United in Grace

Click here to read Acts 15:1-35.

Unless you…

Believe, belong, accept, perform, think, dress like, etc.

We have all been part of this kind of thinking at some point in our lives. Maybe we have said this to another person to make sure they were the “right material” for the group, the club, the organization. Maybe we have heard these stipulations given to us. What is the first thing that comes to mind when stipulations are placed on others for the sake of making them conform?

Part of the reason we create these “rules” is because we are more comfortable being around people just like us. We would rather have everyone in the group agree with us. No one likes to be called out for being “wrong.” (I know I don’t.) But can we be missing something when we try to force people to conform to a certain way of thinking, to be a certain kind of person?

The early Church had this same kind of issue. There were people who were nervous, including some of the apostles, for Gentiles (non-Jewish people) to become followers of Jesus Christ. After all, the people of the Jewish faith had to go through rigorous training, knowledge, liturgies as part of their faith. Jesus was raised as a Jewish person. So why not make everyone follow the Jewish law and then give them the opportunity to follow and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Why not? Because grace has something more amazing in store for the world. I want to add, this does not mean, or say, that creating liturgies, ways of learning, or any training to deepen our faith is bad or wrong. It just means that we do not have to go through all of that BEFORE experiencing God’s grace. Throughout scripture, we see the image of God reaching out to the world. God reaching out to the poor, the outcasts, the sick, the dead, the rich, everyone. He makes no qualms about the way people grew up and lived their lives. He met them exactly where they were.

Here’s the kicker to all of this. Just because God meets people where they were/are in life, it doesn’t mean he desires them to keep living that way. It is through His grace, His unmerited favor, that He gives us a new life, a new purpose, a new heart, a new mind. He knows what He created us to be. As for the laws the Jewish people lived by, He did not abolish them; but God did work in the hearts of the Christian leaders, the apostles, to say no one should have any barriers to coming to faith in God through Jesus Christ.

When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtains were torn in two, the direct path to God was now available to ALL people, not just the High Priests or the Temple Priests. This is great news! You and I get to enter into eternal life, living in the presence of God, here and now. The only barriers to not living into this grace are those we place on ourselves.

No, you and I are not good enough, nor can we do enough to earn God’s grace. That is why His grace is a FREE gift to ALL people. The apostles and early church leaders learned this, and they became united with God in the sharing of His grace in a new way. We are given opportunities to experience and share His love and grace each and everyday.

People Can Change

Read Acts 9:21:31 here.

We all, I’m sure, have known people who say they are going to change. And then they relapse into whatever they needed to stop. It breaks our heart and we lose trust. We begin to learn that the person “cannot” change. The reality is people change when the desire for Christ and the real recognition change must occur is stronger then the emotional high received from telling others they will change.

Unfortunately most people have to hit rock bottom before change will begin. What is rock bottom? This is the place and realization they have no where else to go. Most of the time, my guess is, people really do want to change. It’s the asking for help that leaves people in a state of embarrassment for some reason. However, when a person hits rock bottom, they know help must come.

When the Apostle Paul was on a mission to imprison the people following Jesus he was so obsessed and addicted to capturing them and interrupting their fellowship. Can you imagine the high he must have been on? The thrill of breaking a meeting, of sending people to prison just for following Christ. This seemed to drive him.

Paul (Saul is his Jewish name so that’s what he’s called in this part of Acts), knew the Torah better than most people. He knew the teachings and scriptures from what we call the Old Testament. He knew the line “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I know he understood that people were made in the image of God. But he was on a mission to stop people from following or talking about Jesus.

He hit his rock bottom when he experienced a real encounter with the risen Christ on his way to find more people. It was then his heart was opened and the words of Jesus filled his being so he had a greater desire to change his ways and follow Jesus then pursuing his followers.

Did people believe that he had transformed? No. Not at first. All they pictured was this man who went on rampages across the country. All they remember of this man is the hatred they felt whenever he was present. But when we spoke about the risen Christ, they noticed something different. Saul had truly changed. Now they did not accept him fully at first, but they realized he was on their side from now on.

