God Working Through Our Lives

Click here to read Acts 22.

Have you ever been in a place where you have to defend what you’re doing? Of course you have. We all have. My kids love to give me the reasons why they’re playing the way they are or why the other person is upset. We all love to find ways to defend ourselves.

The question comes into play as to why we are defending ourselves. Do we defend ourselves simply to make ourselves look good? Or do we defend ourselves to show how God has called us and give him the glory for all he has done through us?

Paul has now left Ephesus and was captured by the authorities. He had to give testimony as to who he is; but really he talked about how Jesus called him and has used him. Everything he said was pointing people to the Christ, the One who is, who was, and is to come. Notice how he also shows the people to trained him and his background. He is showing how God has worked in and through his life to bring him to the place he is now.

Now, I want you to look back in your life. Think about everything you have done. How has your past helped you to be where you are today? How has your past helped you become who you are today?

Many times, I hear people talk about how their past was not what they wanted. We can look to the past and see what we have done, or we can look back to see how God was working in and through our lives. It is here, I think of the quote, “We can complain because roses have thorns; or we can rejoice because thorns have roses.”

If you have the time, think through the toughest and best parts of your life. Do you think of those times as something that could have been better? Can you think of them as something you went through to help you get to be who God has created you to be?

Paul could have been discouraged as to how his life was now going. Prison, beatings, humiliations, etc. But he was able to rejoice because he has discovered that he actually has everything he needs, and more. He has the real presence of Jesus Christ with him each and everyday.

Take time to praise God for your past. Praise him for how he has brought you to this particular moment in your life. Praise him he is with you right now.

Now if you are doubting God is with you, I am inviting you to sit down and say something like, “Jesus I want to know you.” Say that over and over. You never know how he will appear and make himself known to you and you can see how he has never left you. God is always working in your life, especially when we don’t know it.

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

SENT OUT with Identity

This week, we began a 5 part series in worship called “SENT OUT.” Jesus does not call us to live comfortable lives, be comfortable in our worship, or expect everything to go just right simply because we follow him. He calls us to go out into our communities and out into the world to follow Him, make disciples, show grace; and this all begins by knowing our identity.

If I were to ask you, “Who are you?,” would you be able to answer this without stating what you do or describe your personality or preferences? We live in a culture that wraps our identity up with our job and what we like to do. This is not the basis of our true identity. Our true identity is a child of God, a person who has been made in the image of God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 3, Jesus goes to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. I invite you to read these words now:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.””
Matthew 3:13-17 NIV

Jesus is on his way to be baptized. He is determined to follow through on this decision. People were coming from all over to be baptized by John the Baptist and repenting to turn their life over to God. Would Jesus have just been another person in the crowd? Would you be able to recognize Him? John recognized Jesus when He went in the water.

When we get baptized, we go with a resolve to publically declare what God has been doing inside us. This is not done lightly and we should not take baptism lightly.

In doing research for this message this week, I came across a story of a baptism in East Malaysia.
When Texas pastor Jim Denison was in college, he served as a summer missionary in East Malaysia. While there he attended a small church. At one of the church’s worship services, a teenage girl came forward to announce her decision to follow Christ and be baptized. During the service, Denison noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the wall of the church building. He asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the girl who had just been baptized and told Denison, “Her father said that if she was baptized as a Christian she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage.”(Raymond McHenry, Stories for the Soul (Hendrickson, 2001), p. 48; submitted by Steve May, Humboldt, Tennessee)

This teenager knew she would not be welcome back home after being baptized and knew this meant she had a new life to live because she knew God had great plans for her life. How many of us would be willing to do the same thing?

Jesus was not made more into the Son of God after He was baptized; but His identity was confirmed and affirmed by the heavens opening up giving the divine revelation (Ezekiel 1:1, Revelation 4:1), the voice from heaven that proclaimed His identity and showed His authority for the work He was about to enter.

So now we have to ask the question, what does this mean for us today?
We get to be affirmed in our identity as children of God and share this truth to those in our family, and others around us.

We should always approach worship and the presence of God (which is all around us) with determination that God will do a great work within us and through us.

We get to share this message of grace and truth because we know our identity: Child of God made in His image. This means we go into the world and tell the gospel message with confidence. Remember, there are really two types of people in this world: those who know they are God’s children, and those who do not know this.

As we leave the waters of baptism, realize we are in the presence of God, we are changed and should allow God to continually change us. Remember these:
Why the Jordan River? The Israelites crossed the river with Joshua leading them after Moses died. They left their old way of life behind and entered into a new life, one that God desired them to have.
Put on Christ and clothe yourself with Christ (Colossians 3)
It is no longer I who live but Christ in me (Galatians 3:22)
It is God who does the redemptive work. This is where the power in baptism comes from. (1 Corinthians 1)
We have been equipped by the Holy Spirit and have been given gifts for reaching out to this world. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4)
From the beginning, God called His creation “good” (Genesis 1:26-27), and we get to join in the redemptive work with Him.

Trust that God is doing a great work in you and will do great works through you. Child of God, know who you are and know you have a great purpose and mission for your life. But, just because you decide to follow Jesus Christ, does not mean your life will not be easy or comfortable because we want it to.

Right after Jesus was baptized, He was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit and was tempted by Satan. Because He knew and was confident in His identity and purpose, He was able to withstand the temptations. You and I have this same power over temptations within us if we allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within you and live through you.

Above all else, remember it is God who does incredible works and have given you the identity of Child of God. Stand firm in this identity and go into the world to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

21 Daily Questions

Let’s say you and I were sitting down at a coffee shop today and I asked you two questions: “How is it with your soul?” and “How is your walk with Jesus Christ?” Do you think you would have an answer?

