Michael Gray and his wife Lisa Oliver-Gray
Michael is the President elect of our Friends of Koinonia Sunday School class at NFCN. Each week he writes an email with an overview of what happened in class the previous week. Here is this week’s email:
Ash Wednesday greetings,
This past Sunday, NFCN teachers like Dr. Parrott were asked to complete the series entitled “Life’s Essential Relationships” with a message about “Called.” The twofold message of being called of God is that we are created so that we might be with Him (remain in love John 15:9-15) and that, once we abide in Him, we would join Him in going forth and bearing fruit (John 15:16-19). Dr. Parrott asked, “Do we obey God out of fear or love?” He also suggested another option: sometimes God asks us to do things we would rather not do. In these cases, obedience becomes our gift of love (see Mother Theresa).
At this point, Dr. Parrott deepened the discussion of fruit bearing by examining the way Jesus extended Isaiah’s prophetic vineyard parable. Isaiah 5:4-5 delivers God’s curse on his bad grape producing vineyard: the house of Israel. Jesus, in Mark 12:8-9 and 12, continues that metaphor by telling his audience that the vineyard owner sent servants as well as his own son only to have them beaten and killed. John 15:5-8 offers Jesus as vine and promises, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” John 15:16-19 adds, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit….As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Acknowledging that our bibles divide these thought into two paragraphs, one about fruit-filled abiding and one about loving the hateful persecutors, Dr. Parrott recommended we think of them as a “double call.” Claiming, “People like you to the degree that you support their value system,” Dr. Parrott pointed to Paul’s outreach to the jailer and the fortuneteller girl as moments when doing God’s work earned Paul a reputation for “turning the world upside down.”
If you believe God orders the words we hear as we are gathered together, consider this: Dr. Parrott’s preplanned message came about thirty minutes after a spiritual renewal sermon from Dr. David Sharpes, entitled “Cut” based on the prognosis of Acts 2:36-37 which reads, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this they were cut to the heart.” Dr. Sharpes preached that whenever the Holy Spirit “cuts” us it is surgical, meant for healing, and intensely personal, just like the cock crowing three times was as a message to Peter. He then identified godly concepts endemic to Nazarene vineyards like ours. Dr. Sharpes observed, “As Nazarenes we have inhaled a lot. God is saying, ‘Exhale.’” He added, “This should be the safest place in the world…where people can belong before they believe.” Further, Dr. Sharpes acknowledged our plateau/in decline status, saying that while Peter’s great address was followed by 3,000 persons repenting and being baptized, things are not currently like that in this country. He reported a 19.4% decline in church attendance, that the U.S.A is home to the world’s 4th largest unreached population, and that he had attended a dedication service for 300 Korean missionaries, all bound for the U.S.A. He declared, “Hearing this, we should all be shaken.” He diagnosed, “The bride of Christ has some fertility issues” and recommended that God would have us meet our neighbors “face to face and breath to breath.” On Monday night, he prescribed that we be a friend to sinners, reach out to the lepers of our day, become better listeners, and have the spine to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. Tuesday night he added that we should practice unity, stop church shopping, be reconciled to our enemies, love with a “second mile” sort of love, show compassion, and stop comparing our own strengths to someone else’s weaknesses.
For the record, I think I committed that last one in less than three minutes after Dr. Sharpes finished. My judgment was packaged in the illusively light-hearted, “with all due respect” brand of hypocritical wrapping….Cut.
If we were to return to the vineyard metaphor, to cut means not so much to uproot as to prune. Servants caring for grape vines not only cut away dead, unhealthy vines of disunity, legalism, and judgment; but, they also prune lush foliage because it lacks fruit. Such vines are attractive when they should be going to seed, leafy when they should be heavy laden. Well-tended vineyards develop from sturdy, mature stocks that have not been allowed to waste energy or lose sight of the harvest. They grow gnarled and thick from care. Between growing seasons they wait awkwardly in uniform rows, clothed only in the promise of fruit, dependent on timing and nutrients not their own.
Dr. Sharpes said something else, something I would co-opt for our class. He said, “There is no Plan B….The hope of this world is in this room, the message of hope for a people broken by sin.” We do ask God to use us and we hear of such every week. Join me praying for the ministries represented by our members: Emmaus, ELL, the NFCN therapists, the outreach to the Women’s prison (including the opportunity to bring Chairos to Nashville), our ministry to NFCN singles, the High Road Runners (ambassadors to our neighborhood), The Quest (formerly called The Bridge, this ministry is open to all dealing with the challenges of walking with God), Cheryl’s List (moving toward 5013C status), and all our classroom teachers. Also pray that David Cox be healed, that Karen Bryant be healed (receive proper treatment and medicines), that Tom Cook continue to gain strength, that Liam Reed get well, that God would bless the Blakeman family and all those traveling this week (Tech, Lisa, Lisa, Jeff, and Esther). Remember the unspoken requests. And, let us pray for those we know who are not yet followers of Christ (as one brother said to me, love them and God will redeem them).
One announcement: On Sunday, March 16, our class will host a memorial service for Wayne Monk. Those who knew him are encouraged to share; those who did not will want to hear about his life among us. Pastor Bob will lead the memorial; Dr. Parrott will follow with a brief lesson.