salvation

So, now what?

Now what?

Easter Sunday came and then this morning Monday arrived right on schedule.  All the excitement that went into getting dressed up nice for church yesterday and having a nice meal with family has now left and Monday has showed up.  So we get up and live our lives.  Work needs to be done.  Bills need to be paid.  The kids need to be fed and bathed.  Life continues.  So, now what?

Every Sunday is Easter Sunday

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All dressed in my Sunday best — ready to hunt for eggs. 

The truth is you can experience the same anticipation every Sunday.  Why?  Because every week we celebrate that the tomb was empty.  We celebrate that unlike any other ‘god’ ever conjured up by the minds of men, Jesus Christ is the only one without a grave stone to go visit.  He is alive! We don’t have a memorial day to remember Jesus, we have a Resurrection Day! This makes Him the only one able to forgive us our sins and give us eternal life.

The bigger question then is why?  Why is it that so many people get so excited about this one day every year and the rest of the year forget about Jesus, or at least get indifferent toward Him?  Why is it that the same people who were enthusiastic about singing “He arose!” this past Sunday, won’t be back next week to sing praises to the very same God?  God hasn’t changed.  He is still alive and we are still just as desperate for Him.

Knowing Jesus vs. Knowing About Jesus

It all comes down to knowing Jesus Christ.  In John 17 Jesus said: “Now this is eternal life:  that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” (v3)  We need to know Jesus Christ, as in have a personal encounter with Him in our own lives.  Having knowledge allows us to answer questions correctly.  Experiencing Jesus Christ allows Him to touch every area of our life.  Have you experienced Jesus Christ in your life?

I remember what happened when I met Jesus.  I had gone to church and heard the stories.  But I did not ever feel like there was any real connection with God to be had.  It seemed like God was distant and cold and I was just supposed to sort of do some good things and figure it out.  But when I met Jesus Christ, everything changed.  Suddenly there was a hunger in me for more of Him.  I enjoyed singing His praise and wanted to be in Church on Sunday to proclaim that He was alive!  I lived with this new understanding that I had been saved not by my works, but because of Jesus’ death on the cross for me.

So, now what?

So, now what?  Now is the time to grow closer to Jesus.  Now is the time to give Him a chance to show up in your life and change you.  Now is the time to bring all your doubts and fears out and ask Him to answer the questions that you have.  Show up to church worship services.  Get involved in the life of a local church.  See what it is all about and position yourself in a place where God is free to work in you.  Try it out and see what happens.  I know from my own experience that if you let Him, He will change your life.


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Forgiveness: A Journey of Healing

Sunset

Forgiving is a journey of healing

If I had to choose one area of life that is the most difficult to do as a follower of Jesus Christ, I would have to pick forgiveness.  I know it doesn’t make sense when you look at it in light of the cross and the forgiveness Jesus has provided for us.  But words hurt.  Personal attacks stay with us.  People who are friends betray us and we are left wondering what we are to do with the broken pieces.  It is tough, raw, and never as easy as it seems it should be.  Deep down in us we want justice.  We want to feel like God has taken care of the problem. (in other people of course, not in us)

I have struggled with this and God has been gracious to give me insights from His Word on this.  What does it look like to forgive someone?  What does it feel like?  And how do you know it is actually done?

Joseph was just another one of Jacob’s sons.  Yet, God had given Joseph a special ability and that really irritated his brothers.  I mean, he sort of rubbed it in, but that is just what siblings do.  So we see them come up with this plan in Genesis 37 to kill him and throw him into a cistern.  Yikes!  My brother annoyed me, but I never planned to do that.  Thankfully Reuben had a little more sense than that and he talked them into just throwing them into the cistern and leaving him there.  So they throw him into the cistern and then they sit there and eat their lunch!  I mean, can you imagine what kind of strange scene that might have been. How do you enjoy your sandwich when your brother is down in a hole yelling for help?  They then end up selling their brother as a slave to Egypt and then telling their father that he is dead.  That is not nice.  Don’t do that!

Fast forward now and Joseph has been given a position of power in Egypt.  He actually ends up being in a position to inflict harm on his brothers who have come looking for food in a  terrible famine.  It was his chance to get revenge.  But what does he do?  In Genesis 45 we see a broken man loving his brothers despite the abuse.  Yes, the same ones who had hurt him so deeply!  What does this tell us about forgiveness?

Forgiving Does Not Mean Forgetting

Genesis 45:2 says that Joseph wept so loudly in this moment that everyone heard him.  This was the heart of a man who saw his brothers, loved his brothers, but felt the pain of what had taken place.  It hurt him deeply.  And yet he decided that he was not going to hurt them.

The other people involved are in pain also

Let’s be honest.  Just because I said that mean thing or did that in anger, it does not mean I am free and clear of the pain.  The pain is shared.  It doesn’t matter who you are, if you have been on the side of the offender, you have been hurt by it also.  I have no doubt in my mind that at some point his brothers kind of said to each other “hey, you know I kind of feel bad about that.”  We have all been there.  So when Joseph starts weeping  it makes these guys panic.  What is he going to do?  Will he hurt us? No.  He has no intention to.  In a true moment of God’s grace here recorded in scripture, they embrace each other, allowing the pain to be released.  And then it says they talked.  What a picture of forgiveness and the grace of God!