How about you? Do you believe that people can and do change? I know I have made big mistakes. If I were to be remembered by mistakes I have made then I would not have been able to follow God’s calling in my life. Thanks be to God people really do change.

What is more sad to me than when people, who deep down want to change, have difficulty asking for help is when people flat out refuse to want to change. There is so much more joy, peace, hope, love when we allow the risen Christ to shine and work in our live than we could have ever imagined. Our sins (things we do against God or other people with our actions/inaction, words/lack of speaking up, or even or thoughts) cause a real death. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin are death.” We cannot keep doing only what we want or giving into our pleasures/desires without some kind of death to occur (physical, mental, emotional, relational, spiritual). But the second part of that verse is even more powerful, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

People can really change. I have seen it happen. I am different because of Christ. Sin does cause death; but God gives us something greater, he gives us himself. He gives us the chance to live in his presence (eternal life) here and now AND in the life to come.

Think of people you know whose lives are derailing. Pray that God might open their hearts and minds to see a better way of life. Find some books on the subject and talk with professionals who can help.

People do change. It’s having the desire to change and leaning into the grace of God that begins a change with our hearts. Trust that God is still working. Even though the road to recovery is challenging, it is worth it and great good can from it. Need an example? Just look at the life of Saul who became the Apostle Paul who wrote most of what we have in our New Testament. Changed lives change lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.

Hey, Why Not?

Click here to read Acts 8:26-40.

I know you have been in this position. Suddenly you feel like you should go to a certain place, or go down a certain trail (road, path, aisle, etc.). You’re not sure why, it’s just a feeling. You go about your business to finish what you came to do when it seems like all of a sudden someone crosses your path and in some form or another seeks your attention.

Now when this happens to me, I know I have some choices. I can look directly at the person and greet them trying to let them know how busy I am. I can pretend not to see them and just move on. Or, I can stop what I’m doing and really notice them and begin to talk. Has my day been interrupted? Yes. Does my anxiety about not finishing what I need to creep in? Yes. In the end is it worth having my day interrupted especially when I find out that particular person needed to talk with me in that moment? Absolutely!

My guess is that happens to us more than we realize. We can get so wrapped up in our day to day tasks and to do lists that we can forget the most important task we should do is to love and serve God which leads us to love and serve other people.

Philip was prompted by the Spirit to go down a certain road to a certain place. Take some time to re-read the scripture above. How was he prompted? It doesn’t say. My personal experience is I have felt a nudging in my spirit to do something or go somewhere. I have also had people come up to me (more than one) and mention the same thing (without them knowing the others said it). I have also read scripture and have come across passages and sense God leading me to do something similar. This also happens when I read other books. The point is to always be open to, and discerning, what God is asking us to do on a daily basis.

While on the path, Philip notices an important official riding a chariot down the road and reading. He could have gave a polite greeting and went on his way; but Philip listened to what the Ethiopian was reading. In my mind, when Philip heard the Ethiopian reading he stopped in his tracks. This caused him to stop the chariot and begin the conversation with Philip.

This is a passage that comes into my mind and heart a lot. We just never know who we will run into or what God will lead us to that day; but we can go with the attitude, “hey, why not!” There are people in our paths that need our particular gifts, our particular past hurts we dealt with or are dealing with, our particular knowledge and skills to encourage, support, and build them up to become more of the person God created them to be. When our hearts are open to God, relationships become more important.

We are given opportunities to interact with other people. Sometimes we get to witness a life change. More often than not we get to people one of several people who help and we do not get to see the results.

If we are open to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will notice people and situations and go into them knowing that God is working there and is inviting us to be part of it. We just never know what the outcome will be.

