Does My Testimony Count in Your Church?

John 4:5-42

Some conversations seem doomed before they ever get started. Long before people encounter one another, preconceptions, false notions, bone-deep prejudices, or plain old garden-variety personality conflicts all conspire to keep people apart than bringing them together. This person was born in the wrong country, that person has the wrong gender, or gender identity, over there is a person whose moral and ethical compass seems to point due south, and yet another professes a false religion. From both sides comes the cry that the others are heathens, heretics, and apostates. No meaningful dialogue seems possible; it is doomed before it starts.

Jesus’ very presence in our world creates a powerful statement about crossing seemingly insurmountable boundaries for the building of God’s Kingdom. The Word—the living presence of God—became flesh and dwelt among us. The creator becomes one with creation in order to establish God’s purposes—first in Jerusalem, then all of Judea, then throughout the world.  And so it is that Jesus initiates a conversation with a woman who is culturally distanced from him by every conventional understanding of race, gender, and religion. By the time they are finished talking, she has encountered God, and her simple witness of faith will transform an entire region. Her faith is simple, childlike, and lacking in sophistication, but her testimony will transform her world.

Far Away, So Close

John 3:1-21

Sometime after sundown, in the dark of night, a religious leader named Nicodemus comes seeking an audience with Jesus.  They are talking about God, and how people become part of God’s kingdom. The conversation bounces around, and there is a playful sparring with words, but in the end Jesus makes a strong, declarative summary statement: people become part of God’s Kingdom because they are “begotten” by God…and they are drawn to the light of God so that they can bear witness to God’s love and faithfulness.

Nicodemus struggled with the same issue facing many church-goers today, those who find themselves sitting in the pews but a million miles from God. Days go by, weeks, even decades…they see others all around them who seem to be “getting it”, “finding God”, “being born again”, feeling joyful and filled with love. But nothing has “happened” for them! A life spent in religious discipline feels a bit like slavery if it doesn’t flow from a living relationship with God. The soul can grow a nasty scab, and the spirit become bitter and discouraged. Such religion is not something celebrated and shared, but rather hidden and kept private…like the religious leader Nicodemus coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness. Even in the church, God’s kingdom remains invisible until we are begotten from above.

The Essential Confrontation

Matthew 4:1-11

During Lent we will be overhearing 5 Great Faith Conversations. This week we listen in on the first conversation, which occurred after Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. Jesus emerged from the waters and was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. There, for 40 days, he fasted, prayed, and considered what implications and responsibilities lay ahead of him as “God’s Son, in whom God is well pleased.” It was during this time that Satan came and tested Jesus…in fact, the testing was the very reason the Holy Spirit brought him to the wilderness in the first place. 

Every great and Godly undertaking in this world is met by a profound and persistent opposition. This resistance takes many forms, but it invariably serves to derail, deflect, demoralize, and discourage. Virtually everyone encounters it. Jesus encountered it. It’s baked into the very fabric of this world. If we could see it coming, with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork, our opposition would be easy enough to recognize, and we could run the other way.  But it is subtle, beguiling, often complimentary and practical. Most alarmingly, it is a voice that rises up within us.

Jesus went to sort out the difference between God’s call on his life and the seductive inner voice of opposition. Before he, or any of us, can give ourselves to the world, we need to have a true to self to give away. This requires an inner dialogue in which we grapple with the truth about ourselves.  It the “essential confrontation” that leads to life.

The Heart of the Matter

Matthew 5:21-37

Have you ever been tempted to tackle matters of sin and brokenness by “ranking” transgressions? In weighing your own moral and ethical life—and the lives of those around you—have you ever measured your mistakes, missteps, and misdeeds by telling yourself “THIS is a big, unforgivable thing” or “THAT is nothing, forget about it?” It's a real temptation, when we are confronted daily by the evidence of sin in the world, to give ourselves a pass, to create some moral breathing space from which to tell ourselves “well, yeah, I messed up, but at least I didn't do something really bad like commit murder.”

Jesus wanted his followers to understand that there is a pathway to sin that begins in the heart; that deliverance from sin and our souls' redemption depend on being healed from the inside out. Before “really bad things” like murder are committed, there are first really hard words exchanged. And before the hard words, there is the hardness of heart we call “hatred.” Hatred, lust, seeing others as less than human...these are interior conditions, matters of the heart. Though unseen by even our our closest family and neighbors, they are nonetheless present to us, and Jesus says there is no room in the Kingdom of God for such things. Hatred, lust, indeed all matters of the heart, are the very things Jesus came to heal in us, that we might be made clean and show his love to the world.

