Ain’t No Stoppin’ Love

Click here to read Matthew 28:1-10

What would it have been like that first Easter Sunday? We have gotten into the tradition of going into Easter with pomp and circumstance. We should, after all be celebratory and joyful everyday because Christ has risen from the dead.

But, what if, we miss the point of Easter going straight to the celebration. Do we come with wonder anymore? Has the story become too familiar that we don’t give it the attention it deserves?

Put yourself in the women’s shoes as they travelled to the tomb. They still could not believe Jesus was dead. They were still in shock he was treated the way he was on, what we call, Good Friday. How could he, a non-criminal, really be put to death like that?

Not only that, but there must have been some anxiety because they could not anoint Jesus’ body when he was placed in the tomb, or even during the next day because it was the Passover meal festival and the next day was the Sabbath, and nothing like anointing could have been done since it was considered as work. Can you imagine the stress that would have placed on them?

Fast forward to today. We love to celebrate, we love it when things go right. We love to be able to find ways to party and have fun. But what if, we are not supposed to think of Easter as a “normal” celebration we hold each year. What if Easter is supposed to be something more? What if God uses this time of quarantine, social/physical distancing, staying home to teach us what really matters in this life?

I know many people are disappointed we are not able to gather together for Easter worship this year. But, maybe we have the opportunity to live out the resurrection story in a brand new way, a way that is not traditional nor the status quo.

So, how have you traditionally celebrated Easter Sunday? If you’re like most people, we celebrate Easter just on the Sunday and we go back to “normal” life the next day.

If anything, this year should teach us we cannot go back to living “normally.” Why would we really want to go back to normal anyway?
After the guards left the tomb, they were different. After the women left the tomb, they were different. After the disciples left the tomb, they were different. Not only were they different, but they never went back to the way they lived before they encountered the empty tomb. Once they interacted with the Resurrected Christ, everything was changed.
Notice some of the things that changed. First of all, this happened on the first day of the week, symbolizing the start of something NEW.

Maybe we can use this time right now to reset our priorities and have God reset our hearts and lives toward him.

Matthew’s account of the resurrection says a “violent earthquake” occurred because and angel of the Lord came down from heaven. Remember, we can experience God in the quietness, like being in nature, but what if God is speaking to us when everything is shaken up? One of the C.S. Lewis quotes I love is “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The world had just put Jesus, the Son of God, to death. The world was not listening to God. Sometimes there has to be something dramatic to shake things up and open ears to hear God speaking and calling out to us.

What if, we use this time, this unique time, to call out to God. Maybe God is speaking to us here and now. What is he saying?
The angel of the Lord told the women (the first apostles and evangelists) Jesus is not here (in the tomb) because he is risen! The angel also said do not be afraid.

Yes, the angel allows the women to look inside to verify Jesus was not there. But this is a reminder to us, even today, nothing is ever going back to normal. At the same time, we have nothing to fear.

When they went to the tomb, they were expecting Jesus to be right there, to be where they left him. Then they expected to go back to their normal lives and go on living, with grief yes, but living just as before.
One of my fears today is that we go back to living as “normal” when clearly we, as the church, should be seen more in the world and demonstrate the presence of God with us because CHRIST IS RISEN!

There is a great urgency to be the people who follow Christ. Why? Because there is a lot to do? Nope. Because Christ is alive and has called us to be in mission with him. Our lives are no longer lived for us, but for him. It really doesn’t matter what we think we like because Christ is alive and we are being transformed into his image and likeness. God is giving us the “mind of Christ”, if we let him.

The part about Easter that I love, and it means so much more to me now, is how NOTHING will ever be the same. Christ did not die so we could observe the empty tomb and throw a party at the empty tomb once a year. Christ is alive and that means we can celebrate wherever we are in the world because Christ is there.

Yes, this year has been different. We have been told we need to stay “sheltered” inside our homes. We need to practice “social distancing.” This is all well and good because we do not want the virus to spread. But, at the same time, maybe we get a little taste of what the early disciples experienced. Maybe we get a little nervous (the disciples were afraid because they could be put to death) about going outside and in the stores.

Maybe we get to take the intimate settings we practiced, observed, and worshipped this past Holy Week and allow the Easter story to be born anew into us.

The reality is, the world tried to shut Jesus up by killing him.