Did Philip know how his chance encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch would turn out? No. But he still listened to the Spirit, stopped and listened to the Ethiopian, and professed Christ to him. Then, almost out of no where, baptism was talked about and they spotted water. The eunuch saw the water and basically said, “hey, why not?” He must have sensed that his life was changed because of what he had just heard and then decided the time was right to be baptized.

After baptizing him, Philip left. Did he get to see what happened next? No. Tradition says that the eunuch went back to Ethiopia and began to teach and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, starting and forming the Christian church in Ethiopia.

Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just never know who you will cross paths with or what will change because you accepted God’s invitation to work with him.

Expect the Unexpected

THE RUSH

This is the Pentecost sermon preached on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Click here to read ACTS 2:1-2.

WRITE “ORDINARY DAY” ON YOUR NOTES

It was just another normal day. Everyone was gathered together. Everyone had been praying for the last 10 days. This was just another average day.

Over the last 10 days, they had been reminiscing. Reminiscing over the incredible things that had witnessed and experienced over the last 50 days. Jesus had defeated death by walking out of the grave, leaving it empty. After appearing to the disciples and even 500 people all at one time, he ascended, was lifted up, into heaven. As he was about to depart, Jesus said these words (that we have come to know as Acts 1:8), “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The disciples gathered together and prayed. I would guess they were bewildered about who/what the Holy Spirit is that is coming. I’m sure they would have tried to recall what their Lord said about the Spirit and what this would mean.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:7-8)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

So…sitting around, praying, and talking about what they remembered Jesus said about this Spirit. It was just a normal, run of the mill day.

Sure, the city of Jerusalem was filled with hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate Pentecost. This holiday fest tradition started with Moses, while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. We read about this in the book of Leviticus. “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev 23:15-16)

Other than the city filled and people were partying, it was really just an ordinary time in the life of the disciples. They were trying as hard as they could to stay on the DL because the Roman authorities and the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious leaders) were on the lookout for them. So they stayed together in one place.

Life can seem like this. We expect the day or the week to go as planned. We like the idea of change but we do not like to change. It seems like it can be more comfortable and easy to live as things have always been. We like to cling to the past because that is what we are familiar with. God does not desire us to live in the past. God does not desire us to play it safe and comfortable. God does not desire us to be the exact same today as we were the year before, or even the day before.

Who-Wants-Change-360x360

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, everything can change! Without warning an illness can occur. Without warning a spouse can file for divorce. Without warning a child can go to their parents and give bad news. Without warning you’ll get feeling to visit or call a friend and find out they needed to talk with you. Without warning, the Spirit of the Living God will come upon you and fill you so full of love and grace that you are different from the inside out which causes your life’s plans to go in a completely new direction.

We have the chance not to view change as negative or bad; but, rather, view change as new opportunities to “declare the wonders of God” to different people and a culture that’s different from how we grew up. God’s Spirit is always at work in and through our lives.

That is what happened on the day of Pentecost 2,000 or so years ago. Nothing was the same after the Spirit came down upon the disciples.

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was experiencing a normal day in Kansas. She visited friends, went on a walk, did her chores, and then went back home and laid down to take a nap.

WIZARD OF OZ MOVIE CLIP

  • Things were normal, grumbly, not very happy, until THE WIND came.
  • Picked up the house, Dorothy, Toto and all, and took them to a place where NOTHING WAS THE SAME
  • Little people dancing around
  • Monkeys who could fly
  • Unexpected dangers
  • Friends with unexplainable gifts–Courage, Compassion, Wisdom–without anything to offer a rational explanation for their presence
  • The Emerald City–beautiful, full of promise

That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit.

NOW, CROSS OUT “ORDINARY LIFE”

WRITE “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” ON YOUR NOTES

We’ve already established we do not like change. But when the Holy Spirit of God fills us, we are experiencing the power of God dwelling, residing, filling our hearts and our lives for incredible change to occur.