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Matthew 5:13-20

Jesus' ministry was different. The growing reputation concerning him—the healing, the call to repentance, the preaching "with authority,” and the announcing of God's Kingdom—were strange and new and exciting to many people.  But what of the old ways? What about the traditions, so familiar and comforting? If too much change occurs too quickly, who will be left to remember the ancient ways and carry forth our legacy? Change is hard...but Jesus' ministry was very different.

Matthew reminds his readers that Jesus did not come to abolish the old ways—the Law and the Prophets—but to fulfill them.  God's people had in fact "settled" for much less than what God had in mind for them. Their leaders had cherry-picked the laws of God, excusing their own infractions while demanding utter and unbending adherence from others. They had reduced the meaning of "righteousness" from a living relationship with God to a functionary checking-off of semi-religious boxes. Now Jesus had appeared, announcing that God's people need not keep the law, but rather to be kept by it through God's love. In this way, God's righteousness will be truly fulfilled.


Matthew 5:1-12

     Where do you place yourself in order to hear the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus climbed mountain with his closest disciples, and sat down to teach. Do you stand with that inner circle, the apostles-in-training? Some came to learn by overhearing, eager to know the ways of God but not ready to raise the hand and ask the teacher. Are you with these? Some came for healing, and some for hope, and some for help with their poverty, and some came because that's where the crowd was heading. Are you among the outer rings, the fringe-followers of Jesus who know more about the mob than the Master?  Wherever you stand, Jesus has a word for you. The word is "blessed." Makarioi in the Greek. It describes a place of wholeness, peace, and righteousness with God. It is a word for all of God's people.

     Jesus is revealing how it will be when we put ourselves under the loving care and grace of God. We are brought together, from every circumstance and station of life, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit we might complete the blessing of God, and fulfill all righteousness. We are not alone in life's circumstances, we are part of the body of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. You will be there for the one who mourns, I will be there to sustain and defend the gentle and humble ones, and yet another will be there for you when you hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God.  Together, we become the inheritors of what we can never do by ourselves. Together, we are blessed by God.

Fishing Tales

Matthew 4:12-23

    For most people in our time, taking a fishing trip has little to do with feeding ourselves or the survival of our family; it's a matter of sport. And for those who are truly "hooked", there's more to fishing than simply choosing the right bait or learning to properly play a fish. One of the most important attributes of a true angler is the ability to stretch the truth—to tell stories about the great big fish we caught, or the one that got away. When we tell a tall fishing tale, we're following a time-honored tradition of the modern sports fisherman.

     With such a background to the subject of fishing, its important to remember that the fishermen Jesus called to be disciples were fishing for their lives, and for their well being.  When Jesus asked them to put down their nets, when he offered to show them "how to fish for people", he was asking them to walk away from everything they'd ever learned about how to support themselves.  He asked them to give up their livelihood; he asked them for nothing less than a bold act of complete and total trust in him.

    In time, the tales these disciples told would come to be called "the good news". The good news for us is that we serve a God who calls us forth...Jesus still calls us today.  If we are bold enough, even now we can turn from what we've always known and follow him in faith.

Embracing Our Cultural Diversity

Julie Ascuncion grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and moved to Southern California 40 years ago.  She attended CalState LA. After working for 35 years, she retired as a Programmer Analyst.

Julie is married, has two 2 children, 8 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. She has been a proud UMW member for over 20 years and is currently serving as the Cal-Pac Conference UMW Secretary. She has held positions in the former Pasadena District and at her local church.

Julie has also served on the Board of Laity for the Cal-Pac Conference. She attends the Filipino-American United Methodist Church in Hacienda Heights.

In her local church, Julie serves as Chairperson of the Church Council and has held other positions in various committees such as Outreach, SPRC, and Social Action. Julie also volunteers as a study leader for Bible study classes. She currently serves as President of the Methodist Hospital Women’s Auxiliary in Arcadia.

After retiring, she and hubby have enjoyed traveling and spending time with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Julie is an avid reader and enjoys volunteering — at the Methodist Hospital, a local museum, the Performing Art Center and her church. She also enjoys taking classes in upholstery, sewing, and dancing. But Julie’s main passion is volunteering at church and serving the Lord by being involved with the United Methodist Women and its missions.