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What you Imagine, You Desire.

  • Written by Nathan Willowby
  • Published: 11 April 2014

Sunday, I worked with this phrase in the sermon. The point was not as much the phrase itself as an entry way into the importance of developing a Scriptural Imagination in order to understand the failures of both Pilate and the Chief Priests in John 19.

 Sometimes you push an angle in preaching too far. After the service, someone came up to me and challenged the phrase. He said that he can imagine a lot of things that he wants to avoid. He also said that he does think the corollary is true—you can’t desire what you have not imagined.

 I kept thinking about the exchange as the church day wound down. In the sermon, I mentioned my initial hesitation with my friend’s Instagram comment. Sometimes people are able to remind you after a sermon that you over-stated something and I am convinced that was the case on Sunday.

 So, perhaps you can modify my sermon illustration from Sunday to this. You cannot desire the Christian option without first developing a Christian Imagination. Pilate and the Chief Priests had not come to desire Jesus’ Kingdom, Kingship, and power because they failed to see, understand, or imagine what that kind of King Jesus really was. Jesus was and is the King of the Jews, and it is much easier for us to see that retrospectively. So many times, the way that is really God’s way comes to us as we look back, because Jesus is constantly inviting us to a reality that requires transformation of imagination.

 So, friends, You cannot Desire the Christian option without first developing a Christian Imagination. May we all seek and accept a formation that leads to Christian Imagination.

An orienting challenge...

  • Written by Nathan Willowby
  • Published: 26 March 2014

I came across a good description of what I think our congregation and church tradition should emphasize and offer others. No surprise, but someone said it really well, long ago.  E. A. Reardon was a campmeeting speaker in 1929 where he said that the challenge facing the Church of God "was to speak with a clear and distinctive voice without allowing distinctiveness to become a preoccupation" (Strege, I Saw the Church, 193).

We must seek Christ and speak the truth as we understand it, but we must not make having an exclusive understanding of the truth our idol.

Focus 40

  • Written by Nathan Willowby
  • Published: 11 March 2014

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)



So why do we participate in Focus 40? I think it is good to regularly ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. So why are we oining hundreds of other churches in focusing on Extreme Living from March 12th through Easter Sunday (4/20)? Are we trying to be more "high church"? Do we feel left out of Lenten Fish Fries here in Milwaukee? Did Pastor Nathan recently discover the lost pamphlet of F. G. Smith that describes the importance of a pre-Easter intentional fast as part of a robust understanding of sanctification? In reality, I don't know all that went into the people at Church of God Ministries organizing Focus 40 a few years ago. Maybe it was an attempt to offer a Lent alternative that fits the ethos of the Church of God more than some of the other Lenten traditions. Maybe it was because many congregations were starting to expand their Easter preparation beyond Holy Week and this offered a way for the Church of God to do something in a more cohesive manner? Whatever the initial motivation, the Focus 40 has been an annual time for Church of God congregations to join together in an intentional season of seeking after God's will and activity in one certain area. Last year, the emphasis was "Extreme Love." This year, the emphasis is "Extreme Living."

In a recent "Dean's Report," Duke Divinity School dean, Richard Hays articulated the importance of tradition for theological vision. He noted the difference between trying to repeat tradition and recoveringthe tradition for the present situation. I think the embrace of a larger preparation season for Easter is a good example of us exercising theological imagination and vision. Yes, you can certainly go online to the Anderson University Library website and access Gospel Trumpet articles from the late 1800s that will make the case against the "Romish" and "works righteousness" of Lent, but the practice of the church to view the season before Easter as a special time of reflection and preparation remains something that is available to us to recover. As I mentioned in the sermon on 3/9, we use different language here than you will find for Lent in many other "high church" contexts, but let's not be so afraid of other traditions as to miss an opportunity to think more deeply about Christ's invitation for us to "have life, and have it to the full." Extreme Living is all about learning to hear and follow the Holy Spirit's guidance instead of listening to the cacophony of negative, idolatrous, and prideful words from the bandits who seeks to "steal and kill and destroy" the true and good lives that Christ offers us.

In keeping with our tradition--we can also test this idea of a 40 day preparation by what we find in Scripture. On that front, I am very confident that we have a good precedent. 40 days is a common biblical period for preparation and testing. Consider this list of 40s: 40 days and nights of rain for the flood, 40 days of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Israel had 40 years of wandering before they entered the promised land, Elijah ate one meal that sustained him for 40 days, Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai with God (Twice!), Israel's spies searched Canaan for 40 days, Ezekiel lay outside the temple for 40 days, Jesus was on earth after the resurrection for 40 days.