The Apostle Peter took the lead in this moment and stood up to proclaim to the crowd what they were witnessing. Now, you remember Peter, right? He always had his foot in his mouth. He told Jesus what he needed to do on more than one occasion. He denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a lot going against him. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood as a superstar, the leader of the disciples to tell the crowd all about God’s promises and about Jesus the Christ.

A favorite question from Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother, was “have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” This was in the sermon “Awake Thou Sleeper”. Nothing is the same after the Holy Spirit washes over you. No longer do you rely on the past to make you comfortable. Now, because of the Spirit, you find your comfort in the unpredictable future and nature of the work God is calling you and I to do right here, right now.

We should never expect to live an “ordinary” life. Because of the grace of God, we are set apart, we are holy. We are the saints of God in today’s world.

The Spirit turns everything we know upside down.

It is not just the young who will have dreams for the future and dreams for the work to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is the elderly people who will also have these dreams because God’s work is never done. It doesn’t matter the age of the person, God can and does incredible feats through each person.

We often go to the older people to get some vision, to get some perspective and wisdom. Because of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out on all people, wisdom will also come from the young, the one people look down upon because of their age.

It is incredible what the Spirit does in each person and as a community! Was Kansas different when Dorothy returned? No. DOROTHY was different! She had seen what life is supposed to be like. Not gray and gloomy; but full of joy, wonder, and unconditional love and grace.

WRITE “NOTHING IS THE SAME” ON YOUR NOTES

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here. Allow this Spirit to wash over you. Be filled with the fire (passion) of God and remember from where you came from and where you’re going.

John Wesley has a great quote we should remember, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Hold fast and firm to the Spirit and trust that his guiding work is taking you to the paths, places, and people God is desiring you to connect with to proclaim and declare the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. What an exhilarating rush this is when the Holy Spirit fills us and guides us!

Each day, I pray we wake up with an earnest desire to seek the Spirit. May this be our song everyday:

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord”

Recognition & Generosity

Click here to read today’s text, Acts:5:1-16.

We live in a culture that makes us desire to look good and perfect in front of others. What this means is we are going to do everything we can to hide our faults, hide our weaknesses. Why do we want to be perfect? I think our pride, our desire to be liked, and our desire to be in relationship with others is what drives this “need.”

In the passage today, Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed Barnabas sell some property and people loved the action. Most likely, Ananias and Sapphira wanted to received this same kind of recognition and treatment. Does this sound like any people we know today? Receiving recognition really does not do anymore than feeding our ego so we can think we are somebody important.

If we take some time to assess our hearts whenever we give or whenever we do good works, we can see what our real motivation. Think about this. Why do we give our old clothes and worn out items to Goodwill? Many give because they want something new and the space is needed. Many give to make it seem like they are generous.

Generosity really is not giving our left-overs; but giving the best of what we have. If we were to truly be generous people, we would give away the things (food, clothing, items, time) that we could use for our personal consumption but know that another person will benefit more.

Our desire to be recognized for giving feeds our ego and gives us pride because we are doing something to “help others.” Ananias and Sapphira were in this same boat. They were trying to hide what they really had and only gave because they wanted to look good in front of the other people. They were not motivated by generosity; but, rather motivated by their pride and ego. Underlying all of this is really a lack of trust that God will provide what we need and we do not need to hold back to save for ourselves, especially if we have decided to be generous.

These are some harsh words to read in scripture. I imagine many people choose to skip this particular passage. My guess for why people would skip this passage is because it is something that God is desiring to work on in each of us and we don’t feel comfortable with the Holy Spirit convicting us.

Take joy in the fact you and I are being remade and recreated into the image God created us to be in. Take joy we go through inner conviction and turmoil so we can get to the place where God desires us. Take joy in the fact that when we allow God into our lives, his Holy Spirit works within us and transforms us. It is because of this transformation that great signs and wonders will be shown through our lives.

Because of the grace God has given us, we get to experience this incredible power in and through our lives and be part of the redemption of the world.

Praying as Community

Click here to read the scripture for today: Acts 4:23-37.