Joseph was able to recognize God’s hand in the pain

He said that despite what they had hoped to accomplish in seeing him sold off, God had accomplished his good purposes.  His pain was used to save lives, ironically even their lives.  That is really hard to see in the moment, but what a beautiful mess it really is when we get that.

Let the past remain in the past

After he sends them back to get their father he gives them instructions.  Do not fight on the way back.  I love that because I know I would probably want to have a conversation about who was more at fault in the whole thing.  It is never my idea, is it?  But Joseph is telling them to forget about all of that and just go get dad.  Do not go back in the past.  Let’s move ahead.

This all reminds us of Jesus Christ

This makes us look to Jesus Christ again because he was rejected, sold off and beaten.  He was betrayed in the most cruel ways.  We rebelled and put him on that cross.  Yet, he is willing to forgive us which saves us from our own mess. What a wonderful Savior!   He is willing to send out sins far away and restore our relationship with God.

Oh, God, help us all to be just as kind to other people who wrong us.  It hurts us for sure, but Jesus Christ is able to help us in it. If you are struggling to forgive, look to Jesus Christ.  It is not easy at all, but He understands fully and is able to help.

 

Looking at Our City With Love

Since the day I moved to this city I have been praying for God to give me a love for the people here.  This is not about gimmicks.  Instead I am freshly aware of the call on us as the church to care for the souls of the people in this community.  We have a God-given job to care for these people.  One of the things that has really stirred my thinking over the last few months is a video from our current Christian and Missionary Alliance president.  It is only 11 minutes long and would be worth your time.  I believe God wants to do some new and amazing things with His church.  We just need to wake up!

What was your favorite part?  I have a few things that stick in my mind.  What about you?

Drawing on the Wells of Salvation

Great things are yet to come

Great things are yet to come

It has been almost two months since we left Cape Cod for Wisconsin; time has really been moving along.  This journey from where I had been for 7 years to where I am today was a long and emotional one.  And yet as I reflect this morning I am reminded of God’s obvious hand in it all.  This was not something I went searching for.  It was not something I manufactured under a veil of ‘seeking God’s will.’  I truly was listening to the Lord’s leading and taking the next step.

I am grateful to be where I am today.  I believe this is an excellent fit for our family and for what I am gifted in.  I know God has a plan for His Church here.  I believe as He looks out on our city His heart breaks even more than mine for those who willingly walk away from Him.   I had that on my mind as I was praying for our community this morning.  The Lord led me to Isaiah 12.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – Isaiah 12:2-3

I am reminded again that this church has a specific purpose in the community to point people to the God who is our salvation.  We draw on that water ourselves and we give it away.  I recently saw a well being drilled just outside of town.  It is a messy and difficult task, but once that well is finally established,  it gives water for years.  That is a powerful picture of what the church is to be about here.  The hard part of establishing the Church has already been accomplished through Jesus Christ.  Now we come to the well of living water and find that it never runs out.  It encourages me to continue to be faithful to Jesus Christ and continue to point people to Him.  God is not done yet!

Remember to give and receive and give again.

IMAG0329Christmas is such a magical time.   There is just something about lights and snow that makes me want to drink hot chocolate with candy canes.  It brings families together and brings people to church for candlelight services.    There is something very intriguing to us about a silent night that was interrupted by a chorus of angels praising God for the birth of Jesus Christ. The only thing is that each year it seems like we add more distance between that scene in Bethlehem and what Christmas has become.    Yet,  no matter what we try to scream at each other, Christmas still means something valuable to all of us.  We don’t just enjoy it, we long for it.  It is the one time of year when we throw out all caution about leaving the lights on and we add more lights to our home.  I mean, it is Christmas — it only comes once a year!

Steeped in all of the commercial and political correct jargon is the reality of what has taken place.  Sure a winter solstice is happening, but Christmas was not that big of a deal until it became a celebration of Jesus.  It provided a time for us to gather together to tell the story of God taking on flesh to save people who have rejected Him.  It allows all of us to start to answer the question about what this is all about and how we can have hope in a future.  Jesus is the gift we need and He is where the focus needs to be.  The story actually includes us.

Think about what would happen if you received a gift that would save your life.  If your life literally hung in the balance and you got what you needed to live, would you put that gift on the shelf?  I know I would open it up and apply it to my life.  If I knew someone else with the same problem as I had, I think it would be a nice idea to try to save them too, wouldn’t it?

Who wouldn't want to watch this sheep?

Who wouldn’t want to watch this sheep?

