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.

Keep Moving Forward

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 8:1-4.

The cards seem to be stacked against you. It seems like everyone is against you or making your life more difficult. We have all had those days, or even those weeks, where it seems nothing we do will improve the situation. A co-worker could have betrayed you, a spouse could have been unfaithful, people we trusted could have been found out to be frauds. Whatever the situation, or your personal experience, God is still present and active.

Right after the stoning of Stephen, the church scattered. They were nervous and scared because of the threats and harassment they were subjected to. Now, this was not harassment by governmental leaders like the Romans. This was done by the people they used to call family, by those in the same faith they grew up in.

But since the followers of Jesus said he was the Messiah and began to follow his teachings and worship him. This infuriated the religious leaders because they were losing the control over the people because of Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting how people react when the power and control they had is beginning to dissolve. They will panic. They will act in ways of anger. Remember anger is a secondary emotion, meaning something else is triggering the anger. Whenever someone loses the control they enjoyed for so long, they begin to feel scared and insecure because now what are they going to do? From this place of fear and insecurity, people lash out in anger.

Jesus came and showed people a new way of life. Well, actually, the original way of life God designed people to live. When the people heard this truth and experienced the life of Christ, they were different and had a new source of joy and peace. But in the situations of being persecuted (threatened, harassed, tortured) fear begins to creep in. So the people scattered and got away from the place so they could try to live in peace and safety.

Was God in this? Absolutely! Remember what Jesus said in Acts 1:8 “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.” Because of the harassment and persecution they were facing, they spread out. When they spread out, they began to tell the people around them about Jesus Christ. God’s Word was continuing to spread and expand!

Here in America, we Christians do not face persecution like what is seen and experienced in other countries around the world. I invite you to take some time and pray for Christians around the world. Pray for the message of Christ to be known and shown. A good resource to help remember to pray, and pray for a country or area each day is Operation World. Click here to begin to learn about other countries and to pray for the world.

No matter what is going on in the world, the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ continues to move forward. So should we.

“Prayer and Praise” Week 3

This is our third week of intentionally taking time to give God thanks in all situations in our life, especially those times we may not see his grace and his active presence. God is always with us. Jesus said in Matthew 28, “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There are times we feel anxious, we don’t feel valued, we don’t have what we want. Jesus is with us in every situation. As 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continuously.”

Each day this week, we are reminded to give thanks in all things.

Day 1: Praising God for his presence in all situations

Day 2: Giving thanks for opportunities to worship

Day 3: Giving thanks for people in our life who encourage us

Day 4: Thanking God for the opportunities to encourage others

Day 5: Praising God for the opportunities to see him in all aspects of our life when we look

Day 6: Praising God for listening to us and the chance to pray

Day 7: Praising God for answered prayers (even when it’s not the answer we asked for

I invite you to take time to read the scripture this week from 1 Samuel 1. See where you may fit in and see what God may be speaking to you this week.

1 Samuel 1:3-20

Every year this man would leave his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lordof heavenly forces in Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons Hophni and Phinehas were the Lord’s priests. Whenever he sacrificed, Elkanah would give parts of the sacrifice to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But he would give only one part of it to Hannah, though he loved her, because the Lord had kept her from conceiving.[b] And because the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving, her rival would make fun of her mercilessly, just to bother her. So that is what took place year after year. Whenever Hannah went to the Lord’s house, Peninnah would make fun of her. Then she would cry and wouldn’t eat anything. “Hannah, why are you crying?” her husband Elkanah would say to her. “Why won’t you eat? Why are you[c] so sad? Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?” One time, after eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah got up and presented herself before the Lord.[d] (Now Eli the priest was sitting in the chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple.) 10 Hannah was very upset and couldn’t stop crying as she prayed to the Lord. 11 Then she made this promise: “Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant! Give her a boy! Then I’ll give him to the Lord for his entire life. No razor will ever touch his head.” 12 As she kept praying before the Lord, Eli watched her mouth. 13 Now Hannah was praying in her heart; her lips were moving, but her voice was silent, so Eli thought she was drunk. 14 “How long will you act like a drunk? Sober up!” Eli told her. 15 “No sir!” Hannah replied. “I’m just a very sad woman. I haven’t had any wine or beer but have been pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think your servant is some good-for-nothing woman. This whole time I’ve been praying out of my great worry and trouble!” 17 Eli responded, “Then go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you’ve asked from him.” 18 “Please think well of me, your servant,” Hannah said. Then the woman went on her way, ate some food, and wasn’t sad any longer. 19 They got up early the next morning and worshipped the Lord. Then they went back home to Ramah. Elkanah had sex with his wife Hannah, and the Lordremembered her. 20 So in the course of time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, which means “I asked the Lord for him.”

Are You Able?

Mark 10:38-40 Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”

Ever have a moment when you feel you present your best case to someone and they just shut you down? I have. We can try to think through all the angles and the other person shows another angle we missed.