Peter and John have just been interrogated for their faith and belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. They could have easily went back and began a tirade of bashing the religious leaders; but they did something different.

Instead of badmouthing, according to the scripture, they gave an account of what was said. Then they lifted a prayer to God, as a community of believers. Individual prayers to God are powerful; but there is something incredible that occurs when we pray as a group, as a community.

Praying together in a group does not make God hear our prayer more or cause him to take action quicker because we have a group praying. One of the most powerful things that takes place is a group of people, a community, is changed in the heart. That is often more powerful than anything we desire God to do because our hearts, more times than not, are bend toward one goal, and that is not always what God is desiring from us. In order to break into the human heart God patiently waits for an opening of compassion, just a chance.

This is not saying that God working in our lives is completely dependent on us. God is already present and active in our lives. “God coming into our heart” is more of allowing ourselves to be awakened to the already present and working Holy Spirit of God within us. And coming to that realization changes everything about us. Realizing this as a community makes great waves of revival and gives way to more people experiencing the real presence of the Kingdom of Heaven right here, right now.

So what can change when we pray as a community? We understand that everything we have can and should be used in some way to benefit the lives of those around us. Think about that for a minute. Does that make sense? Shouldn’t we be the ones to benefit from what we have? The answer of more of a “yes, and” answer. Yes we benefit for what we have AND we have the opportunity to use what we have to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and make an impact in another life.

I believe this is what the believers experienced. “None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions;” but they allowed what they have been entrusted with, by God, to share his love and his grace so no one was left out.

What do you think about all of this? What is challenging for you?

I hope you’ll take time and pray with a group of people, asking God to reveal himself in your life and to guide you to where he is working so you can join him. Does this mean everything will change in the world because of your actions? It means that you and I can be instruments to show and share God’s grace which makes an impact in another person’s life. The entire world may not be changed that quickly; but someone’s world is. And that’s incredible!

Loving Others

How many times have you heard your pastor or other people say, “you need to love other people and show God’s love to others”? Tell the truth, do you sometimes wish people would stop telling you to act that way? All we need to do is to turn on any media stream and find conflicting stories that  leave us in a state of confusion. Why should we love the murders, the law breakers? Why do I have to give to help starving orphans on the other side of the world that I will never see?

WHY DON’T WE LIKE TO HEAR WE NEED TO HELP OTHERS OR LOVE OTHERS?

Our fallen humanity instinct is to think of ourselves and our wants/desires/needs before we help others. It is in our non-perfect state that we end up looking after #1 before we look after other people. This can even be the case with our children. The roots of this mindset and “instinct” go all the way back to the beginning. We can read about this in the Bible in Genesis chapter 3.

In the book The Quest for Holiness—From Shallow Belief to Mature Believer, David Long writes, “when Adam and Eve turned away from God and to themselves, their nature changed to one with a tendency to disobey, a bent toward sinning in which the first thought is of self, not God and neighbor…This fallen self will always advocate that we put self first over God and others…This simply means we put our own needs first and hence, in a sense, worship self. Instead of glorifying God and serving of others, the fallen self steals the glory due God and turns it to itself.”

What this is saying is that we have to own the “why” of why we are the way we are. (Romans 7:15-20) It is because of our fallen state that we are this way.

BUT JESUS CAME AND CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Jesus changed how humanity thought loving other people was like. We love to blame other people when we mess up or refuse to act when we need to. Or, when we do sin, we do wrong, some people will say “the devil made me do it.” Since Chris came, we do not have this excuse.  The love of God through Jesus Christ continues to work in us and shows us where our lives do not align with God. We learn to take ownership of our actions and lives and don’t blame other people or entities for our lack of showing love. 

Jesus showed humanity that love is not a simple feeling, it is a state of being. It doesn’t matter the situation of the other person, we have the opportunity to show grace and God’s love to the outcasts and the poor in our world. It is because of the grace God gives us we are able to help and reach out to those in need. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Being in a relationship with God means we’ll help and show love to others But what does it mean to show love?

