"But God"

During this season of Lent, as we wait again for Easter, it’s really difficult to not be dragged down by the ugliness and evil present in our world today.  I’m writing this a day after Valentine’s Day, a day set aside for showing and sharing love, right?  Maybe at one level, but it also is the day after the senseless murder of people who thought they were simply finishing their school day in Parkland, Florida.  Unfortunately, the exact opposite of showing and sharing love happened.  As I was going about the business of preparing for our Ash Wednesday worship, I heard the tragic news of another school shooting.  I was literally typing words that would be used as Rob and I would mark the church family’s foreheads, “Out of ashes, comes our salvation in Christ Jesus.”

As the lines came forward to receive the ashes in a form of a cross, and as each person heard those words that remind us of Christ’s purpose for dying and His promise of new life, the reality struck at a significant level.  What typically is a serious moment for each person as they receive the ashes, was last night for many a moment of grief and tears.  Less than four hours earlier, the lives of many were snuffed out in a way that placed evil at center stage – or so Satan would hope.

But God (what a wonderful phrase) reminded us all last night that the ugliness and evil present in our world today is not the last word.  Every person present last night heard of the reality of sin, and yet in the same sentence, heard the promise of God, “Out of ashes, comes our salvation in Christ Jesus.”

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God is Still Here

“I am not moved by what I see.  I am not moved by what I feel.  I am moved only by what I believe.”  Smith Wigglesworth

What we believe matters.  It matters every second of every day.

  • A flood of negative circumstances is batting you down.  The existence of a good God begins to seem questionable to you.  Where do you turn?
  • Two nicely dressed young men knock on your door wanting to teach you about their religion.  The things they are teaching sound good, yet in your heart you know they are not being completely honest in what they say.  Where do you turn?
  • You’re at a point in life where much of what you’ve thought and have worked for don’t seem to be worth the effort.  And now, there are choices ahead – choices that will determine the rest of your life.  Where do you turn?
  • After years of faithful prayer and worship, this “God experience” is drying up and you are emotionally sapped.  Where do you turn?
  • Maybe you are standing on the edge of a compromise you thought you’d never make.  The moral crossroads in front of you are huge.  Where do you turn?

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Behold! There is STILL Good News!

Before we get on with the new year celebrations, can I say just one more thing about the end of 2017 and the Christmas we celebrated in the midst of a lot of grief in the world?  Seems like I ran into a lot of people who just couldn’t quite get excited about fa-la-las with so much sadness and negativity - even evil out there.

Before we move on, I want us to consider one thing that helps bring light to the shadows: Think what it would be like if Jesus had never been born.  All the glitter and hype would be a hoax and nothing more than a cruel joke.  There would be no hope, no peace, no forgiveness, no eternal life, no Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us, no knowledge of God, and no possibility of change (at least not for the better).  One last time in this winter of emotion, focus on Jesus.  It really did happen.  The virgin birth, the angels, the shepherds - all true.  As true as the piles of new socks and stacks of fruitcake that appear under our trees.

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God Left Nothing to Chance

None of what happened in the birth story of Baby Jesus was coincidental.  This was a God-orchestrated event that fulfilled the prophesies God had given centuries before through men like Isaiah and Micah.

Everything that happened, from the time the census was ordered, to everyone returning to their own city to be registered, to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem - all of it was orchestrated by God.  And out of tiny Bethlehem, came the Messiah.

We celebrate this as the beginning of something incredible.  Jesus, the Christ, left His throne in glory and took on human form just to reconcile us to our Father.  He came into the world, miraculously conceived, and yet born as we all are.  He was a baby, a toddler, then a young boy who became a man.  Jesus experienced humanity at all levels; He truly can identify with all people at all stages of life.

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I Love You! Come and Die!

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You can take this for what it’s worth as my opinion on dating and relationships, but I would think it’s probably not the most comforting thing to invite someone into a relationship with the words, “I love you. Come and die.”  I guess it kind of worked for Romeo and Juliet, but I’m thinking Shakespeare may have used up whatever romance was in that line.

“I love you. Come and die.”  Doesn't paint a very bright future, does it?  No warm fuzzies attached.  If you heard it from the wrong person, you might call 911.  But, from Jesus, it is not a threat.  It’s a wonderful invitation to live.

It’s one thing to be exposed to Jesus.  Lots of people are exposed to Him.  Some like what they see; others don’t.  Some are drawn to Him; others are repelled.  Some choose to believe; others hesitate or refuse.  All of that has to do with being exposed to Jesus.  It is a whole different thing, though, to be invited by Jesus to die, to realize what Jesus truly wants is for us to die so He can live through us.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Galatians 2:20

Let that soak in.  By accepting Jesus’ death at the cross as applying to us, His resurrection then is also ours to claim.  Christ died; we died in Him.  Christ lives; He lives in us.

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"Rescue the Perishing"

Just watching the coverage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma was overwhelming.  “If you’re not going to evacuate, write your Social Security number on your arm in ink.”  “If the water rises in your home, don’t go to the attic unless you have an ax.”  It was almost unbelievable, except it was very real - people wading in chest-high water, or perched on their rooftops waiting to be airlifted.

In the midst of this tragedy, one word kept popping up - "rescue".  Like the Cajun Navy.  Like all the fishing boats and rowboats and canoes and kayaks.  Everyday people using what they had to save as many as possible.  Apparently, no one had to tell them their boats were needed.  They were not trained rescuers, but they knew they had what others so badly needed.  They knew people would die if they didn’t risk trying to save them.  You and I are not in Texas or Florida.  We have limited provisions to help those who are, and we should be doing what we can.  I see a bigger picture here, though.

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We're ALL Created in His Image

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.”  Acts 8:5

The current rise of racism, bigotry, and hatred in so many hearts around the country and our world is truly a sickening thing - white extremists, Muslim terrorists, gang violence, Black Lives Matter.  It’s really easy to jump on the bandwagon and declare all we see on the news as a world full of racism, bigotry, and hatred.  Have you considered, though, a different approach - dare I say Christ’s approach?  Yes, we should stand up and speak out every chance we get against people who treat others in ungodly ways wherever it occurs.  It doesn’t matter if the evil is across the street or across the globe, God’s intention for each of us is to love all the others…period, and to effectively share the gospel with everyone…period.  We don’t get to choose who is worthy of being loved or hearing good news specifically because God loved us and shared His Son with us – and who among us deserved that?!

Loving others and effectively sharing the gospel requires a willingness to reach out to people who are different from us.  We tend to want to hang out with folks who look like us, who talk like us, and who are just like us.  But, how willing are we to leave our comfort zone and go to a person completely different from us with the message of the gospel?

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