The world tries to shut the doors of churches so we can’t gather together. But here’s the deal. Church buildings may be empty this year but so is the tomb.

The world thought it could stop the presence of God through Jesus Christ from going further into the world with the message of Heaven and God’s love for the world. The world closed the tomb to try and keep Christ buried and hidden. But always remember this, Church: there ain’t no stoppin’ love!

Let your cries in the world be CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELULIA! Christ is risen, the tomb is empty but our lives are full.

Christ lives. Nothing is the same now nor anything will ever be the same again.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen.

RESPOND TO CHRIST
Christ is alive and is speaking to you today. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to notice. Maybe you couldn’t hear because you’ve had so much thrown at you by the rest of the world. Maybe you sense something stirring in your heart and want to acknowledge Christ is speaking to you, yes you to give your life and complete devotion only to him.

Maybe today is the day you finally say YES to Christ. Maybe today is the day you say YES again to Christ.

However you respond today, I implore you to listen to the Spirit’s words and see the beauty and power of the Risen Christ who came for you.

Sharing What We’ve Learned

Ephesians 3:1-7 This is why I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles. You’ve heard, of course, about the responsibility to distribute God’s grace, which God gave to me for you, right? God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before (when you read this, you’ll understand my insight into the secret plan about Christ). Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I became a servant of the gospel because of the grace that God showed me through the exercise of his power. 

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At first when I read this, it almost seems that Paul is acting smug, “I know this…and was revealed to ME…” But I think there is something deeper to what Paul is saying. If this were this only passage we read of Paul’s writings, we miss what the entire message is. Paul is overflowing with the grace of God and is held responsible to share this grace with all people he encounters.

Think of a time when you were given knowledge. Were you the only one? Did it make you feel part of the group to know the same things they know? We all like to be “in the know” and to know things other people don’t. This can give us superiority and authority over others. If we’re not careful, we will us that knowledge for ourselves. There is always something more that we can know other people don’t. Secrets and gossip are rampant. I have fun with people when I sing to them, “I know something you don’t know.” This is a fun thing to do.

Now, what if we are given some incredible news, like anything God reveals to us, and we just try to keep it to ourselves and don’t share? Paul is reminding us that he has a responsibility to share the good news that was revealed to him. I believe God still reveals wisdom and truth to us today through His Spirit. What is something you feel God has spoken to you? Paul is saying that the plan of God is to bring ALL people to God through Jesus Christ. This is an awesome plan because that means that God is wanting you and me to come to faith and knowledge in Him. This is something we cannot keep to ourselves. If we are given some insight to what God is doing, that means we are spending time with God and we see the world through His eyes which means we share what we have learned.

This is one of the things I love about the book of Ephesians, about the whole Bible really, that God’s grace and mercy is available for all people. There are stories in the Old Testament through the New Testament that show God speaking to His people and giving them a word or insight the rest of the culture needs to hear. This is what Paul is doing. This is what we are called to do.

Because of Jesus Christ everything is different. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes us and transforms us to new creations who go out and make a difference in the lives of those around us and share in the goodness of God in all aspects of our lives.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Level Playing Field

Ephesians 2:14-22 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit. 

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How do you feel about other people? What causes divisions between groups of people? Isn’t it interesting how the Gospel of Jesus Christ promotes reconciliation and repentance of sin by God’s grace, and we get it through our heads to “hate” other people because they are not like us. But we can also think, “how are this person, or this group, and I similar?” Doesn’t this change how we might think about others? Thinking we could be like them?

Now, there are people who will disagree with this, but God does not want His people to divide the world. He wants the world to be reconciled to Himself and for all people to come to faith in Him. We are the ones who want to divide. We are the ones who think because someone is different, then they are bad and shouldn’t be “in the group.”

Does this sound like anyone you might know? As I am writing this, I realize I am describing ME. My guess is that description is also you. It seems to be human nature to be around people who are just like us. This makes us more comfortable. But God, wants us to be engaged in, not influenced by, the world around us. I believe the first thing to do is to come to faith in Christ so that we can be filled with His love, His presence, His life and see the world through His eyes.

Jesus broke all kinds of cultural boundaries, but He did it because He loves. We like to ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?” This is a dangerous question to ask because we know what Jesus would do, we just don’t always want to do what He would do. Jesus leveled the playing field. Because of Jesus there is no separation from lepers and society. Samaritans and Jews. Pharisees and citizens. Jews and Gentiles. Black or white. There is no distinction in any group because Christ breaks the veil we use to separate “us” from “them.”