  • The Apostle Paul wrote a great definition of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Since we are made in the image of God, and God is love, do we live up to this standard each day? I know I don’t. But it is absolutely incredible that God continues to mold us more and more each day into the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
  • Love is putting other people’s needs above our own at times. Jesus says in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” We will often have to put aside our personal preferences for those that will glorify the Kingdom of God instead of making sure we are comfortable. If our personal preferences and our own comfort is more important than another’s person salvation, we have our priorities mixed up. If we love the building more than the God we worship, something is wrong.

The point is to build up the people in the community so the Kingdom of God in known and experienced.

There are many ways we can share God’s love to build people up so the community improves. This is how we build up our community and to live more into who God created us to be:

  • Clothing those who need clothes
  • Feeding those who need food
  • Talking with those different than us
  • Taking time to show other people (outside your family and friends since they matter to God, they matter to you)
  • Investing time in people to help develop work skills (not just for your benefit but what the community needs)
  • Spend time with people who live their life for serving God through serving others…not as a “holy huddle” to talk about why things are bad but to serve the people of God
  • Inviting people to worship to experience grace

It is through an outpouring of the grace and faith we received that we are able to show and give grace. The grace of Jesus Christ is incredible. Even though we do not live up to his expectations (though we are being molded into his image), Christ invites us to dine with him and feast at his table.He laid down his life so we could have life and share his life with others.

So, what are your thoughts?

  • What do you think about the phrase, “if our personal preferences and our own comfort is more important than another’s person salvation, we have our priorities mixed up?”
  • What do you think “personal preferences” means?
  • What more could you add that would build up the community and it’s people even though it may go against our personal preferences?

Giving It Up

Lent is coming upon us. No, this is not the lint we find in our pockets or in our dryers. This is a special time within the Christian Church calendar. This is a time of sacrifice, self-denial, repentance, self-reflection, etc. so we can be fully ready to experience the joy that comes on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the truth Christ has defeated our last enemy, death, and we can joyfully proclaim “Christ is risen!”

To get to that place of complete joy, we have to realize there is a time of preparation that should take place. Easter doesn’t just happen. Christ didn’t just rise from the grave. He made preparations. Jesus went with intentionality to Jerusalem, prepared his disciples, went through public humiliation, flogged, died, and was buried. So much happened in the life of Jesus before he rose.

The 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) is a special time. Many people, around the world, participate in some sort of fasting. Fasting is supposed to be challenging for us. One of the aspects to remember about fasting is that we are removing anything that takes us away from experiencing the joy of God’s presence that is with us always.

One of the practices I have done each year is to add something new to my days. This has been a great practice for me because doing a new spiritual discipline or a new kind of devotion or prayer has taken time away from doing something else. Adding something new each lent has been a powerful way to more fully focus on the life of Christ and how we have the opportunity to experience Christ daily and in new ways, if we’re open to his presence.

My question for you is, “what is part of your life that takes your attention away from God?” This is what we should give up for Lent. When we give up something, it is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to remind us that, just like we are tempted to partake of what we gave up because we think we need it, Jesus Christ was tempted in the wilderness. He overcame the power of temptation from the evil one and remained focused on his life calling and his life mission.

Now, here is the challenge. Instead of giving up something like chocolate, or similar, I challenge us to give up something more challenging. (Note: If you crave chocolate and have to have chocolate everyday, this might be a good challenge to give up because it might take your attention off Christ.) Some ideas are giving up a certain TV show each day/week, and spending time in a spiritual discipline (prayer, worship, silence, solitude, etc.) either on your own or with your family. We can also fast from food, whether it be one meal a day or only eating in the evening. There are several ways we can cleanse our hearts and lives by giving something up in order to fill our hearts more with heaven. I am including some additional articles, at the bottom of this post, that could prove helpful for you to fully immerse yourself in the season.

