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.

God is Near

James 4:7-10 “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Do you ever have those days where the scripture seems to beat you down? We can personalize scripture and, if we’re not careful, we’ll make it all about us and feel like it’s telling us what a bad person we are. Even throughout the Old Testament, I read grace. Specifically grace from God.

There is always hope. God has not abandoned. Jesus will not forsake. The Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us. This is where we are today with the passage. All week long, there have been times in the scripture (James 3:13-4:6) where it can seem like we have to have our lives perfect. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc have all been talked about and discussed. I pray this is not where you are left, dwelling on any negative aspect you may view about yourself.

Today, we see something amazing. God is saying, “come near.” This doesn’t mean that God is far off and He is wanting us to go up to Him to be in His presence. God is already near to us. There are times when we feel like we are distant from God or that God is distant from us. God’s proximity to us is always the same. Our proximity to God is always the same. We will still feel distant because of a number of reasons: we know we sinned, how much sleep we got, how hungry we are, having a rough day or a rough week.

These are all reasons we feel distant from God, and I’m sure there are more. God says “come near.” When we realize He is already present among us, all we have to do is acknowledge His presence.

I invite you right now to pause, close your eyes, and thank God for His presence with you at this moment.

It is through these times when we realize we can still come close to God, even though we messed up, even though we feel low, that we can experience and live into the grace He gives. We have this opportunity to confess, repent, and allow God to purify us.

God will “lift you up.” I don’t take this to mean that He will automatically make everything better, or that He will wipe away consequences from our actions. He does make His presence known, and somehow gives us the strength and the power to endure the situation and allow Him to shine through us.

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” What an incredible verse in scripture! The Apostle Paul is showing that he can handle and still live joyfully in every situation. He wasn’t saying that he can do anything he wants because Jesus said he could. Paul is saying that because of the power of Jesus Christ working through him, he is able to handle what comes his way.

I believe God does the same for you and for me. So, draw near to God, confess, repent, purify, humble yourself and see how God is working in you and through you.

We all need the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is through grace that we are able to be lifted up and brought to a place of knowing who and whose we are.

Lord God, you are close to us. Help us see you and experience your presence. We confess the ways We have gone against you….We pray for the strength to handle the situations in life and for your power and grace to shine through us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Faithful

James 4:4-6 “You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.”

Ouch! This is a tough passage for today. It could be easy to take this in the negative and run with it. I have known many people who use a scripture like this to degrade another person.

One of the questions we have to ask is, “what does it mean to be a friend of God?” David was (and is) classified as a man after God’s own heart. Moses and Abraham were considered “friends of God.” This is showing that we do not have to have perfect lives to be considered a “friend of God.”

So what does this phrase mean? The New Interpreters Bible commentary says, “For the ancients, to be friends with another person meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.” I think this is important. There are times in our life where our actions does not match the words we say, but we can still be considered a “friend of God” because we come back to God and see the world through His eyes. Being transformed in the image of Christ should mean that we begin to develop the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ for the world.

We will not always see things the exact same way. In fact, I am okay with people disagreeing with anything I say or write. This is a chance to develop relationships and learn where people are. One of the things that seems to get us in trouble is when we stick to one point of view and not even allow people the opportunity to express how they came to their understanding.

The Proverb quoted is Proverb 3:34. A better word instead of proud might be “arrogant.” Arrogant means, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” When we elevate ourselves above people, we are essentially devaluing them.

There are days this Proverb hits me right between the eyes. Those days, like today, I have to be careful. It could be easy to flat out say that I am right and you are wrong; but then where is the grace in that? I believe God wants us to have a humble, teachable spirit so we can be the people who allow Him to transform our lives to work with Him to transform the world.

It is the times when we believe, yet live a different standard than our faith says, that we are “unfaithful to God.” “You unfaithful people!” In other translations, the word “Adulterers!” is used. This is how serious the scriptures are showing God takes our relationship with Him. When we profess belief in Him and go another path, we are essentially “cheating” on Him with other ideologies and worldly living.

To be “friends with God,” is a way to show we are moving in His direction. Our lives point to Him. Even in the messed up parts of our life, we can still show people the grace that has been bestowed on us. Do we always get it right? No. But we can be humble and keep seeking to see life, the world and people as God sees them and have a heart that breaks when His heart breaks.

Lord, show us, through your eyes, the hurting and brokenness in this world so we can respond with grace and lead people to you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Words From Creation

James 3:7-9 CEB “People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness.”

Here, James is going back to our relationship with creation. From the beginning, God has charged humans with caring for and subduing the animals and life on this planet. We have been gifted with a great undertaking that cannot be taken lightly.

I do find it interesting that James is illustrating here that it is easier to take control of animals and wildlife; but for some reason, the tongue cannot be tamed. What do you think about this? I have known people that seem to control every word they say. But, are they controlling what they say or just refusing to say something? There is control that happens when we refuse to say what we’re thinking; but the words have already been formed in our minds.