This reconciliation God did through Christ first restores our relationship and standing with God and then frees us to bring reconciliation and healing to those around us who are “different” from us. Having our relationship with God restored means we allow God to change our lives from the inside out and we allow Christ to lead our lives. It begins with a simple communication and belief. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just about our relationship with God, but also our relationship with other people. This is why Jesus summed up the Law with two phrases, “love God and love people.” The Gospel changes EVERYTHING because now we can realize we are all on the same playing field with God. Some are coaches, some are players, some are caring for the team, some are in the stage of learning, etc. We are all on the same team. The Gospel changes us.

See you tomorrow in Ephesians 3!

#TheGospelChangesUs

Boasting About Christ

This is the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’m going to take tomorrow off and then start writing again on Sunday to begin going through Ephesians in the month of February.

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Galatians 6:14-18 14 But as for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. 15 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. 16 May peace and mercy be on whoever follows this rule and on God’s Israel. 17 From now on, no one should bother me because I bear the marks of Jesus on my body. 18 Brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. 

So this month has been challenging for me, and has also been encouraging at the same time. As I have read through the entire letter this month everyday, I have discovered many things about myself and have seen grace in the midst of Paul’s writing and in daily life more clearly. Reading the entire letter each day and focusing on a small portion to reflect on during the day has been fun and I look forward to continuing this.

We do have freedom in Christ and we can choose to live in that freedom daily or we can choose to go our own path and find that we actually become slaves to circumstances or even superstitions along the way. But we also have to be careful that we do not allow this freedom we have to go to our head; but instead allow it to control our actions.

There is so much we have to boast about in our life; but it all really boils down to one word: CHRIST. If there is anything we can brag about it is Christ. We cannot really brag about God’s grace because we haven’t done anything to earn it. We can’t brag about the life we have because God is the source of our life and the giver of our talents and gifts.

Here’s a challenge for all of us that we can do starting today: “Give thanks in ALL circumstances.” When is the last time thanks was given for the challenges and frustrations in your life? When was the last time thanks was given for the opportunity to fail? When we live our lives in this manner, God’s light is shining through us and then God is the One who boasts on us.

So may we continue to live in faith and freedom and shape our lives around Christ. Brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. 

#LiveFreeInChrist

Standards of Life

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Galatians 6:11-13  11 Look at the large letters I’m making with my own handwriting! 12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body. 

This is nearing the end of the letter to the Galatians and Paul is giving a reminder we all should follow. There will be times when we will want to try to please people, for the sake of being accepted by them. Children, teenagers and adults are no different in this area. We all have the desire to be accepted by certain people or certain groups. But Paul is looking at the motivation of the groups or people who make us try to do things so we “fit in” with their crowd.

We see this all of the time; all we have to do is watch any TV show, movie or look at group initiations. There seems to be something we have to do in order to be like the people we want to join. But these are all “human standards.” These standards will change over time based upon the culture and the people in leadership. This is one reason why it is not good to try to meet human standards.

So now we should ask, “what have you done to try to fit into a group or get certain people to like you?” If we look back at some of our past actions, we can see that we live with the wrong motivations at times. Human standards will change; but God’s will and standards do not change. God is asking that we live holy, set-apart, lives and to be people who love God and love people. This should be our standard of living.

If we love God then we can see Him in all aspects of our lives and we will meditate on His word and actions. We will remember how merciful and patient God is with us which will cause us to be humble around other people and show compassion. Each one of us have lived lives that show we do not love God as much as we say we do; but God is always with us and has never nor will ever leave us. Just because we forget at times who we are really living for, doesn’t mean that we can’t get back on the path.

When we love God with our entire lives, we will begin to truly (not conditionally) love people. We can then see the incredible potential each person has and the giftedness God has placed in their lives. We will also see, with compassion, the brokenness each person has and do what is necessary to walk with that person or people in the manner they need.

This way of life is not to impress other people, or even to impress God. We live this life because this is how we are called to live. Called to be in relationship, not isolation. Called to serve and love God with all of our lives. There are many people who think this way of life is not right, not cool, etc; but we do not live life to impress other people, or show off how “good” we are. We live life in this manner because we are FREE to. This freedom that Jesus Christ gives is incredible motivation to do what we are called to do and be who we are called to be.