Now, after Easter, whatever we gave up, we do not need to begin again. This is where it gets really difficult for many. Giving something up in order to fully experience God should become part of our everyday lives, even after Easter. If what you give up really does take your attention off Jesus Christ, then keep it out of your life so you can more fully have your life devoted to God.

The day that begins the season of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Many people go to worship, go to a church building and get the sign of the cross on their foreheads in (usually) palm ashes. This is to remind us that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Just like we are only dirt when we don’t have a physical body; we are truly nothing without the grace of God in our lives. The ashes are supposed to remind us we need Jesus Christ daily.

I pray Lent this year helps you fully prepare for the joy of Easter. May Jesus Christ continue to make himself known to you daily, and may you know more fully the presence of God in your life.

ARTICLES:

“19 Things to Give Up For Lent that Aren’t Chocolate” http://www.dailyworld.com/story/opinion/2017/02/16/19-things-give-up-lent-arent-chocolate/98005614/

“10 Ideas for a More Meaningful Ash Wednesday” http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/10-ideas-for-a-more-meaningful-ash-wednesday

Unheard Voices 

I am not one to engage in political or any form of attack or criticism via social media because I see too much negativity and very little building up of those who did incredibly horrible, insensitive, and just plain wrong things. It hurts when people get hurt, especially people I know because of what it is done.

I am part of the group that appears to be silent on social media, and is criticized for not “speaking out” and blasting people all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is truthfully many people who are getting the point across over what is happening in our communities, our cities, our nation, and the world.

One of the things that is difficult for me to witnesses is the method that others are using to try to bring about change. Changing legislation, rioting, protesting (more specifically non-peaceful), calling people hurtful things and dumping people into a large group and stereotyping. The laws can change to make people more aware of what’s going on; but this is not the way people really change. Change does not happen instantly. Some people, unfortunately never experience the change in society, in our culture, in their lifetime. It is a very noble and important task to bring attention at a national and world level for the injustices that happen each and everyday. People are shot for no reason. Racism still comes out. Blind eyes and non-helping hands are all around us. If we really look at what is wrong, we see this is really a problem of people’s hearts. This is what needs to change first and foremost.

Too often we result to name calling and threatening when a person acts a certain way. Too often we put blame in objects or the situation. Too often we try to change people by making it illegal to act a certain way. Change does not happen in this way. It is pretty much impossible to change someone by demonstrating anger toward them. If anything, I have seen people become numb, angry, stubborn and resistant to change when another person comes back and attacks.

People are murdered, theft happens, kidnappings happen because we as a people do not value human life as much as we say we do. Look at our thought process. We go from thinking that a person said or did something wrong; but then we keep focusing on that and vent to others, becoming so angry that we begin thinking that person IS evil and IS wrong. This is just a step away from hating the person / group which makes it easy to say they do not deserve to live and therefore it makes it easy for a person to come out and kill. All because human life is not valued.

We see this kind of thinking and behavior everyday. Many based their hatred on snap decisions and feelings rather than trying to look a what is going on, what is at the heart of the matter. Again, the actions and the objects get blamed and punished and we forget to see what is going on: that human life is not valued like we think it is. Our media, and social media makes this possible. Because of the 5-30 second sound bites, it makes it easy for our opinions to be sueded, mostly in a negative way. Then we can and do share the short clips and memes that do more harm.

I find it interesting, and disturbing, that the same kind of mindset we are told not to act upon in 6th grade is the same thing we do today. We get hurt, and we try to hurt other people. Hurting others does not really teach why something is wrong, rather it is retaliating for vengeance, for revenge. Revenge has never gotten complete justice; instead it seeks after retribution.

The way that I see people change is one-on-one or in small groups. I have found that most people, though there are ones who won’t and that’s something they have to work through, will listen is they feel listened to. I am not on a national stage so I don’t have a platform many others do. It seems we need to go back and follow Jesus’ example of how He worked to change the world. There were times large groups were around; but he really did it by starting one-on-one and with his small group. He challenged their hearts to experience the Kingdom of Heaven that is already here, if we open our eyes and our hearts to it. People are not changed from trying to change what is going on around them. people are changed from the inside out. Like Jesus does, we have to work with him to change a person starting with the heart. Every life matters. All people have value.