What do you give more praise and admiration to on a daily basis? Animals or people? Animals are often easier to say nice things to or even about; and then we’ll talk nasty about their owners or about other people.

I love the how the first chapter of Genesis ends, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NIV). The first things that God said to His creation was something to build it up. He said the same thing about people before the fall. After the fall, God was grieved, so he spoke through prophets, through animals (donkey), through creation itself (Romans 1:20). When God speaks, it is to redeem and to build faith and the people up. His motivation is to have all people come to a saving knowledge of Him.

The first words God spoke at your birth were, I think, “very good.” Even though we do not speak positively to people all the time, or even think nice thoughts about them, God still desires us to know Him and come to Him. This means we’ll listen for His voice and follow Him where ever He leads. God speaks to you and I words of conviction yet encouragement, challenge yet grace, mercy, hope, etc.

Listen for the voice of God today. See how He speaks to you and see how you and i can reflect the image of Christ to all we encounter from this day forward.

Gracious God, You spoke good things at my birth. I pray to hear from you today to be built up so I can go out and build others up as well. Amen.

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.

Will You Accept This Challenge?

James 2:12-13 CEB “In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment.”

We don’t have to go very far without seeing something negative. It is common to turn the television on and see people angry, see crime, see violence, and much more. When we hear stories of what’s going on, it is easy to formulate our own thoughts, our own opinions of what should be done and how people should respond. We become angry and convinced there is no safe place in the world.

All of the negative images and stories we hear on television, radio, internet can leave us wondering where grace or mercy is in the world. We say that God has shown us mercy and has given us grace; but how do we live into this incredible gift?

I have a challenge for each of us today, and for the rest of the week: (this goes for me too) Find a way to go out of our way and show someone mercy, extend grace to another person. 

Mercy and grace are both given freely and given to people who do not deserve it.

The dictionary defines mercy as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

Grace is defined as, “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

Extending mercy and grace to another person who doesn’t deserve it will show our faith as active, as God working in and through us. We have the chance to step out of our comfort zone and respond in grace not anger, mercy not hatred.

We are all challenged each day to be a light reflecting the image of God to all we encounter. This will not be an easy challenge. There will be people who say mercy and grace can’t be extended to some people or in some situations. Pray and see how God leads. We will be tempted to extend grace and mercy on our terms or with conditions; but our challenge is to look beyond ourselves.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (Italics added)

Lord, you call us to live as salt and light. It is not easy to show grace and mercy to all people; yet you extend it to me daily. Help me live this way. Guide me and show me where people need to be met to come to know you. Amen.

Beneath the Surface

James 2:5-7 CEB “My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?”

We all want to be around “rich” people, right? Why is this? Is it for their benefit? for our benefit? Do we place people on a pedestal simply because they have money or wealth?

Here, James is giving an unfavorable viewpoint on rich people. There are wonderful people who are wealthy. There are people who are wealthy that are not worth our time because of their character. It is not wise to simply look more favorably on a person simply because of their financial position.

James reminds us of the special concern that God has for those people who do not have many material possessions, those who are poor. All throughout scripture, God is telling the people to take care, and how to take care of the poor in their community. God was making sure the community did not turn a blind eye to those in need. Our verse focus today reminds us “God has chosen those who are poor by world standards to be rich in terms of faith.”

This is giving us another example of God looking to the person’s heart instead of appearance. Also, this is how we should be living our lives: caring for those who are in need. James is writing to make sure the community of faith is living out their faith in all they do. James is connecting the beatitudes in Matthew chapter five to practical living.

Feel blessed by God even if you do not have an abundance of material possessions. God has given the gift of faith and this makes you and I rich. This is true wealth we can give each and everyday that never runs out.

Lord, you have given us so much. Thank you for the gift of faith. Help us look beneath the surface and look to the person’s heart instead of material possessions. Amen.

Favortism

We have now begun our second week in our look into the book of James. This week, we look at verses that, on the surface, seem harsh; but in reality help us see an alternative way of living and thinking so we can truly live in freedom: freedom to love, freedom to serve, freedom to share God’s grace.

James 2:1-4 CEB “My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? 

Our devotional time this week begins with favoritism. Who would you consider to be a favorite person to you? Who are your favorite people? If we look at it closely, our favorite people really fall into three categories: people who are just like us, people we aspire to be like/imitate, people who can do stuff for us. I believe it is okay to be drawn to people, especially when they help us draw closer to Christ.

We have favorite places to eat, favorite destinations, favorite times of year, favorite Bible verses. Since we have favorites, this also means that we have least favorite things or people we encounter. James warns us not to treat people better than others. Why should we not have “favorite” people or types of people?

I remember when I was younger, I had a desire to want to be part of some groups. But for some reason, I did not feel like I was part of the group. I wanted to bad to be part of their inner circle because I thought it would help be be a cooler and more interesting person. I was looking for favor from people and being drawn to those who I thought would have the best influence over my life and help me become a happier person by becoming more popular.

