Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

Prayer List – Prayers to include in your private prayers and prayers of the church.
Lectionary readings.
Global Mission Festival, October 24.
Thoughts from the Global Leadership Summit. And Andy Stanley. And T. D. Jakes.
Video: Spirit of Joy youth take urban plunge.
Bishop Younan elected President of the Lutheran World Federation.

Thank you to those who gave to the Gallo Women’s Clinic in the Central African Republic for my birthday. We raised $2,000! It was a great birthday gift.

Fall Leadership Gatherings are a chance for council presidents to gather, as well as treasurers, pastors and so forth. Friday is for rostered leaders. Saturday is for everyone. We’ll have workshops on Evangelism, Small Groups, Youth and Family, Stewardship and more. These are coming up in a few weeks. REGISTER NOW!

  • August 13-14 at St. Paul’s in Brenham, TX
  • August 27-28 at Christ the King in Kenner, LA (includes a Katrina Remembrance Service)
  • September 10-11 at Zion in Houston, TX

Playing with Fire

What on earth could Jesus mean when he says he is going to bring fire to the earth? Luke likes fire. You may recall that earlier in Luke John the Baptist said that although he was baptizing with water, Jesus would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, tongues of fire rest upon the worshipers at Pentecost.

Astute exegete Brian Stoffregen suggests a number of things that the fire could represent: God’s presence (the burning bush), God’s purification (refiner’s fire), God’s judgment (hell), a warm happy feeling. Okay, just kidding on that last.
T.D. Jakes talked about fire as passion at the Willowcreek Global Leadership Summit.

I suspect the early church was experiencing some friction in families. When part of a traditionally pagan family converted to Christianity, it had to have caused problems, dividing families. Paying homage to the gods was every Roman citizen’s civic duty. It guaranteed good crops, prevention of disasters and victory in war. When someone didn’t do their duty the entire fabric of society was threatened. Persecution ensued.

Another interpretation is that Jesus’ baptism with fire is ultimately his suffering and death on the cross. As Duke prof Teresa Berger says, "The road to Jerusalem, after all, leads to a violent confrontation with death." I like Barclay’s paraphrase of Jesus: "I must be plunged into a flooding-tide of suffering, and there can be no relief for me, until I have gone through to the end."

One cannot have a prophetic voice, cannot defend the orphan, the widow and the alien, cannot be a voice for the voiceless, cannot speak for the powerless and expose the deeds of the powerful, without encountering resistance, division, persecution, and fire. Perhaps what we have here is indeed a very common theme: the cost of discipleship.

We in the American church want to wear our crosses without bearing them, and live in the comfort of our wealth and power. We live under the illusion that we can follow Jesus without a cross. Maybe we can get out of this unscathed. Discipleship Lite. Tony Campolo was once asked, at Living Word’s Global Mission Festival, why he thought the American church wasn’t growing. His response was materialism, and that we don’t live in the context of suffering. He has a point.

Our challenge is to hear the call of Jesus to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. We are willing to go as long as we can take our money with us. There can be no actual cost. But this Jesus invites us to leave behind our purse are sandals are extra coat. What not to wear. Anyone who can amass wealth without engaging the real suffering of the world, near and far, is not yet fit for the kingdom of God. Their heart has not yet been broken with what breaks the heart of God.

I must confess it’s really hard to find the good news here. It’s and edgy text, an abrupt followup to "Have no fear little flock." Don’t soften it too much. It is what it is. Fire.

John Wesley, who attracted a huge following, was once asked how he did it. "I set myself on fire, and people come watch me burn," he purportedly said. It’s fun to imagine a church baptized with fire. Even a small group of people on fire with the sacrificial love of God would shed a lot of light on the world.

The best news in this passage it is that the kingdom of God is breaking in, ready or not. Watch out. The signs of the times are upon us. God’s moving. There will be fire works. Thanks to Jesus, the flame-thrower, the world is about to turn.

Michael Rinehart, bishop

Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod

12941 I-45 North Freeway, Suite #210

Houston, Texas 77060-1243

(281) 873-5665

Synod Webpage: GulfCoastSynod.org

Bishop’s Webpage: BishopMike.com

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