Do I do everything I can to work with Jesus to bring change in my community, which I pray spreads out to the world? I try. I am nowhere near perfect, and I know I still have biases of my own; but I praise God for the transformation he is doing in me and for the transformative work I see happening in this community. When we can build people up, instead of insulting and tearing down, God’s love and grace is able to come in. People are valued. People realize they are loved and need love. People see how they have been gifted to make a change in this world.

I know there are people who would read this and say this is not good enough. I know I could be criticized for this post in some form or fashion. My prayer is that God keeps working here, and in my heart, so we all can experience the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. God’s presence is already here. I believe God is waiting for us to stop thinking only of what is wrong and is waiting for us to join him in the true work which is the heart of the matter: the human heart. Changing this makes all the difference. Real, lasting change happens from the inside of a person first then is shown through their outward words and actions. The task is to allow Jesus Christ to work in and through us for the transformation, not fixing, of the world.

Sabbath Retreat

I came back from a week in the mountains with some great friends as well as some new men I haven’t met before. This was an incredible week to take time away and rest in the Lord, intentionally.

Sabbath rest is extremely important and it is a discipline that is overlooked. One of the books I was reading during this week was “Emotionally Healthy Leader.” This is an awesome book which forces you to look inside yourself and see how, through the grace of God, we can be better and more healthy leaders. This is a book that I would recommend.

In the chapter on “Practice Sabbath Delight,” Peter Scazzaro writes about a time when he visited a trusted friend. He was frustrated when the Christian leaders he taught all over the country preach about Sabbath rest and even say it is a great “idea,” would not actually practice a true Sabbath. Bob, his clinical psychologist friend told Peter, ““They can’t stop. If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified. They’re frightened to death of what they’ll see inside themselves if they slow down. And you want them to immerse themselves in things like solitude, Sabbath, and silent reflection?” He chuckled again. “Do you have any idea how foreign this is for any leader —Christian or not? Something so much deeper is driving them; they just have no idea what it is.” It was the penetrating truth of this statement that stunned me: If they stop, they’ll die. They’re terrified.”

Does this describe you? If I was honest earlier in my life and ministry career, I would have to say that that statement actually pinned me to a “T.” After all, why would I want to purposefully look into the depths of my character, passed mistakes, and anything else that God wants me to work on. My thought was “I can do this. I’ll spend time with God and make Sabbath as part of my daily life. But there was a problem with that mindset; I wasn’t discipline to take at least an hour away from “my day” when I “had to be productive and get things done.”

As I have learned and realized the importance, I try (not always though) to take a complete 24 rest from the work I have to do the other 6 days of the week and spend time to delight in God. This means I will rest from work (paid and unpaid) and only do the things that give me complete joy. Some of this includes spending time with family, more time for reading, prayer, reflection, play.

For the last few years, I have been going on week long men’s retreats to the mountains. During this time away (not off like we think of being off), I have learned how to structure my days so I can come back refreshed, joyful, and ready to get back into the work of life.

Each day I will take a minimum of 2 hours, and a maximum of 5 hours for reading, meditation on Scripture, prayer, taking a walk, etc. This is usually done by myself. The rest of the day I would spend time with the group and go hiking, go into town to walk or hangout. Basically, the second half of my day is play and spending time with friends.

I am not sure of your station in life, or what you are going through. But I would encourage you to take time every 7 days for a true Sabbath rest (not necessarily stopping work; but having no deadlines to focus on). If taking 24 hours to do this each week seems challenging, I would encourage you to take time to build up to it. Purposely plan what you will and will not do on your Sabbath time and just see how God refreshes your soul for the next 6 days of building relationships and your work.