I invite you to join so many others in this season of preparation. Consider a regular fast of something. Meat, chocolate, coffee, or candy are good old fashioned standbys. Maybe you want to try a technology fast... an NCIS fast, a "sports on tv" fast, a lunch fast, a no food after 6 fast... Whatever it is, make an effort to spend saved time or money on something that flows from God in the direction of "Extreme Living." Check out this page for resources. There are daily devotions, daily podcasts, weekly family devotions, a prayer calendar, and a few other items. Remember--we are called to follow the Good Shepherd instead of all the other "hired hands" who will lead us astray and abandon us when we are most vulnerable (see John 10).

Why wash feet?

  • Written by Nathan Willowby
  • Published: 19 March 2014

On Thursday, April 17th we will gather for a service of foot washing and share in a Seder Meal for our congregation’s Maundy Thursday service. Many churches now celebrate foot washing on Maundy Thursday, but the practice has been important and standard in this congregation since its inception in 1910.

Now, in keeping with the theme of these blog posts, we will ask the question once more—why do we do this? Why will our church have a foot washing service this year? Because it has been done for 100+ years? Because we really like showing off our feet? Because we like making new people uncomfortable? Because our church is more humble that all the others in the whole wide world?

The answer is really two-fold. On the one hand, we do this because we are a part of the Church of God. Foot washing has roots in the Winebrennarian movement that influenced the most influential figure of the first generation of the Church of God reformation movement--D.S. Warner. Beyond his Winebrennarian influence, Warner wrote frequently about the importance of foot washing alongside believers’ baptism and communion as an element of the life of the church depicted in the New Testament. Beyond it just being something found in the Bible, the Church of God has repeatedly affirmed the importance of sharing in foot washing. For example, there was a big conflict in the early Church of God movement (late 1800s) when a group that was teaching at an Ohio Campmeeting against baptism, communion, and foot washing. In response Warner and others sought to explain why that teaching was wrong and not consistent with the proper understanding of the Church of God in its aspirations to mirror the New Testament church (Strege, I Saw the Church, 35). The importance of foot washing for Church of God identity does not stop in the 1800s. Brother Slacum mounted an attack on those who he felt had apostasized from the true church in 1944 and one of the most important signs that a church was in apostasy was their failure to practice foot washing (Strege, 274).

Therefore, as a congregation that grew out of and remains a part of the Church of God movement, we have precedence on the side of practicing foot washing. In that sense, if we are going to practice believers’ baptism (we do.) and communion (every 3rd Sunday) then we are on the trajectory of following these ordinances and church practices. In other words, we should follow our tradition unless we have a good reason to go against it or let it go.

But the more important answer and the one that is the second half of this post is that ultimately, our commitment to practicing foot washing is about following Jesus’ example. In John chapter 13, Jesus washes his disciples feet and tells them that since he as their Lord and Teacher has washed their feet, they should do likewise. In our congregation’s understanding, this was more than just a one time event and story for us to cognitively absorb. Instead we see a powerful message within the story about what true glory is, what true power is, and what posture we as followers of Jesus are invited to adopt.

Gil Stafford emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ disciples being “willing to lay aside [our] cloaks of respectability for the sake of God’s redemptive work in the world.” Jesus’ followers are to follow his way of servanthood by deliberate humility in service to others.

Stafford cites Edwyn Hoskyns, who writes about the societal implications of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Let’s just say, Jesus was subverting the standard practice in several ways. Hoskyns states,

“To wash the feet of their masters belonged to the duties of slaves (1 Sam. 25:41). According to Rabbinic teaching, slaves of Jewish birth were not bound to perform this menial action, thought wives were expected to wash the feet of their husbands.”

From this background, Stafford notes that Jesus was both not expected to do this and in doing so, took on the role of a slave or woman. I think it is important to comment here that Jesus regularly redefines things in the New Testament. It is not so much that we should think of Jesus as a slave or woman but to challenge how his actions here should adjust our notions of what is relegated as the work “merely” for slaves and women. Jesus takes claim of activities that “respectable men” wouldn’t dream of doing and instructs those people who follow him to practice these acts of servanthood.

So in short, we are going to wash feet on April 17th because Jesus taught us that foot washing is an important practice of those who follow him. Foot washing is an embodied practice that reminds us the posture of our Lord in the face of those who will betray you or follow you to the end.

If you’ve never participated in a foot washing service, we invite you to join us. You are welcome to just watch if it seems too new or strange to you. We trust that the experience will be one where you will have the opportunity to grow more deeply in your faith and the journey of following Jesus as Lord.

Why and What?

  • Written by Nathan Willowby
  • Published: 10 March 2014

This month, I will address several questions relating to why we do certain things as part of our worship and congregational life leading up to Easter. As of tonight, the plan is to address: Why do we join the Church of God Focus 40? Why do we have Maundy Thursday Services? What are the Biblical Stations of the Cross? Why do we wash feet?

I'll post the blog about why we are participating with the Focus 40 on Monday. But for those who are joining us on the journey to seek to learn the Good Shepherd's voice, here is a link to the daily podcasts: