I Stand with Jesus Christ . . .

Recently many people rallied to show support for science. Some even attached cute frames to their Facebook pictures. That’s loyalty.  It’s a fascinating topic to say the least especially in light of the Bible and believing it to be the word of God. History always repeats itself and the older denominations are, the more the academics feel the need for sophistication. The goal becomes not to look foolish to the world around them. Much of this angst is centered around science and the inability to prove certain biblical stories like the virgin birth of Jesus or His resurrection from the dead. Lesser issues would involve the biblical miracles of the Old Testament.

I once had a staff member that was going to preach about the story of Jesus feeding five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish. He was actually going to present alternative ways this could have happened for people that would struggle with the miracles. He learned this at a local Christian University. It’s God we’re dealing with and it’s His word and works. You don’t have to explain them through science you just have to exercise faith and believe.

Recently in my neighborhood and in the village of Granville, Ohio some signs have been showing up in people’s yards. At first read they seem harmless enough but let me give you my personal response to these statements.  It starts out with this statement:

“In this IMG_1144house we believe . . . “

When I read this opening line I thought of these words from Joshua 24:15:

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Women’s rights are human rights. I’m not sure why this is here or what the issue is at least in North America but I thought about the way the bible addresses females and how the call is for beauty to be found in their spiritual life not all the things this world uses to manipulate and use women. In 1 Peter 3:3-4, we read these words:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 

Kindness is everything: Kindness is strongly suggested everywhere in the bible and is a “fruit of the Spirit.” In Colossians 3:12 we find this admonition:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Science is real.  Yes it is but what’s the point? Science is real and scientists are real but they are not alway right. What a superior group of people they would be if they were always right. Denominations get to this struggle around their 100th year. In earlier generations they are full of faith and fire and zealous for God and His word but then respect of the world becomes important and people resent looking foolish so they reach out to science to find credibility. It is not a new thing. I appreciate science and the hard work, study and research. What I don’t need is for you to explain the miracles of the bible. If God is God then however He does it is fine with me.  Seven day creation? Why not? Moses parting the Red Sea with God’s help? Delivering Daniel from the lion’s den? Of course, this is God! Jesus healing the blind, lame and mute? It takes faith to believe the bible and for that matter it takes faith to believe in much of the science world. Biblically I read these words:

“Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Love is love. Not surprising at all that this is on the sign. What a different world we now live in than even just fifty years ago. The agenda of this segment of our society has been amazing to watch. Most notable is the intentional efforts to include their themes in every TV sitcom and or movie for the purposes of normalization. Generations of even “church kids” have now been infused with the notion that it really doesn’t matter to God. Love is love. Yes it is but not all love is right in God’s sight. This one is big and even writing about it is cause for fear in today’s society. Churches will someday lose their tax free status over this one and ministers will lose their ability to marry with the endorsement of the State, I believe. This topic should never be addressed without compassion and kindness but the Bible is God’s word and so I will stick with it. (By the way, “cut and pasting” in regard to biblical truth never works. Once you start that you can make the bible say whatever you desire.) 

6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’  7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, Mark 10:6-7 NIV
24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. Romans 1:24-27 NLT 
BLACK LIVES MATTER  Well I just deleted an entire paragraph on this one.
As a Christ follower I believe that we are all equal and that every life matters on this entire planet. We, the church have a long way to go on this one. It is true we were very quiet during the civil rights struggle and for that American churches should be ashamed. We should be compassionate about the marginalized and the those that are oppressed. We should also work daily to dispel the myths that have been created among all ethnicities that lead us to fear and stay divided. We should love all men and women regardless of color. Why?
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
All people matter to God and the gospel of peace will change the world one life at a time when lived out the way Jesus instructed us. “Red and yellow black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
No human is illegal. This one makes no sense. If law matters and it does. If keeping the peace matters and it does then sometimes humans will be illegal. There are laws and especially immigration laws and when you break them it makes you illegal. To totally ignore the law and just let anyone into a Country is just silly and wrapped up in emotion and not sound reasoning. Contrary to the hype people can still legally get into our land of opportunity.
So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36
Water is Life  . . . and we should do all we can to provide clean water everywhere in the world.
I am reminded of these words when I see this phrase on the sign:
“Jesus replied, Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” John 4:13 
Maybe this post is just for me but these signs are everywhere and I have no where else to respond. It’s distressing when you have no voice or say so here is my little attempt to respond. Sorry it’s not all that inspiring but I feel better. What I have learned from my twenty something friends and even a few in their thirties and forties is that I’m not supposed to voice my opinion let alone have one. Too late. Hitting send and bracing myself.

“Don’t You care . . . ?”

worship-642-e1340052320903All of us have experienced a storm in our lives at one time or the other. Not just a little rain but an all out trees down, roofs blown off, loss of electricity for days kind of storm. I am not talking about weather but using this metaphor for the seasons that sometimes come into our lives.

They are threatening. They are terrifying. They may involve someone dying or leaving. It is that  moment when you and I realize that we control nothing. We are at the mercy of the situation. Often during these moments both the religious and the non-religious turn to God. We want Him to work on our behalf. We want a positive outcome and usually we want it now.

It is fascinating to listen to our language sometimes or what we say about God. A staff member at a church I lead, who’s father had survived a serious medical procedure, stood up and announced to the congregation that everything had turn out good but then proceeded to say, “God was faithful.” It was innocent enough for a son to be happy his dad was going to be okay but the truth is if his dad had died during the procedure God would still be faithful. I doubt that he would have used that language because we rarely think that way.

Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha accosted Jesus when He showed up after their brothers death. “If you had only been here!” they cried. God is everywhere. He stands beside you and in you during the worst days and the best.

Jesus was with His disciples one day on the Sea of Galilee. As they traveled, Jesus fell asleep and they were besieged with a horrific storm. They were afraid for their lives. Remember some of them were fishermen and yet this storm had them reeling. Jesus stayed asleep until they finally shook Him awake and confronted Him with these words, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

How many times have we been at this place in our lives for one reason or the other? The storm is raging so to speak and we cry out in desperation to Jesus. We may beg and plead and even feel angry. We quickly go to, “If you loved us you wouldn’t let this happen.” Depending on how it turns out often our faith increases or decreases. Somehow we have to come to believe that God is alway faithful and alway good. He always has our best interest in mind and sometimes through the trials we grow spiritually in way unimaginable during peaceful times. We long for peace and calm but it is in the storms of life that we learn to trust and have faith no matter what happens.

It’s interesting in this story that before they woke Jesus they were afraid but when He stands up in the boat and commands the storm to be quiet and be still and it happens the bible says, “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!””

It is one thing to confront the power of mother nature but in this story they are confronted with a picture of the God that loves beyond our imaginations and yet possesses power over everything. This is the God we surrender our lives to. And you know what? You have to believe that He both loves and is in control. Nature just happens and you may die from it in a hurricane, a tsunami, or a tornado but when confronted by our circumstances in light of the God we serve we must trust His love for us and know that when the terrible happens He still loves us and is faithful.

This is much easier to write then live out. I lost one of my most loyal and faithful friends this past week and as I write this a friend from college that I talked to by phone often is hanging on between life and death after a tragic car accident. I am watching the update posts by his family and seeing the pictures of his small congregation now congregating in the waiting room of the critical care unit at the hospital. I can’t imagine what his two children and wife must be feeling inside. Hundreds of Facebook friends have prayer chains going and churches today are praying around the country for this much loved individual. They are praying for rescue and healing. People are grieving.

Through it all I keep reminding myself that God doesn’t cause car wrecks or babies to die but in His Sovereignty He will use our storms and circumstances to cause us to look to Him and to think about Him. Seeing God can be terrifying but in the end we trust Him and we believe that He is good.  Oh how He loves us. Oh how He loves you today.  You may not feel Him or know it but He loves you and knows exactly where you are. His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In the words of the ancient hymn, How Firm a Foundation the author reminds us how much God cares:

“When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow,
for I will be with you in trouble to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

4 “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace all-sufficient shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

5 “The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no never forsake!”

Outsider thoughts. . .

Today will be the annual district gathering of an organization I used to “belong” to. I chose to go on my own the day after resigning the church and resign my credentials knowing that I needed to walk away.

This is the day that people will gather and the comparison game will begin.  The district will provide a slick little booklet with every pastor’s picture and stats.  It was one of the most awkward and painful days for me every year.

Funny that I might say that because the church I lead was “at the top” yeIMG_1350.JPGar after year. Our numerical stats were great and never declining. Our ministry income steadily increased every year. My pain was for the men and women that never won in the numbers game.

As unfair and as unimportant as it is, denominations still continue to use the two stats of “nickes and noses” to assess the effectiveness of the local church and pastors. Many times in my thirty years of ministry the connections made with people, families and situations were not something that could be reported. Thankfully God kept track of such things.

Let me tell you one such story.  He was an old man that sat on his porch every day behind the first church I pastored. I waved at him often and sometimes had brief conversations. One day he stuck a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I heard about it and made the trip to Louisville KY to see him.  He was in the Critical Care Unit and of course never spoke again. He lived for another year or so in a nursing facility. Somewhere during that next year and during one of my visits, he came to know Christ as His Savior. He never spoke but his face told the story of transformation. I preached his funeral and shared his testimony. It is still one of the highlights of my ministry years. Guess what? No part of that story could be reported and none of it applied to the numbers assessment. He never came to church and he never gave an offering. The church I lead averaged about 45 in attendance. Nobody celebrated that. Ever. Thankfully God judges by a different standard and He remembers things that matter.

To those of you sitting there today feeling like a loser please know that God knows what you have done over this last year. It’s not about attendance and offerings but about faithfulness and availability. You’ve been faithful to your calling. Be encouraged. Be strong. Don’t let this day defeat you or discourage you. I am praying for you today.

And to my former “colleagues” in ministry  . . . your silence has been deafening. I’m sorry I let you down but I am thankful for the grace of God that I never knew existed. You won’t get it so don’t try to understand. If you ever fall or fail just know that even if others walk away Jesus never does. He knows your name. He hears your call. He will take care of you in ways you can’t even imagine. At some point God’s grace surpasses the grief of failure and the missing of people you thought you knew and had a relationship with.

Filled with thankfulness today . . . for many reasons. Go enjoy your lunch which is often the highlight of the day at district assembly if you are honest.

a gathering . . .

I’ve thought a lot about church in the last two and a half years. To be more honest I’ve thought a lot about church my whole life.  The hardest thing about church is change. More than any other organization I know the church is often the most resistant to change. We are the best at making rules and regulations out of personal preferences or tradition.

It should be no secret that the church has lost the battle in North America. (75% of the Christian church is now outside of North America)  The battle was 6281776437_d445407f10_bfor the souls of men and women outside our churches but the vast majority of churches have not seen new people in their buildings or people coming to faith in decades. Churches are closing at an alarming rate although it’s not really alarming and maybe a good thing.  The two percent of churches that are growing are very attractional in nature but in reality most (not all) of their growth is from the dying or “not so cool” churches around them without the bands, media and mega toys.

Having done church that way,  I know that about six or seven years ago I became very dissatisfied with church as it was where I was leading. Not so much with the smaller sites which is where my heart was but the “Sunday Morningpalooza” as I referred to it in my head was almost more than I could take. It was exceptionally well done. Professional in every way. Our hearts were in the right place I think but it wasn’t the place to put all of our efforts and energy unless we wanted to attract consumer driven people mostly from other churches. (For me consumer driven people are people that want to attend a church mostly for the Sunday morning experience and care little for doctrine, ministry opportunities, personal calling or outreach. It’s about getting in and out of a service and going on with their lives.) Please note that all were not consumers. It is just very hard to make disciples out of people that are committed to an hour a week of Jesus. Especially when that hour is staring at a stage or looking at the back of someone’s head in front of you.

Someone has to try another way. Someone has to venture out into the world and away from the church and blaze a new trail. Not for the trend seekers to follow or to write a new best-selling Christian book, but for the sake of lost people for whom the church might as well be non-existent. Thankfully I’ve come across a few of these people recently and they inspire me. From coffee shops to home gatherings they are making inroads into people’s lives. It is not measurable in the way that denominations love to measure but God’s record keeping is the most important anyway and from what I can tell He is sending people their way instead of to the doors of the church.

It makes me want to call together my friends that don’t attend church and offer them a weekly gathering that will truly allow them to connect with Christ and others. To cut through or even cut out the stuff we have come to accept as important or at least important to us keeping our ministry jobs.

So what would it look like? I don’t know for sure but maybe I can describe what I have been feeling and dreaming about.

It would be a place for broken people not perfect people

It would be a place where you could talk openly about your brokenness and struggles and find understanding, grace, accountability and healing.

It would be a place of prayer.

It would be a place where time would be spent praying for one another during our time together.

It would be a place where children would learn alongside their families and adults. This means that as kids grow they would have a lot of people in their corner.

It would be a place of confidentiality and safety.

It would be a place where we would bear the needs of our community both immediate and in the world community.

It would be a place where we take as much time as is needed to understand God’s word.

It would be a place where we would trust God to bring or lead us to the people that He wants to be there and that He would want us to connect with.

It would be a place of tears and laughter. We would weep with those that weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

It would be a place and a people that joined themselves to God’s story and narrative on this earth.

It would be a place where the Word would be simply taught and lived out with passion, grace, mercy and love.

Practically speaking we would gather in a room and sit or stand in a way that would not include sitting in rows.  We would have open times of prayer where you could talk and share your burdens and be received with grace and peace. We would open God’s word maybe through song and spoken word but I’m not sure it would look or feel anything like what I currently know. We would break bread together and we would pray together with great burden over the condition of our world.  We would connect with other Christians around the world so that we could share in their suffering and we would learn from them. We would love God first, each other and the world around us.

There is so much more that could be said about each one of these and maybe someday I will find the time and scriptures to support these thoughts.

For now I will dream and pray and wait . . .  I’m in no hurry and God does everything in perfect timing,

 

If I would have preached on Easter . . .

Religion 211-212 The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His ApostleIf I would have preached on Easter I would have offered this simple message based on Mary Magdalene’s desire to be near her friend and Lord.

Art Linkletter built a humorous legacy from his interviews with children.  One such conversation with a five-year-old girl produced the following thoughts on Easter. She was asked, “Do you know what Easter is?” She replied, “Oh yes. Easter is when Jesus died and they put him in a tomb with a big rock and then three days later they rolled back the rock and Jesus walked out and he didn’t see his shadow.”

Well, she had it partly right. Jesus did walk out of the tomb. He casts a shadow of hope that you can still see today.

Picture yourself for a moment in a historical story. . . For about three years you have followed a man by the name of Jesus Christ. You have watched Him do incredible miracles and you have also witnessed the incredible change He made in your own life.

For the last few days you have watched Him be tortured publicly, lied about, sentenced to die and then you watched Him die. Inhumanely He dies hanging on a cross between two common criminals. It is more than you can take. Your heart is breaking. You feel like dying yourself. You really don’t want to go on living.

Her name was Mary and she discovered early in the darkness of the morning following Jesus burial that He was not in the tomb. It was an incredible moment and she shared it with two of the disciples who were also on their way to the grave site. The others observed the empty tomb and the Bible says they simply went “to their own homes.” But Mary stayed.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!” “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.” John 20:11

Circumstances, situations and things happen that cause us to reel in pain. Life can be harsh, cruel, painful and devastating. You may feel as though life itself has been sucked or drained out of you. If you feel nothing, if you feel dead or you feel like life is not worth living, then I have some really good news. You can be alive again!

The caterpillar crawls into the cocoon and there are no signs of life, no production, no creeping and crawling or whatever else caterpillars do. There is just nothing that you can see. But then there is an emerging. A coming from a death like state to life. The cocoon breaks open, the caterpillar emerges and you have a new creature. Wings, life, freedom.

For a few minutes I want to ask you to think of your life. Think of what you carry around with you on a daily basis. The things that drag you down and hold you back. Now I want to show you what happened in Mary’s life that brought her to a place of being alive again.

1. We all will endure seasons of weeping.

Everyone will weep at some time in their life. Recently I have watched people weep for things that range from the serious to the silly when you compare them. Watching the anguish of a Father in Florida shedding tears over the horrific death of his daughter seems legitimate in comparison with college basketball players weeping over the loss of a game during the so called March Madness.

Life is full of disappointments. They can come in all kinds of ways: job, relationships, marriage, children, parents, money, poverty, riches, or a host of other things can bring on times of weeping.

Whether you know it or not everyone weeps at some time in their life. The question is how are you holding up? How are you enduring the long night of your soul?

You may say, “I don’t feel any better knowing that everyone else has wept. I am concerned about me and what is going on right now.”

I understand that. Mary was so focused on her own loss that while others left to go home she stayed in the cemetery by herself.

“Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

You may feel that you have lost something precious to you and you are lost with out it. In fact you are dead without it or that person or circumstance. There is a verse of scripture buried deep within the Psalms I want to pry open the first glimpse of life for some of you today.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

There is something else that happened to Mary. “She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!”

2. We must embrace our soul-need to worship.

Every human being on the face of the earth has a built in internal drive to worship. People worship the craziest things. sports figures, rock bands and the people in them, Weird religious gurus, money, things or possessions, relationships, power, control, titles, sex and pornography, drugs, parents, children, cars and a whole lot of other crazy things.

According to the dictionary worship means: n 1: the activity of worshiping 2: a feeling of profound love and admiration [syn: adoration] v 1: love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; “Many teenagers idolized the Beatles” [syn: idolize,  hero-worship, revere]  The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.

What are you worshiping today? What have you invested your devotion and profound love in?

To experience our own personal resurrection we must embrace our soul-need to worship and the only thing we believe that merits or is ultimately satisfying is to worship Jesus Christ. That is what Mary did. The object of her affection was none other than Jesus Christ the Savior of the world.

For some of you that may be tough to believe. How could what happened so long ago have any effect on me? All I know to tell you today is that the testimonies of millions of people ring true. The true testimony of a real genuine Christ follower is simply, “I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.” Find a genuine Christ follower and you will hear the story of a worshiper. One who worships the Christ who is worthy to be worshiped. Ask yourself this question, “Is what I have given my life to going to mean anything to me when I come to the end of my life?”

The only thing I know that will mean anything to anyone when the face eternity will be Jesus Christ. In Mark 8:38 Jesus challenged his followers with these words, “Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul? If a person is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in the glory of my Father with the holy angels.”

Nancy Cheatham writes: “My sister bought a new car that was loaded with high-tech options. The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead a message flashed across the dash: “Drive car in 360 degrees.” She had no idea what that meant, and so when she got home she read the car manual.

She learned that while trying to turn on the windshield wipers she had inadvertently turned off the internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset.Each time we gather to worship, we are resetting our internal compass. We establish “true north” in our soul, remembering who God is and what his truth proclaims.

3. We emerge to share a witness!

Just like a butterfly that emerges from a cocoon to fly into open and free air we to emerge from an encounter with Jesus Christ to tell a story of freedom and life!

Mary was so overwhelmed she couldn’t keep it to herself. We read these words, “Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.”

This message is not just for people who don’t know anything about Christ or Easter. Let me address the rest of us for a moment. How excited are you about what Christ has done in your life? How connected are you to Him? You see what can happen too often is while we serve Him and live for Him and show up at church every Sunday there is more to Jesus Christ than that. He longs for us to have a relationship with Him. He wants us to pray, to sing to Him, to worship Him with our lives and actions every day of the week.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! sunbursts of light!” Isaiah 9:2

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

When you see the light and walk in the light you will have your own resurrection. You will be alive again. The question is what are you doing with this incredible gift that comes to us in the form of Jesus Christ?

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate an automobile. “Bill’ and his father had spent months looking at cars, and the week before graduation, they found the perfect car.

On the eve of his graduation, his father handed him a gift wrapped Bible. Bill was so angry that he threw the Bible down and stormed out of the house.

He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought Bill home again. As he sat one night going through his father’s possessions that he was to inherit, he came across the Bible his father had given him.

He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation – in the exact amount of the car they had chosen together.

As I thought about this story, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in this world have done the same thing to God. Literally tossed aside a wonderful promise, because they didn’t understand it, or they didn’t believe that it was possible.

The truth of the matter is, the world is full of empty promises. We watch TV, and the advertisements tell us that we can be happy, sexy, rich, or famous, if we only purchase a certain product. It doesn’t take long before we have been fooled enough to know that the world’s promises are full of emptiness. But, God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, on Easter, he gave us emptiness that is full of promise.

I would love to remember the promises of Easter. There are three of them. Each promise is marked by something empty. An empty cross, and empty tomb and empty burial clothes. It is the very fact that each of these is empty that assures us that God’s promises are real. Because they couldn’t hold Jesus, because he couldn’t be contained by the cross, the tomb, or even his burial clothes, we can be sure of the fullness of God’s promises in our lives.