The flip side of being someone’s favorite is that, to some people, we are their least favorite. This does not feel good emotionally, and we can place our faith in people which means we forget who we are in Christ.

Instead of looking for qualities or certain personalities that we would want; what would it look like to be around the kind of people that God is calling us to? This means we’ll hang out with and be present (physically, mentally, emotionally) with those whom Jesus would. We’ll help people see that God created them and looks at them as a favorite. We get to extend God’s grace to all people we encounter.

Our challenge today is to talk with another person we may not consider as a favorite and help them see God’s grace in them.

Lord, you have created us and chosen us. Help us to be the people to shine with you and help others experience your love and grace. Amen.

Devotional Life

James 1:26-27 CEB “If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

When I was preparing for the sermon last week, these verse really stuck with me. I felt like I needed to say so much in the sermon; but then I looked at the scripture again and felt the Spirit leading me to focus on these verses.

I’ll begin by asking the questions that I asked on Sunday in worship:

Who are the widows?

Who are the orphans?

A reason that I did not mention on Sunday these two groups of people are mentioned here is that they did not have any legal help. They were basically on their own. James is reminding his readers how important it is for Christians to stand up and help those who cannot help themselves.

Let’s add another layer to this. Who are the widows? A widow is a person who has lost a significant other in their life (i.e. spouse). So I would ask the question, “does a spouse have to die in order for someone to be a widow?” I don’t believe so. I believe there are also spiritual widows as well. Think of people who have lost a connection with their spouse. Think of spouses who have shut down and caused their wives (or husbands) to lose faith in them. Think of those who have been cut down or abused. These are also widows (in a spiritual, emotional sense) I believe we should look after as well.

Who are orphans? We know that orphans are children (or adults) who have lost their parents due to death. In some countries, children are considered orphans if their father has left them. Again, let’s add another layer to this. Does someone have to lose their parents physically to be considered and orphan? What about those who are spiritual orphans? There are many people who walk around who have both their parents but have lost a relationship with them for whatever reason. There are people who have lost “parents in the faith.” I believe there are many spiritual orphans out there as well.

James says that true devotion is taking care of the widows and orphans. We can also say that true devotion is caring for and about those God cares about (no matter life circumstances) and acting upon it. We constantly seek and work in opportunities to help people with physical needs so they can live; but also offer mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual help and guidance as well.

Our challenge as we continue in this journey is to all the Word of God to transform us. To be doers and not just hearers of the Word. To be the creations God is calling us to be.

I invite you to take time to read the entirety of chapter 1. Click here for the chapter in full context.

Lord, thank you for the chance to see the world through Your eyes. Break my heart for what breaks Yours and help me act and step out to live the life You have called me to live. I can do this with You. Amen.

NEXT WEEK we begin the journey in James 2:1-17 “What Matters Most?”

Stepping Out

Hello Church!

Before we began this five week series through the book of James, I wrote down a thought that I believe catches the heart of these messages: “Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly allow God to work in you to transform you to the person He created you to be.”

James 1:22-25 CEB “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.”

The first verse we come to is a verse that I am sure everyone of us has heard many times. We must be the kind of people that don’t just learn and not do anything. We have to put our faith into practice. This seems very straight-forward and is easy to understand.

Another verse that comes to mind is Ecclesiastes 12:12 “studying too much wearies the body.” I used to tease high schoolers to give this verse to their teacher to say that they don’t need to give so much homework. They never did go to their teachers (I’m glad 🙂 ); but there is some truth to this verse that we can see through the lens of today’s passage.

If we only study, and don’t do anything about it, our studying has really been done in vain. Same thing with our faith. If we do not move to help those who need help, visit those who need to talk, giving or going where we need to go, then we have not let the words we learn for our faith to strengthen our bodies. If all we do is take time to study and not apply the message to our lives, we actually miss a grand part of life: being a vessel for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts and lives of people around us. This is a great and joyful thing to do.

Then there are these verse about looking into a mirror and then forgetting what we see. Have you looked at a picture, turned away after a few seconds and remembered everything? No. There are times I am getting ready in the morning and I look into the mirror to brush my hair or shave and can forget if I did everything I needed to. Why is this? If the image has not seeped into our minds, and then our heart, we will easily and quickly forget what we saw. The same thing is true for our faith.

The works we do mimic what we really have faith and believe in. Our lives are a reflection of what we believe in. Simply learning new information does us no good unless we put it into practice, unless we teach another person.

This is why it is important to be doers of the word and not just hearers. If we look into the mirror and see God changing us through His Spirit and through His word, we are looking at His reflection and remembering what He says.

Today, I invite you to think about what areas you have had a difficult time doing in your faith journey. What are aspects of what you hear about faith that make this challenging?

If you’re ready to, I invite you to say YES to Christ. Allow Him to come into your life. Allow Him to guide you. See how much more you’ll be able to see much more by stepping out in faith.

Lord, today I say YES to you. Guide me to love the people you love and step out when you call me to. Amen.