New Math – Advent Reflections part 3

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from Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

When COVID-19 shut down the schools in my state, I found myself serving as the “stand-in” algebra teacher for my 12-year old son. As the days went by, I realized there is something comforting in mathematics. You can check your answers and have certainty in the work. During a period when uncertainty reigned with no end in sight, the certainty of following a process and checking for right answers was a gift.

So much of our lives are grounded in a kind of math, formula, or logic. We are told that if you follow these steps, do the right things, your reward is waiting. Sometimes that pans out – sometimes not. This tallying and linear thinking can also be applied to our interactions with God. The Christian faith is often presented as easy math, simple transactions. If you agree to these statements, you’ll have eternal peace. Give money to this cause and you’ll be “#blessed.” Pray a little harder and your pain will go away, your wish will be granted.

But this isn’t consistent with God’s character or with what Jesus taught and modeled. The formula breaks down because life is hard, we struggle, and the fairness scale is unbalanced.

There’s no math that makes sense when we consider God’s unconditional love and grace. It’s so extravagant that we can never earn it and it’s definitely not what we deserve. As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, we are reminded that God doesn’t operate in our neat and tidy formulaic ways.

Today, I pray that we can move from thinking we need to do more to earn our place and instead, learn to swim in a sea of God’s grace. Amen.

You’re More Than Enough – Advent Reflections part 2

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from Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

I think we’ve all heard sermons and read devotions about not being so preoccupied with our busyness that we miss spending time with Jesus. But let’s be real, especially during this season of the year. How many of us find ourselves taking care of all the details, making sure everyone has what they need? Because if we don’t, who will?

In the story of Jesus coming to Mary and Martha’s house, we find Martha frantically scurrying about trying to fulfill her hosting responsibilities (Luke 10:38–42). We also see her getting increasingly annoyed at her sister for not lifting a hand to help. Martha has spent her entire life living into expectations placed on her or that she placed on herself along the way. This is the tradition and formula for making things work. She pleas with Jesus to affirm her efforts and to implore Mary to balance the equation. But Jesus pushes back:

Martha, you’ve already done more than enough by opening your home and providing physical space. Now open your heart and have confidence that you are enough, and your worth isn’t tied to the things you do or roles you play.

A Perfect Christmas – Advent Reflections part 1

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From Rev. Dr. Heather H. Lear, Vice President for Grant Administration

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? With all the commitments and pressures so many of us already face, all the other holiday-related things can feel like a huge drain.

B. Janet Hibbs, Ph.D., a Philadelphia-based therapist says, “Childhood memories of gingerbread houses, decorations, wrapped presents, special foods, as well as familial and religious traditions pose unconscious expectations.” Many of us watched the women in our families bake and decorate and run around like a maniac buying gifts. So, part of the reason we might take on these activities ourselves is because it just seems normal. We have our to-do lists, shopping lists, Christmas card lists, and general mental checklists to ensure everything is perfect and sticks to the magical Christmas formula. I don’t remember my grandmother ever pausing her hostess role to sit down and enjoy the food she prepared at the one time a year our extended family was gathered.

How do we remain focused on preparing for the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us?

As we mentally scan our to-do lists and long-held traditions, what makes sense and brings expectation and joy today, when things may be new, or different or hard?

The “E Word” Group Study Guide

A new group study guide has been released for “The E Word” webinar which launched in November 2019. This study guide expands on the webinar and provides a way for small groups and congregations to dive deep into what evangelism means and explore ways they can use what they learn to better tell the Gospel story to their community. Written by Rev. Dr. Heather Lear, The Foundation for Evangelism’s Teaching and Research Fellow and former Director of Evangelism Ministries for Discipleship Ministries, the guide is broken up into four sections – an introduction, and three sessions based on the webinar speakers’ topics, Rev. Dr. Jack Jackson (Claremont School of Theology) with Faith Sharing & “Why Jesus,” Rev. Dr. Laceye Warner (Duke Divinity School) with Evangelism and Discipleship, and Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe (Wesley Theological Seminary) with Contextual Awareness. The sessions have a biblical and theological grounding in the Wesleyan tradition while asking culturally relevant questions to help your group look at current practices, motivation, and outcomes with exercises to challenge you to go beyond “what we’ve always done” and dream for what God is calling you to.

The guide is flexible and gives suggestions for groups meeting for different lengths of time, making it ideal for small groups, Sunday School, Bible Study groups, and even as a congregation-wide study. The questions are intentionally open-ended, and can be adapted for your particular ministry setting.

This group study guide and “The E-Word” webinar it is based on were both sponsored by The Foundation for Evangelism as a way to help local churches equip disciples to share their faith and the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International license, and may be printed/reproduced under the guidelines of this license. If you wish to reproduce this material for another purpose, please request permission by contacting our office.