I believe that it is John Maxwell who tells a story about a blazer that he bought from Nordstrom. “About a year and a half ago, I bought a new navy blazer at Nordstrom. It was one of those cases you may have gone through where you buy an item of clothing and the more you wear it, the more you realize you don’t like it. My blazer wasn’t the right color, and to make matters worse, it attracted lint like it was going out of style. After wearing it pretty regularly for six months or so, I stuck it in my closet and didn’t wear it for a long time. Tucked away in the back of my mind all the while was that famous Nordstrom unconditional-return policy. I thought, I’ve had this thing for a year and a half. I’ve worn it lots of times, and there’s just no way they’re going to take it back. About two weeks ago I decided I had nothing to lose. I pulled the blazer out, threw a lot of lint on it to make it look bad, and took it down to Nordstrom’s men’s department. I walked in, and immediately I felt nervous. I felt like I was about to pull a scam of some sort, but I played it straight. I walked right up to the first salesman I saw and gave this little prepared speech. I said, “I am about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a blazer. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. I don’t like it. It’s the wrong color, and it attracts lint like it’s going out of style. But I want to return this blazer for another blazer that I like.” Then I stood there.

I couldn’t believe it. This guy with a big handlebar mustache just looked at me and shook his head. He said, “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long? Let’s go find you a blazer.” Ten minutes later I walked out with another blazer that was marked seventy-five dollars more than I paid for the one that I brought in. It was perfect for me. Didn’t cost me a penny. In a small way, the Nordstrom Department Store is a lot like God. They are willing to back up their promises.”

God backs up His promises. Today He is sitting at the right hand of the Father praying for us. Interceding for us. He knows about you. He cares about you. He longs to be in a relationship with you. He is preparing a place for us so that we will never be separated again from those we love.

Tell His story because His story is your story. And He is alive and walking with you today. I am so thankful for the hope of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Because He lives I can face tomorrow. I can face today. I can face the past. I rest on His unchanging grace. I am unworthy but filled with the passion love that Mary felt on that day. He is my Lord. He is alive.

Past, Present and Future . . .

ThinkstockPhotos-466742774I think a lot about my life. These days any successes of the past are often overshadowed by the detour, the failures, the disappointments, and the brokenness. There are days when I wonder about my past, present and future. I struggle to find and grasp the hope that is written about in God’s word. It’s the only hope I desire because I am smart enough and enlightened enough to know that it is the only hope that matters.

Recently while driving to work, I was wondering about how to have a deeper and more personal relationship with Christ. Wondering how to push past what happened yesterday and embrace today and His grace. I’m not sure how I got to past, present and future but I am constantly thinking with a shepherds heart (Translation: pastor’s heart) and so I went in my mind to how to communicate this journey and simplify it in a way that people could and would grasp it. If your desire is to know Jesus and really have a relationship with Him I think that there are three things or time periods that matter the most.

Think for a few moments about these three time periods in your life:

The past

The present

The future

The Past: Most of our pasts are checkered with both good and bad. What’s done is done and you cannot change it. It’s part of  your history. As someone quipped, “You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube.” If you are desiring to know Christ and to walk with Him daily you must surrender your past.  All of it. No matter how tainted it is or how hard you have fallen in the past, from this day forward you must look with faith to the work of  Christ who died that the sins of our past could be erased. We struggle with this because often we don’t find that forgiveness very easily from some people in our life. Many times it is those who are representative of His body on this earth and that can be really distracting. Press ahead. Be humble and sorrowful with godly repentance but move forward. Accept what Christ offers. Believe it. Embrace it. Let the mercy, grace, peace and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ pour over you.

The Present: Life on this earth is so short. It is such a minuscule amount of time in comparison with the eternity that is to follow. The older you get the more you realize that time moves quickly and you wonder where it’s gone. What matters the most is and what will matter the most when we stand before God someday and that is what we have done with the present.  The only way you and I can live and love like Jesus is to know Him and the only way to know Him is to spend time with Him. To read from the word and come to love it. To know Him in prayer and intentional quiet times where the noise of this life is shut out. It’s about spiritual intimacy with Him. You shut the door to distractions and daily you communicate with Him. Out of our closeness with Him comes clarity.

Clarity of position: You come to know how much you are a child of God and that Jesus is your brother and friend. You wouldn’t think of not talking with Him every day and even all day long.

Clarity of purpose: What does He want you to do with your time here and now? Who does Jesus want you to touch with your life? How does He want to use your gifts and strengths?