Jesus does this for James and John. It is very possible they asked Jesus to agree and grant their request before they ask they question because they figured Jesus may not respond favorably. They were right.

I love Jesus’ response here. “Can you…” Well, of course the disciples were going to say YES to whatever Jesus mentioned because they were trying to show they had what it takes to have the positions they were asking for. Jesus is trying to show them they really don’t know what they’re asking for; but they will one day.

Jesus talks about drinking the cup (living the destined purpose) and receiving the baptism (final cleaning of sin). Do you think if the disciples were not understanding the prediction of Jesus’ death that they really understood what Jesus was asking them? To me, this seems like a typical guy response. “Of course I can do that. If you can, I can.”

Jesus looks right through their response here and simply says they will drink the cup and receive the baptism. He was trying to tell them something about their future. James was the first disciple martyred and John was exiled to the island of Patmos. They lived as Jesus predicted they would live.

Jesus lived His earthly life always pointing people to God, God’s Kingdom, heaven; something bigger than His human life. It is difficult to explain the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit); but Jesus reminds the disciples and us that what we think we want in heaven while here on earth, there is something greater than we can imagine ahead.

Are you able to handle what Jesus gives? Are you able to handle the life Jesus calls you to?

With Christ, you can!

Impossible Possiblilites

Mark 10:27 “Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

What does this verse mean to you? If I were to guess, I bet there are several ideas about what this means.

Remember, we should read this verse in context. Jesus just finished talking to a young rich man wanting to know how to enter into eternal life. Then the disciples are perplexed at how difficult it seems Jesus is making it to enter into eternal life and they just asked, “who can be saved?”

Now, Jesus says this. First of all, we should remember that we are saved by grace, by the Grace of God. It is God who has saved us, not anything we have done (see Ephesians 2:8-9). In this context, nothing is impossible with God!

But there is more. Look back at Genesis and God creating the entire world and heavens out of nothing. He created people, delivered His people, fought battles, sent angels, and so much more throughout the Scriptures. What an incredibly powerful God we serve and who has called us!

If our God has done all of this, what is there He could not do? We obviously want Him to intervene more often; but what if He does and we don’t see it? I think it is incredible how God has filled us with His Spirit. Our God is all around us and in us. God can and does work through His people. If He wanted to, He could end all evil right here, right now and everything would be perfect.

God is incredible and is with you. He has done the impossible and saved you. Because of Jesus Christ you are saved into eternal life. All we should do is accept and acknowledge this great gift.

God is powerful!

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

Careful Career

What do you do for a living? Do you feel like you are scrutinized for your job? Does your job directly affect the well being other people? The passage we begin this week in James talks about a profession that has many judges and criticizers. This is a profession that many people may think they are equipped to do, but may not realize the undertaking it involves.

James 3:1 CEB “My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly.”

Why should this profession be under this much scrutiny? Teachers are among the few people in the world who have to be able to talk to many different people all at once. Everything they say, write or do is under constant criticism. People want to make sure they are being taught and lead correctly, and in a manner that will be the most benefit for personal growth.

Teachers are those people who have to be the non-anxious presence when things are not going as we want them to. They have to be the people to help us see a different perspective. They have to help us grow intellectually, emotionally, relationally, even spiritually. This is a high calling that carries a lot of weight to it.

Who would want to have this much pressure, face this much criticism, endure this much human grief and growth? I believe this is a calling, that the Holy Spirit of God places within a teacher. This is a profession a person is drawn to. Not because they want glory or recognition; but because this is a way of life that gives fulfillment and joy for the person to be a mentor and leader in another person’s life to help them achieve their full God-given potential.

This week, begin a discussion on the power of our words. Teachers have the added responsibility to maintain the language of learning, the language of faith so it is carried on to the next generation.

This is a high calling that is not taken lightly. Praise God for all the teachers, in all fields (especially faith), who have answered YES to this calling in their lives.

On some level, everyone of us is a teacher and mentor to another person.

Lord, you have tasked us with teachers and leaders to help us grow in our faith and become the people you have called us to be. Thank you for those who have been there for me. Thank you for the opportunity to teach and be an example to another person.

Keeping Egos in Check

Hello Church!

The book of James may seem harsh or brash when first reading it; but there is so much grace offered. This grace allows us to live into freedom and keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. This is the kind of love that is given to us so we can build up and strengthen the community around us.

James 2:8-11 CEB “You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker.”

This is a passage we may want to break down verse by verse; but the first sentence shows how we can extend grace and live into it. The next verses give examples of how we might respond as humans which go against the “royal law”

Why would this be considered a “royal law?” It is because this is the law that trumps all other laws. If we commit adultery, then we’re not loving our spouse. If we commit murder then we’re not loving human life nor the family of the person murdered. We’re also not loving the Spirit of God in the other person and not living in the manner that God desires us to live.

