongside them showing them the Truth and the Way. He did not send them away the doubting and confused duo but accompanied them on their journey.

The fact that Jesus was walking this road alongside them is significant. Jesus was not in the tomb. Nor was he in the temple, showing off to the religious leaders that he was right all along. He was not in Herod’s palace nor in Pontius Pilate’s headquarters gloating about who really won. Rather, Jesus was with the hurt, confused, and skeptical. He walked alongside them, showing them the Truth and the Way.

The modern day, metaphorical, Road to Emmaus is undeniably crowded. However, not all of those who walk this difficult road know that Jesus is with them. Just as Jesus walked with people who were hurt, doubtful, confused, and skeptical, today’s followers of Jesus—empowered by the same Holy Spirit—have the privilege and the responsibility to do the same.

Lent is a chance to let God destroy our idols

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Many Christians mark the season of Lent with a time of an emphasis on prayer, reflection, and self-sacrifice. Using Jesus’ example of being separated and alone in the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and prayer (see Matthew 4), those who mark the occasion often try to grow deeper in their own faith by doing similar things. People might change their diet to go without meat on certain days, forego desserts, and the like. Others may try to change their free-time habits by avoiding social media and focusing on God instead. Still others may decide to add spiritual disciplines to their lives by increasing their giving, service to others, or times of personal devotion to God.

There are several places in Scripture where God demonstrates his power through the devotion of his people. At first glance, the plagues that God brought upon Egypt that led to the liberation of the Israelite slaves may not appear to be a guide for Lenten spiritual disciplines. However, a deeper look can show us that God’s work then can shape our current Christian discipleship.

The book of Exodus records the time when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Though they were a people of the One true God, yet they were surrounded by the false idols worshipped by the Egyptians. Obeying God’s call, Moses stood up to Pharaoh (who was seen as a child of the god Ra) and the other idols of the Land. The ten plagues God brought upon the nation of Egypt were direct judgements upon those false gods and proof that Yahweh, Israel’s God was all powerful. The animals that the Egyptians worshipped as guardians (frogs, gnats, livestock, and locusts) turned upon them. Their “godlike” livestock animals were stricken with pestilence and boils. The animals that supposedly protected them needed human protection from the hail. The false deity of the sun was powerless against the plague of darkness, and the false god of the Nile was lifeless as it turned to blood. The Egyptians believed that the first born of royalty was a divine gift of the god Ra. When death came upon Egypt’s firstborn, God was showing that even the Ra had no true power. The plagues proved that the false gods were worthless and that Yahweh is the All Mighty. The culmination of these was the Passover, when those who had marked their homes with the blood of the sacrificial lamb were spared. Yahweh led the Israelite people out of their captivity to a people of false gods and on the road that would lead them to their Promised Land.

The grand narrative of Scripture reminds us that Christian worship at Easter and the observation of Lent remains tied to all of these events of the Old Testament. The story of both the plagues and Lent is that God takes up the cause of the poor and the oppressed. God shows that the false idols of both the weak and the powerful are worthless. Meanwhile, he offers freedom from all the ways that these idols would enslave through the power of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere we look we can find the altars to the false gods of money, power, prestige, political superiority, social media credibility, and on and on. Jesus calls his followers to turn from the false gods of today.

We see the fulfillment of Passover’s meaning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture’s accounts of the Last Supper show us that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and showed that his coming crucifixion was to be the fulfillment of the first Passover. The blood of the lambs in Egypt spared the Israelites from the idols; Jesus’ death upon the cross is the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

To finally shatter the idols of today’s culture, Jesus’ followers around the world must allow themselves to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about the freedom proclaimed in that first Passover and fulfilled in Jesus. It is only through the joyous obedience to Christ’s teachings that we will see the shattering of the idols of racial superiority, political power grabbing, the pursuit of fame and fortune, or anything else that would attempt to usurp the true place that God should have as Lord of All in our lives.

Embracing the new for the sake of mission

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Think of a time when you went through a significant transition to something wonderful and new. Maybe it was moving away from home for the first time and getting your own place. Maybe it was starting a new job and moving to a new city. Maybe it was getting married and beginning a new life together. We can celebrate the new thing while appreciating the old that has passed. The old situation prepared us for the new opportunity. However, the new opportunity would not have been possible if we remained in our old situation. We see this lesson in Scripture when it comes to mission and evangelism.

The Bible is full of incidents in which people are invited to leave the old for new possibilities. In Matthew 9:16-17, Jesus tells his hearers that it is time for something novel and different by talking about old and new wineskins. This seems to be out of place, at first glance, since he was asked about the spiritual practice of fasting. However, a closer look reveals an important lesson about serving the Kingdom of God.

First, a little background on first-century wine making: When grapes were harvested for wine, they were first pressed and placed in a large vat. When the sugar from inside the grape interacted with the material on the skin, the fermentation process began. After a few days, the new wine was placed into a new wineskin. These wineskins were made from animals, perhaps from a single organ or the skin of a whole animal. 

Wine must ferment with little or no exposure to oxygen, or it will turn to vinegar. To prevent this, the skins were sewn up tight. The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the skin. Because the animal skin has a natural elasticity, it expands with the increased amounts of carbon dioxide. However, these skins cannot stretch indefinitely. If they have been used as a wineskin once, they cannot be used a second time. If asked to stretch again, they will reach their breaking point. In doing so, both the skin and the wine of the new batch—and all the work that went into it—will be lost. 