#LiveFreeInChrist

Live for the Harvest

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Galatians 6:6-10 Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith. 

What have you learned this week? Is this something you’ll keep to yourself or will you share the information? When we learn something for the good of those around us, even those who teach us, it helps us grow in our faith and can help the other person grow in their faith as well. This is a passage that we can take in many areas of our lives. Today we can think of this to mean the “good works” we do for people, but as I was thinking about this, something else seems to stand out more for me.

Yes we should continue doing good works and help those in need. And we should also remember the fruit of the Spirit at the end of Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If this is fruit we should see in our lives, how does the harvest look for us and for those we encounter daily?

So we can plant kindness, or impatience. Love or hate. Peace or turmoil. The list can go on and on. If we look to benefit ourselves, we will leave a trail of destruction in our path and we will not be able to harvest the “fruits” from those we harm. “But, there are people who need to be taken down and shown they are in the wrong and their actions will not be tolerated!” I can imagine other thoughts people may have along those lines. But if we really take time to think about it, we are really living for ourselves, embracing our own prejudices and not “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” when we put others’ needs after our wants.

Jesus does say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19 NIV). So the question comes in, what are we “binding up on earth?” If we bind up love and peace we can know the Kingdom of God here and now. If we bind up hatred or any form of prejudice, we miss out on the opportunity to live in grace.

It can be tiring to keep doing “good” to those around us. But we cannot get tired of doing good. We should continue to do what we can, how we can, in the strength and guidance of the Spirit. Anything that degrades value or demeans another person goes against how God desires us to live in community with each other. We can, instead, choose a different path. We have the freedom because of Jesus Christ to love God and love people. How does this play out in your life?

Even when we come across people who make us angry, frustrate us, those we don’t understand or agree with their lifestyle, we can still be the hands and feet of Christ to ALL people because each person is made in the image of God. Jesus Christ was a friend of the sinners (prostitutes, tax collectors, liars, cheats, the stuck up, the loathing, you and me).

Live in the freedom Christ gives by never stopping or tiring of doing good. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith. Build up the community and let the light of Jesus Christ shine through so that everyone around us can see and experience the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of God.

#LiveFreeInChrist

Sharing Life

Today, we begin the final chapter in Galatians. This is a great chapter on how we should live in community with others in the faith.

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Galatians 6:1-5 Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. Each person will have to carry their own load. 

Throughout the letter of Galatians, Paul is speaking of a personal faith in Christ and how Christ gives individuals freedom. Now in chapter 6, the last chapter of this letter, Paul shifts his focus from the individual to the community. This should remind us that Christ is working in us personally, but Christ is also working through the community. I am not going to pretend that living in a community is easy; nor will I say it is peaceful. When we add other people into our lives, life becomes more, not less complicated. But, Paul is reminding us how we should live and encourage each other.

Paul reminds us that we should be gentle. Oftentimes we say that the other person needs to be told just like it is and it doesn’t matter how the words come out. They need to know they are wrong! This is true; but there seems to be a way to correct, but also build up so that the other person can become better. We can affirm the person’s strengths and good qualities, then we can speak of what went wrong. The end of verse one is something we should also keep in mind: Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. This reminds us that we are also susceptible for the same kinds of actions and attitudes as that of the person we are there to correct.

We do not live this life alone so. This statement by Paul reminds us how we should be with each other: Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. I think it is awesome, Paul found another way to say the simple phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the law of Christ. We should be the people who do not allow others to live, or think they live, this life alone; there are always people there for them even when life seems to go down the drain. But he also goes on to say, If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves.” To me, this means we need to be humble and not think highly of ourselves. Many times if we are trying to help someone in need, we want them to get the help they need, our way. It becomes hard to listen to a person who thinks they are more important than they are.

Conversely, we should not compare ourselves with anyone else. We should be the people who do our work to the glory of God, which means we do it as best as we can. Then, when our work is tested, we know for sure we did what we were supposed to do. We have our own work to do, so we must do our job and not add to other people’s work load just because we don’t want to do it.

Our faith in Christ gives us absolute freedom to be there for people, no matter how different they are from us, and to do our work the best we can. When we live in this way, we proclaim Christ with our entire lives, words and actions.

“LiveFreeInChrist

*photo credit: counselingoneanother.com