Clarity of passion: Do whatever you have to do to put God first. Live in such a way that when you come down to draw your last breath and you reflect on your life there will be no regrets. I’m not talking about regrets from “the past” because those are forgiven and are not to be remembered anymore, but regrets about the present and how you lived your life. What did you give yourself to? Who did you invest in to make a eternal difference in their life? The stuff we surround our lives with often only serves to distract us from what really matters.  People matter. Our families matter. Our neighbors matter. Even our money will all stay here when we die so why not find ways to give that make a true difference in other’s lives. Find a not for profit that is truly ministering on behalf of Christ and invest in the Kingdom.

The Future: Eternity matters! Someone said if you take a tape measure that has a beginning and no end that the first inch would represent our time being alive on this earth. The rest of the tape measure with no ending represents eternity. When we live our lives centered around Christ and trust Him with our failures, our faith, and our finish we have no worries about eternity. In fact, the hope of heaven becomes sweeter and sweeter the more we detach from this world.

Jesus takes on our past and provides new birth and a new life, He helps shape our present and is praying for us daily at the right hand of God the Father, and according to the sacred writings of the Bible He has gone to prepare a place for us where there will be no more tears, separations, heartbreak, sickness or death.

Give Him your past. Let Him have your present and start today preparing for the future. It will be worth it.

The Sabbath . . . rambling thoughts

Since October of 2014 I have been mostly unattached to the church. There is one church that698446b3b58a06291e416ad39b46c41e we have attended more than anywhere else and it has been a place of grace, mercy and peace for which we are very thankful. For most of my entire life I never missed church. The thought of a Sunday off was not in my stream of thought. Let me list some disclaimers in reference to what I am about to write:

I believe in the importance of belonging to a group of people that view themselves as the church.

I believe that we need each other and a place to practice our gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.

I believe in the Sabbath although church has little to do with true Sabbath observance

I believe that it is hard to maintain one’s faith alone. We need to be connected to other followers.

So with that being said after years of never missing church I need to process my thinking and what I have experienced the last couple of years. For the most part Christians do not observe the Sabbath. It is not a day of rest. It is not a day dedicated to God all day long or a day for allowing our bodies and souls to catch up as we rest. The typical Sunday morning is a rush to get out the door. (Sounds like every other day of the week)  We worry about how we look and what others are going to think of how we look. We worry about “the experience.”  Is it going to be worthwhile? Are we going to walk away with anything beneficial? Will the music be good or great? What will our kids do during church?  If you are involved in ministry at church you get there early and stay late. Where will we eat afterward? Will we eat at home? Who’s going to fix all that food and clean up the mess? And then the rest of the day most Christians spend running here or there. We shop, we mow our yards; we play; we work and get lots of things done. We run and run some more.

An honest view of what the Sabbath was supposed to be, would cause us to stop and rethink what we have turned it into. I’ll let you think that through for yourself.

On a recent Sunday morning I moved to the couch about 5:30 in the morning after letting the dog out. I watched and listened to the woods outside come alive with the typical sounds that accompany this daily event. I felt my body resting. I thought more about God and my relationship with Him then I typically do in church. I have a hard time focusing on God in church. I prayed. I slept. I recovered. I relaxed. And . . . . I didn’t feel guilty. I felt refreshed. For once this day felt different than every other day of the week where I rush out the door and go from morning till night.

I’m not advocating staying home from church. 

I am always advocating for church to reinvent itself and respond to finding better ways to lead people to connect with God and others. I am a huge advocate for simple church or gathering together to pray and open the Word. I long to be part of a living organism and not just another organization that only gets more demanding in its ability to function. This is an age old problem and serving has always been part of the church dynamic. Twenty percent generally serve the eighty percent that consume. That makes church work as well.

This is what I believe the Sabbath should be:

A Day of Rest

A Day for Reflection

A Day for Renewal      (If you want the whole sermon go to  http://www.sermonhunt.com  2/13/05)

sabbathI won’t always stay home on the couch on Sunday but it awakened a yearning inside me to stop the rat race for one day a week. I am thinking about it. I am going to figure it out. There has to be an answer. This blog is just pondering out loud. It’s just me rambling.  Maybe it only applies to me and if so you can pray that I find a way to “sabbath” correctly. I want to find a way to make the day holy again. It was not laziness but it was a morning of rest, reflection and renewal. It felt right and it felt holy like I was really honoring God. Maybe Saturday evening church is the answer and then Sunday could be a true Sabbath.