The imagery Jesus conveys is rich. He did not come to merely patch up or refill the old religious system. His purpose is to demonstrate something new. He came to fulfill all of the commands of God and show all the Kingdom of God made known in his teaching, miracles, signs, and deeds. 

As I said, this incident may look out of place at first glance. However, when considered in its larger place in the text, there is a particularly important lesson about opening up to the new things God is doing in order to realize God’s greater purposes. Consider the miraculous and life-changing events in this chapter:

9:2-8—Jesus heals a paralyzed man

9:9-13—Jesus calls Matthew to follow him

9:18-26—Jesus raises a dead girl back to life and heals a woman

9:27-31—Jesus restores the sight of two blind men 

9:32-34—Jesus restores the ability to speak in a man who was mute

Embedded in all of these accounts is the teaching on wineskins. In each of these instances, a radical transformation occurs. Jesus asks people to leave behind the old and embrace a new, life-giving future that God gives them. Blindness, paralysis, chronic conditions, even death itself, are all left behind. Through the power of Jesus, they are all made new and brought new life. Now, imagine if they each went home and tried to put this new life, this new wine, into those old skins. What if the once-paralyzed man continued to lay on his mat each day? What if the once-dead girl crawled back in bed? The idea is ludicrous. 

Keep reading through the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10 to really see the power of this. After all of these new, miraculous things Jesus tells his disciples that there is a plentiful harvest before them. He then gathered the Twelve and told them to go and to teach and to heal. It is important not to miss this powerful lesson: The mission of the Kingdom of God moves forward when God’s people embrace the new. Only when Christians allow Jesus to put away the old and fill us with new life are we able to able to fulfill Christ’s mission. When Jesus calls his followers out of an old situation, he prepares new places and spaces in which to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Those wishing to serve in the Kingdom of God must put away the old that Jesus wants to remove. Only then may we embrace the new and follow him in his mission of bringing Good News. 

Where Unity Begins

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

–Psalm 133:1

I have heard many people share with me recently their concern over a lack of unity in our world. Nations are deeply divided over politics, the appropriate response to COVID-19, racial and ethnic justice, and many other issues. Not even the church is a safe place from the divisiveness. How do we live together in this “very good and pleasant” way that the psalmist celebrates?

What does it mean to live in “unity” in the context of today’s realities?

We must be wary of a non-biblical unity. Historically and in modern times, many people have offered a false unity through coercion. Too many have sought to build a fabricated unity by conquering and subjugating another, by word or by deed. Too often wars of words and ideas leave the scorched earth of division and derision. How can we move towards the unity God desires?

It is first important to remember our kinship. In the age of globalization and increased digital connectivity, we are reminded of the commonalities so many of us share. We may share a kinship by our citizenship, by our common experience, or by common interests. All people share a kinship by the fact that we are all created in the image of God. On a deeper level, Christians are bound by a kinship in our common love and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At times, sadly, it has even been difficult to find unity there.

True unity begins when we fall on our faces in repentance and humility before God. When people hear a call for repentance, a common reaction is to expect the other person to repent, to get right, and to see it our way. Our human nature tells us that we are the ones who are correct, and the people are on the other side of the fence are the one who need to change. However, when we look to God’s teaching, we see that humility before God is something each of us must seek first.

Scripture records a time when Joshua and the Israelites are about to be used by God in miraculous ways. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua before he was to fulfill God’s mission at Jericho. Upon seeing the Angel, Joshua’s first question is, “Are you for me or for my enemy?” Though Joshua was about to be used by God to do miraculous things, the angel reminded Joshua that he was asking the wrong question. Joshua was to be on God’s side, not to expect God to be on his side. When the Angel told him that he was for neither side, but was a representative of the Lord, Joshua’s reply is a lesson for us: He fell on his face and asked, “What do you want me to do, God?” (see Joshua, chapter 5)

We should assume that same posture of humility before God. This is the only antidote to this era of the prevailing attitude of much of the culture: “Agree with me or you must be dead wrong!” Jesus calls his followers to be an alternative to the culture, not an echo of it. He shows this in mighty ways through his life and teaching and by his death and resurrection. He demonstrated this in the people he called to follow him. The disciples were from different walks of life. Many of them were considered outcasts by society. Some were despised by others for their ethnicity, their work, and their way of life. Some were considered lowlifes and insurrectionists. Some were among the overlooked and the forgotten. On top of that, there was infighting and power struggles among members of the group of disciples. Jesus’ reply to their misunderstandings of position, authority, and unity was a demonstration of self-abasing love that gives up life itself for the sake of another.

The psalmist goes on to tell us that unity is “…like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (verse 3) Mt. Hermon is the highest mountain in the area and it is so high that there is snow on its peak year around. However, the land around the base of the mountain is arid and dry. The cool air coming down from the snowy peak each morning provides a unique refreshment and rejuvenation that cannot be found elsewhere. Indeed, Mt. Hermon is the source of the Jordan River, that the Israelites crossed to the Promised Land and in which our Lord was baptized.

In a world that is dry and parched for the Good News, people need to see repentant and loving Christians work towards unity in their churches, their communities, and their countries. What would your community look like when Christians did so in a new and intentional way? How can you, like Joshua, move from the demand that God be on our side to a humility in asking if we are on God’s side? How can you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be a channel of God’s blessing in a dry and parched land?[/vc_column_text][vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”4″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership, is an author, teacher, pastor, theologian, and missiologist. His work focuses on local and global mission and evangelism, church leadership development, forming disciples for missional service, and fostering new spaces for conversations on faith and culture.