In Luke 2 there are shepherds out tending to their flocks.  It says that they were living in the fields.  I would imagine that it was an ordinary night of sheep watching.  Then God showed up and His glory shown around them.  In other words, they knew that it was the Lord who was showing up to tell them something.  Despite their fear, they are able to calm down and hear about the Savior who has been born.  The gift is a baby and not just any baby, the Savior of the world for all people!

So they go to see and they find the baby in the manger.  What they do next is what I think we need to remember — they went and told everyone!  There is good news and they want the world to know.

This challenges me to make sure I don’t miss out on the giving part of Christmas.  There are people all around us who have never received the gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ.  We must not keep Him to ourselves.  I know it is not politically correct to talk about Jesus, but it is far worse not to.  The Savior has come for all people.  (yes, even them)

I believe that all of the rhetoric and media hype over things people say is just a distraction from what really matters.  We need to keep our head on straight.  Jesus Christ is the way for anyone who will come.  Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that.  The Bible is truth and God does not need us to defend any of it.  We are to share the gift of Jesus with the world around us.

As you receive the blessing of drawing near to God because of Jesus, remember also to share Him with others.

Merry Christmas! 

 

Come Before God With Thanksgiving

The beginning of the first proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving from 1789. – by George Washington.  (before it became a yearly thing)

‘Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, humbly implore his protection and favor…”

The goal was always to thank God for his provisions. That is what Thanksgiving is about!

Why is God where our Thanksgiving beings, as it says in verse 2 “come before him with Thanksgiving.”

He gives Salvation to us

The Psalm reminds us that God is the Rock of our salvation. Right now there is turmoil in families all over the world.  If we were left to our own devices to somehow obtain salvation and make sense of it all, it would be like trying to build a mansion on the beach with no foundation.  Sure, you might get by for a while, but the wind and waves will come at some point and the house will be destroyed.

We can be thankful today that despite all the changes in our culture, positive or negative, that God does not change.  We can be thankful that He still saves sinful people from the mess of sin we are in.  He takes us and places us on the Rock, Christ Jesus.

He Made it All & is Over It All

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land – Psalm 95:4-5

 There is purpose and order in the creation.  No matter what is going on at any given moment, God is still the real King.  Why?  Because He made it all.  I mean try to imagine this scene.  The depths of the earth in his hand.  The mountain peaks, some of which people have never climbed, and never will climb, are his.  The sea in all its splendor is God’s. He owns it because He made it.    I mean I have made some amazing things with Lincoln Logs and Legos,  but never anything as amazing as the universe, the depths of which we can never fully grasp.

This makes my heart burst with thanksgiving because it tells me that God is always on the throne.  God is never surprised by anything that happens.  There is no molecule in the universe that he is not aware of.   He made it all.  He knows it all.    It reassures me that no matter what I am going through, no matter how alone I might feel, I can find comfort in knowing that God knows exactly what is going on.

He Knows and is Involved With us Personally

This is where it gets crazy.  God over everything, but He knows everyone personally, individually.   It is one thing to recognize that there is a God who is over everything, who is larger than anything. Many people believe in a “higher power.”  But, the difference here is that God is personal and involved in our lives.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; – Psalm 95:6

He is our maker.  That means we are not a mistake and not junk.  Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece.  He has molded each person individually like an artist does with clay.

So, as we gather today we give start by giving thanks to God because in Him is where our Thanksgiving begins.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!  

 

Isn’t this an overreaction? – 2 Kings 2:23-25

One of the greatest stories to bring up with high school students is the story of Elisha’s way of dealing with a bunch of youth.  They called him bald and he prayed and God sent bears to maul them.  Sounds like teens should be nice to their bald youth pastors.  But, why was this the reaction?  At face value, this looks rather harsh.  I mean, couldn’t they have just said, “hey, be nice to the man.”

First, here is the story, if you are not familiar.

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.  And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 2:23-25

The explanation lies in both who the youth were and who Elisha was.  First of all, I asked an Old Testament professor about this and one thing he brought up was that this wasn’t the average youth group.  This was a group of trouble makers, or muggers.  They were comparable to a street gang.  So, sorry youth pastors, I guess if you are balding you can’t use this as a threat.

When they tell him to “go on up” they are not just talking trash.  They are telling him to move on, to get out of town.  Elisha, being a prophet, would not have always received a warm welcome in all places.  Clearly this group was not thrilled with the message he brought and wanted him gone.

With that being said, this had everything to do with opposition to God.  In this case, God dealt with the opposition in a swift fashion.  It is never a good idea to be opposed to God.  This is not a new concept, but just an occurrence where it is done with uniqueness.

It is not an overreaction.  It is the act of an unholy people trying to live in proximity to a Holy God.  This is something that they never did well, which is why Jesus Christ coming was so significant.  Now there was a mediator between God and man.  Now there was an ability to be forgiven of sin and to be viewed as righteous before God.  We could never have done that!

I will say that if you are a teen and have a balding youth pastor, it is still wise to be nice to him.  But, when he tries to ask God for bears to maul you, make sure you remind him of what was really going on there.

And of course — be careful who you taunt. 🙂