Spreading Hope

I have lots of books lying around in my office.  One that I pick up from time to time, Jesus Freaks, reminds me of what it has meant to be an active follower of Christ in places and times of persecution – everything from Nero's Rome to Hitler's Germany, Hussein's Iraq, and today's ISIS.  People who have followed Christ throughout history have in astounding numbers chosen to die with Christ rather than conform to the ideologies and cultures of the world.

The things we tend to feel so well insulated against here in our comfortable America are increasingly on our minds.  Our national leaders are speaking in more ominous tones than we're comfortable with - fast spreading Ebola in Africa, beheadings and sobering warnings of terrorist groups, porous borders where killers could cross with relative ease...all serious stuff.  But for those who belong to Christ, we should be hearing our spiritual ringtones about now.  God is calling to say, "If you are ever gong to do something about the people who don't know Jesus, do it...now!"  In the midst of all the disturbing headlines are some life changing messages from God.

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"Follow Me" - Words to Live By

Like the anniversary of a death of a loved one, it's difficult for me to consider this month of the year without remembering the horrific day back in September of 2001 when so many Americans died in a Pennsylvania field, at the Pentagon, and in the Twin Towers of New York.  Some weeks back, the Ground Zero Museum opened.  Even the reporters giving a video walk-through on TV seemed almost too choked up to speak.  As you walk in the museum where the twin towers once stood, you hear the last "I love you" messages phoned out by people trapped in the buildings or doomed on the airplanes.

In the midst of all the remembrances of a very dark day, there also are stories of hope that were documented, too, so our hearts might be renewed.  One particular story was about a young equities trader, who worked on the 24th floor.  Welles Crowther carried a trademark red bandana in his back pocket that day, as he had from early in his childhood.  He was the one who found an available stairway for workers to climb down, all the way from the Elevator Sky Lobby.  Among the people who made it out were those who had heard Crowther shouting, "Follow me!"

He waved his bandana to get the folks' attention and even carried one woman on his back as he gathered them in a stairwell.  Directing them down and out of the building, he turned and went back up the stairs to help others.  Several others remembered the young man with the red bandana, running to assist one lady, carrying another person to the stairway.  But Welles Crowther apparently never considered leaving the building himself.

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Seek Truth in the Word of THE Truth

"And so, since God in His mercy has given us this wonderful ministry, we never give up.  We reject all shameful and underhanded methods.  We do not try to trick anyone, and we do not distort the word of God.  We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know that."  [2 Corinthians 4:1-2]

How many wrongs can you think of going on in the world today?  We have children being mistreated for personal and political gain on our southern border, conflict in the Middle East, passenger planes being shot down by terrorists, and culture wars that remind us we are in what many call a post-Christian period of history, even within our own denomination and others.  In the midst of all this, and more, wouldn't it be easy to just say the heck with it all – thinking, "I'm just going to retreat into my shell, and me and God will get through this as the world implodes."

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Being the Church

"...Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith...
...Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess...
...Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds..."

In just three verses, there's more "let us" thrown around than at a Subway Deli!  Kind of makes you think the writer is serious about this Christianity thing being more about "us" than "I."  In this whole section of Hebrews 10, beginning at verse 19, there is an unmistakable call for those of us who claim to be the church to act like we are in it together, and not simply trying to get what we can out of it for ourselves.
...We draw near in faith (toward God).
...We hold to the hope (for ourselves).
...We consider love and good deeds (for others).

Any of this sound familiar?  Look back at I Corinthians 13:  "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."  You and I are encouraged by God in Scripture to have a right attitude about our lives in the midst of a pretty confused world.  It will honor God, bolster our own perspectives, and lift those around you.  And that is precisely the recipe for changing our community – loving God's people enough to live among them, worship and study together, and be creative in spurring one another on to good and godly lives.

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Traveling Together

The growth in Christ spans a lifetime: "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own... Straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal"  (Philippians 3:12-14)  Faith moves, grows, changes, matures.  As we mature in Christ, God cultivates in us the fruit of His Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  (Galatians 5:22-23)  These internal spiritual qualities are all radically relational, and we only learn them in the presence of others through the practice of love.  They are honed in the community, and not just by reading books and studying Scripture.  [Five Practices, David Schnase]

This quote comes from a book we used just last night in Bible Study.  The focus of the book is on how we can be more intentional in developing our faith in God.  The obvious answer comes in two parts:
1. It is a gradual thing that covers the lifetime of a person...It is a process.
2. For it to happen well (according to God's design), it happens in the midst of others.

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Jump, Forrest, Jump!

"Question: There were five frogs on a log.  Three decided to jump off.  How many were left?  Answer: Five.  Three decided, but never really jumped."

Now that Easter has come and gone, we need reminding of our new identity in Christ, focusing on our Christ-like nature which is free of the sins that have been crucified with Christ.  You may have decided that you now want to live according to this new nature.  But, how do you jump off into the new life?  And how do you swim once you've jumped?  The question is really this: Now that we have been made holy in Christ, how do we walk in that holiness?

Paul openly wrestled with the issue, and he was really honest about the struggle.  Throughout his letter to the Romans he talks about the tension between the law and sin.  "We know that the law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual...So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me."  [Romans 7:14, 21-23]

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Wake Up! Don't Be a Governor Festus!

In Acts 26, Paul is in the Caesarean prison near the Sea of Galilee.  He's been called in by King Agrippa and Governor Festus to present his case for Christianity.  He ends up, in the end, turning the tables by putting the two accusers on trial.  Paul asks a critical question: "Why do you think it's so incredible that the Lord God raises people from the dead?  Why?  Tell me, Festus, why is that too incredible for you?"  And Festus answers, "You are going mad, Paul.  In spite of all your sophisticated learning, you are crazy."

The Lord God raising people from the dead...Incredible?  Absolutely!  Not impossible, but absolutely incredible!  It is incredible that God had created humans for eternity.  And when humans messed that up, the God who is capable of all we are amazed at in so many areas of life came up with a solution workable only by God: raise people from the dead...beginning with Christ Jesus.  (Festus, are you listening?)

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