How many of us would have an answer we would be comfortable sharing? If we were to talk about the state of our soul, we may have an easier time talking about it in terms of our emotional state at the time. However, if we begin talking about our walk (our relationship) with Jesus Christ, we would most likely begin talking about all the stuff we do for Christ. In a way, we still have a works based idea of salvation and relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an Anglican priest and was very systematic and methodical about his faith and how he ordered his day. He was constantly on a spiritual journey, as I pray we all are. Part of what he laid out in the small groups he helped to establish, were accountability questions that he encouraged the people to ask each day. The result, if answered honestly showed the people called Methodist was a deeply committed relationship top Jesus Christ, sharing their faith, and growing the church.

This past Sunday, I encouraged our congregation to begin asking these questions (at least 3 each day) so we all can grow more in our personal discipleship as well as help guide those we are discipline.

These questions, at first glance, may seem like a lot; but they are some great accountability questions for us so our faith does not get stagnant and we rely more on the Holy Spirit’s guidance throughout our lives.

The final question, “Is Christ real to me” is definitely one we should ask and I would add, “why is he real to me?” and “how is he real to me?”

Hopefully going through this daily journey does not make us more prideful in our faith, but more humble; especially as we share our faith more through our actions and our words.

Here is the list of 21 questions. You are encouraged to begin asking these questions daily. I would love to hear how these questions and your answers are aiding you in your walk with Jesus Christ and your personal and social faith development.
JOHN WESLEY’S 21 QUESTIONS

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts & words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

5. Am I self‐conscious, self‐pitying, or self‐justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time & get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican? (Look at the example in Luke 18:9-14)

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble & complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

I Believe in the Messiah

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 2

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

Psalm 2

Why do the nations rant? Why do the peoples rave uselessly?
The earth’s rulers take their stand; the leaders scheme together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.
“Come!” they say. “We will tear off their ropes and throw off their chains!”
The one who rules in heaven laughs; my Lord makes fun of them.
But then God speaks to them angrily; then he terrifies them with his fury:
“I hereby appoint my king on Zion, my holy mountain!”

I will announce the Lord’s decision: He said to me, “You are my son,
today I have become your father. Just ask me,
and I will make the nations your possession;
the far corners of the earth will be your property.
You will smash them with an iron rod; you will shatter them like a pottery jar.”

So kings, wise up! Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord reverently—trembling, kiss his feet  or else he will become angry,
and your way will be destroyed because his anger ignites in an instant.

But all who take refuge in the Lord are truly happy!

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the fulfillment of the time came, God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted.

 

We believe in God, the Father Almighty. This is a relatively easy phrase to speak. If we simply stop at this particular phrase we can stay in a place of thought as God is a being who is all powerful, yet distant. It makes me think of the movie Aladdin when the genie describes his life as having “phenomenal cosmic powers…itty bitty living space.”

But then, we get to the next part of the creed:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

We get to state our belief in Jesus Christ, God made flesh! This is the part of the creed that shows how much God loves us. In the Nicene Creed, Jesus is described as “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

Jesus Christ came into the world to show God among us. He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). This means he lives into what seems like his last name: Christ. “Christ” messiah which means he came to save. What did he come to save us from?

We often think Jesus came to save us from going to hell. If this is all he came for, we miss out on so much. He came so we could experience eternal life and have life abundantly. This means that we get to live in the presence of God right here, right now.

Jesus Christ came to show us the heart of God. When we say we believe in him, we have the opportunity to say we believe that God came down in human flesh and lived among us. This is huge!

Take some time to re-read Psalm 2 and Galatians 4:4-5 again and see what these passages say to you about Jesus Christ.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

I Believe in the Relator God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 1

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

We are beginning a new series on the Apostles’ Creed. How many of us recite this creed week after week and haven’t thought about the meaning of the words in awhile? It is too easy to say the same thing week after week and not pay attention. But this creed has significant meaning still which should impact us on a daily basis. Over the next five weeks, I’ll invite all of us to recite this creed daily (found at the bottom of this post).

Today, we look at the first part: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth;”

What does this mean to you? Think about the words “I believe.” This is what we usually use as a form of an opinion (i.e. I believe you will get a good grade. I believe this will happen. I believe (insert sports team) will win the game.). But, these words mean so much more than I think. Belief is actually placing the whole weight of who we are on the statement. Would you be willing to put the whole weight of your entire being on someone getting a good grade? Or even your favorite team winning?

Everything starts with God, the creator who created you and I out of love. God desires to love, so you and I exist. By creating the word, God revealed his all powerful nature. For us to see a larger scope of who God is, we get to look at the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus told this incredible parable (earthly story with a heavenly meaning) of the “Prodigal Son.” He told this story to the tax collectors and sinners that had gathered to hear him speak. This is an incredible story about the overwhelming love that God has for his creations, especially you and I. He gives all he can just so we can see how valued we are to him. Yes, we go off and do our own thing; but he is giving a chance to return to him. As we work on our confession and our sincere apology, God is coming toward us, giving us more than we ever dreamed of. More than we ever deserve.

The opening statement of the Apostles’ Creed is one that we cannot just pass over. God, the creator of the universe, created and has a special purpose and love for you and I that he cannot let go of. We are able to love because he desired and chose to love us first. I don’t know about you; but that is an incredible statement and truth.

The same God who set the universe into place, created the world and everything in it, took time to make you and I. When we take time to think about and embrace how much we are loved by the God, our worldview can and should shift to seeing God’s presence and handiwork all around us, especially his Holy Spirit within us.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

*Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

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.