It is easy to look at other people’s crimes and say they are a lawbreaker or a criminal and, at the same time, think we are perfect and not in the same boat as they are. The truth is that we all have lied, taken something not ours without permission, coveted another person’s materials or circumstances. So, in essence we are all lawbreakers of the law God established.

It is also easy for us to take Bible verses and passages out of context and make them fit our own viewpoint and opinions so we actually look like the better person. But God has something bigger and better in mind for us, to be a shining light for the world to be drawn to Him through our lives. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect; we just realize the gift of grace that has been given.

Romans 5:6-10 CEB “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.”

Praise God!

Lord, guide me today in my thoughts, words and deeds to reflect your light and love to this world. I will not be perfect today; but your grace is enough and makes me whole. Amen.

The Right Reasons

Hello Church!

Today, I invite us to continue our look at James chapter 1 with a verse about humility.

James 1:21 CEB “Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.”

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

We all know that we need to change and we have a desire to become better each day. What is our motivation for wanting to change? Are we trying to impress someone? Are we trying to improve our career? Are we trying to show others we’re better than they are?

Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and tax collector during their personal prayer time in Luke 18:9-14 (CEB)

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

We can look at this parable and know the pharisee was not showing humility and he was trying to show how much better he was than the tax collector. Jesus showed grace and compassion in his telling of the tax collector. The tax collector was humbly asking for forgiveness and grace, not even able to raise his eyes to look for God. He was not looking to justify himself but to ask God to show mercy. I view this as the tax collector trying to have his life changed by coming to grace and not seeking grace because of his actions and his life.

What is our motivation to change? I ask God daily to be the husband and father He would have me be so that my beautiful wife and kids will have everything they need; not just materially, but emotionally, spiritually, mentally, relationally. I pray I do not ask this so I can look good for other people; but that I am allowing the grace of God to flow through me and help me transform into His creation. Tears almost come to my eyes when I think about the ways I could have possibly fallen short throughout the day with them and with Christ; but we have been given new chances to seek Christ daily.

So we change, not because we want to appear better; but so that we can change for the better with the grace of God.There are many things we can change about ourselves; but if we’re not working to change with the right motivation, we are not humble enough.

People say they’ll go to rehab to help with their alcoholism, or drug addiction, or any other addiction they may have. There are many times, people go to rehab simply to appease the person who requests it. This is not how we are transformed because this is not done with humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

We are transformed through the grace of God and with His guidance. So, because of the grace of God, we can have removed from us the things that steer us away from Christ. The word of God is implanted on our hearts and helps keep our focus on Him. Our focus on the word reminds us who we are and that God is with us each day. We do not have to change to please people; we change by going to the Creator and allowing Him to work in us and through us to become the people He created.

God is not interested in you or I changing to try to please Him; I believe He is more interested in our relationship with Him. It is through our relationship with God through Jesus Christ that we can begin to change. The Holy Spirit in us, empowers us to be transformed into the new creations God makes.

If we allow it, the words of God can be planted, watered and nurtured in us so that we can be saved. Not necessarily saved for a future time period; but “saved” from ourselves and the chance to see and experience the Kingdom of God right here right now.

Lord, I need you today. Have mercy on me. I seek you. Guide me and change me to the new creation. My desire to to work with you. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.

Wants & Desires

dying

Colossians 2:20-23 If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world?  “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste!” “Don’t touch!” All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior.

The part I feel I should focus on today is the first verse: “If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulation as though you were living in the world?”

There are so many “rules and regulations” that we place on ourselves and on other people.

Go this way.

Do this.

Act this way.

Achieve this.

Don’t do that.

Follow these steps.

I’m sure each one of us has heard statements like this and with more detail. Jesus Christ does not place any stipulations on receiving Him and the grace He offers. Well, there is one stipulation. We have to die with Christ. So, what does this mean? I’m sure there are many people who will give several different explanations. Here is what this speaks to me.

To die with Christ does not mean we give up our lives. I don’t even think it means to give up our desires and wants. What I do think it means is that what we desire actually shifts to what Christ desires. When we die with Christ we begin to look at the world as He looks at the world. Christ sees the brokenness in the world and still died for the world.

How do we view the world? Do you see the world as a mess that cannot be fixed? Or do you see the possibilities of reconciliation and allow the heart (love and grace) of Jesus Christ to enter into your life so you will be able to sacrifice personal wants and desires to benefit the Kingdom of God? We can also shift the focus and motivation for our wants and desires and use them for Kingdom work. We die to ourselves meaning we take the focus off of ourselves and place the glory and focus on Jesus Christ.

The rules and regulations of the world do not deter us from doing what Jesus wants and desires for us. We just shouldn’t allow the rules and regulations to hold us back. Jesus has a great plan for your life. It starts with dying with Christ.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist