Monthly Archives: March 2014

Our Church Mission: Survive or Exalt Jesus Christ?

smallchurchIn recent years, as a pastor for thirty years, I have seen many small churches struggling to survive. The focus and passion seems to be to survive as a church, get more young familes with children to come to church, and whatever you do… don’t run out of money! How sad! Wish I had those years of ministry to do over again.  I would first lead the church to exalt Jesus Christ and nudge them to know Him better. That is a whole different thing that trying to get more bodies to sit in the church pews or trying to keep the bodies that are there from leaving!

Pizza in Heaven?

pizza2My dear wife Kathy loveeees…. Pizza.

Eating pizza tonight she said, “There is going to be pizza in heaven!”

I said, “And it’s free!”

She said, “And it has no calories”!

Of course, we were just having fun joking about it. Isn’t  it interesting that the word “heaven” is associated with pleasure, satisfaction, and ultimate joy.  THE REAL HEAVEN will be the ultimate joyful place forever and ever.   A 100 MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN PIZZA or whatever ultimate pleasure you indulge in here on planet earth.

I love some of the promises in the Word of God on what the new heavens and earth  is really like:

“And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Rev. 5:13)”.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea”.[Rev 21:1 NASB]

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,  and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”[Rev 21:3-4 ]

Mourning? You Are Blessed?

Jesus Christ said a strange thing: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

What  did Jesus mean? When you are mourning, you don’t feel very blessed. You feel empty, sad, afraid, alone.

A friend of mine lost his wife to cancer.  At the memorial service at the church, someone said to him: “Well, you will get over it”!  What a terrible thing to say!  My friend felt dismissed, devalued.  Perhaps the message was: “Good Christians don’t mourn. Mourning is not allowed at the church.  It’s wrong to feel sad”.

Most of us can’t imagine the mourning and grief that the familes of  MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 370 are feeling.  We can’t imagine what it would be like to have a relative buried under the mudslide in Washington state that occured on March 22.

What does Jesus words say to the soul of these who mourn?  Here a couple of thoughts, which in no way takes away all the pain.

1) Mourning changes our hope.  We are now faced with the realities of life.  Life is uncertain. Life is short. Things can go wrong at any moment. We go searching for God to find life instead of placing our hopes in this world.

2) Mourning give us an opportunity to know God better.  God wants to draw near, comfort us, reveal himself to us.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort”.

3). Mourning points us toward heaven.  We give up the illusion that we can have a wonderful, pain free life here on earth.  We must wait for heaven.  There, in the new heavens and earth, we will have complete peace and comfort forever.

God will comfort us… through His presence, through His people, through the promise of heaven.  Eventually. In His own time and way. Cry out to him.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit”.  (Psa 34:18)

Groan? Yes! Grumble? No!

The day is almost over.   Another day of work, relationships, talking and listening.  Started thinking of the things I said to people today.  Too much complaining I think.  Not enough gratitude.   Graditude and complaining don’t seem to work together.  What a tragedy to be to be known as a complainer.  How wonderful to be known as grateful.

Thinking today of two verses of scripture. One about grumbling, another about groaning:

Grumbling (I Cor. 10:10):

Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

Groaning (Romans 8:22, 23)

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.  And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Apparently what is not permitted is a complaing attitude…. angry, bitter, rebellious over what is happening to you.  Spewing complaints wherever you go.

What is permitted is honesty about life in this world.  We sigh, groan under the weight of responsiblity and suffering in the world.  Sometimes it really drains us.   BUT we still believe God is good, God is love, that life is knowing Jesus Christ beter not in having pleasant circumstances.  Even those of us who are filled with the Spirit still find life difficult and it hurts sometimes.  Let’s be honest!

We don’t want to be constantly expressing our disapproval toward God and others for what they are doing to us.  Instead we want to constantly be giving thanks even if we are feeling the weight and burdens that come with living in this world.

God be merciful to me for complaining today.  Give me the grace for grateful groaning. Complain, NO! Grateful groaning, Yes!

Boast about Weaknesses? Why?

The apostle Paul’s story and advice to us is so contrary to our culture.  In our culture, we hate weakness.  We do every we can to avoid weaknesses, hide them, pretend we don’t have  them, and work hard to make them better.

Paul said:

And He [God]has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (I Cor 12:9)

Paul had complained to the Lord about his “thorn in the flesh”.   Apparently, some kind of physical, emotional, or relational weakness.  He begged God three times to take this weakness away from him.  God said, “NO”!  He went on to say in effect, “I am going to give you my grace instead”.

When Paul heard that… He started bragging.  He went around bragging about his weaknesses.  Instead or resenting them, he bragged about them

Why??

Because weaknesses was an opportunity to pour out his grace on Paul.  It was an opportunity to experience the power of God in ministering to people.

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here is a challenge for us:  Whenever you are insulted… be content.  Boast about it.  When ever you are facing difficulties… be content, boast about it.  Why?  Jesus Christ will draw close to you and give you supernatural power to love others in the midst of your weakness. That is why you are here, to love others in the power of God.

Tempted to Doubt God’s Love

Recently reminded of the story  of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Satan came along and put some thoughts into Eve’s head, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden.”  And then, “You surely shall not die. For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

I wonder if part of what was going through Eve’s head when hearing this thought was: “God is holding out on me.  If he really loved me he would let me eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He would want me to be in control, to have the good life, to know good and evil.”  If God loved me, he would give me this.

How easy it is to doubt God’s goodness and love when he withholds from me something good.  Something good that would make my life better.  Doubting God’s love grows into demanding God give me what I want. He owes it to me because he loves me, I am one of his.

Easy to define God’s love by the blessings I have or don’t have. Abundance means loved by God, disappointment and suffering means, God doesn’t love me.  A me centered approach to God.

The truth is God’s love is defined by what he has done about our biggest problem: our sin. He gave up his son on our behalf, to bear the punishment for our sin, rise from the dead, and carry us to God.

Someday God the Father is going to send his Son Jesus back, to give us his kingdom.  We will journey back to the Garden of Eden forever. Surely God is good!

 

 

Changed by the Holy-Love God

Holy_loveStarted reading a good book: “God in the Whirlwind; How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World”, by David F. Wells.

American and church culture in the west is declining largely because we want a God who is close, personal, supportive, comforting and ignore the God who is Holy, Authoritative, Soverign, and above his creation. God is Holy-Love. Not just love, also Holy. John 3:16 teaches us about God’s love; John 3:36 teaches us about God’s wrath. Wrath and love in one Divine being!

According to Wells, ignoring God’s “otherness”, holiness leads to an entilement attitude toward God. We think of Him as “cheerleader who only wants our sucess. He is a booster, and inspiring coach, a source of endless prosperity for us. He would never intefere with us in our pursuit of the good life. He is the never ending fountain of these blessings”.

Reading about God as Holy-Love, I’ve had a few moments of being “stunned into silence” as Larry Crabb calls it. God is soverign over my situation who am I to approach God only as my “heavenly buddy” who will fix me up and make my life better. God has a right to do whatever he wants to do with me. Just ask Job. No wonder Peter wrote: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (I Peter 5).

When Fear Overwhelms Your Soul

overwhelmedThis morning found myself lingering in front of the church praying and reading Psalm 34. Over the years I have read and re-read Psalm 34, memorizing it, and praying the Psalm back to the Lord in times of uncertainty and fear.

David apparently wrote the Psalm when he was afraid, afraid for his life (1 Samuel 21).  We too are afraid when we are honest about the uncertainties of life.  We don’t like this emotion of fear.  We try to push it down inside of us and minimize it.  We prefer the word “anxiety” over “fear.”  David came face to face with fear, the fear of death,  but he took action and God delivered him.

Psalm 34 is David’s instruction, from his experience,  of what to do when fear overwhelms your soul.

Vs. 1 -3: PRAISE! Let your mouth praise the Lord, Let your soul boast in the Lord, Let your friends magnify the Lord together with you. (Even if you don’t feel like it)

Vs  4 – 7: SEEK! Seek the Lord, Look to the Lord, cry to the Lord. Turn your heart and mind to who the Lord is… Go looking for Him!

Vs 8 – 14:  TASTE! Taste the Lord, SEE the Lord, take refuge in the Lord, fear the Lord. The Lord himself tastes so good!  To those who fear him there is no lack.

15 – 22: BELIEVE!  Believe that the Lord’s eyes are toward you, the Lord’s ears hear you, the Lord’s  face is toward you, the Lord is near you, the Lord delivers you, the Lord redeems you! (Amazing isn’t it?)

Our Lord knows that we will sometimes experience overwhelming fear deep in our souls. The Lord himself is the answer to your fears.  Follow the path David took when he was afraid.

Psalm 34:  Just the prescription my fearful soul needed this morning!

 

When your Father Dies…

yarn

Often in my work  I am with people as their father lies dying before them. Tears, struggle, angst, denial, sadness.  Really makes you think about the realities of life.  A conversation today about losing your father reminded me about when my father died.  I was 19, my brother was 16.  Tough.  Remember crying buckets of tears at the funeral.

I believe it was H.Norman Wright who said that the grief over someone you loved and lost is like a ball of yarn.  A ball of yarn, all tangled up.  Know matter how hard you try you can’t untangle it. It’s such a confusing, tangled  mess. So is our hearts, emotions when we loose someone or something we dearly loved.  (www.hnormanwright.com)

Comforting to know that our heavenly Father understands grief.   Our heavenly Father is known as the “God of All Comfort” (II Cor. 1:3)  He has experienced it through his son Jesus Christ who came into the world from heaven.  While he was here, Jesus had compassion for those who grieve:

 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” (Luke 7:12, 13)

The Lord saw this woman. Saw her in her heart broken grief.  He felt compassion for her.

The Lord sees you in your grief.  He feels compassion for you.  He comforts you with his presence in your situation.  You can have a conversation with the one who came from heaven and feels your pain.  Don’t try to pretend it doesn’t hurt.  Present your grief to Jesus Christ.

When Jesus saw this woman and her dead son, he said to the young man, “Young man, I say to you arise”.  The young man sat up and began to speak.  And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

That miracle points to the day when Jesus comes back a second time to the earth.  He will raise God’s children from the dead.   Jesus said:

 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment”. (Jn. 5:28, 29)

How wonderful!  Jesus Christ sees us now, is with us now, and has compassion for us now.  Then someday He will come back a second time and raise us from the dead.  Someday Jesus will untangle the mess in our world.

 

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Hope: Knowing your Loved by the Triune God

 

earth_from_spaceIn the midst of loss and shattered dreams, our only hope is resting in the love of this Triune God.

 Not too long ago I lead a  memorial service for a family which had lost their loved one.  When it was my turn to speak I found my self commenting on God’s love, the love of the Triune God.  Didn’t really plan on mentioning the Trinity…  one God in three persons Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me.

Spoke from John 3:16.  That verse is quoted so often and is so well known that we lose any sense of awe and wonder over what it is saying to us about God’s love.  One day God looked down on the world, saw all the suffering and sin.  I imagine him saying to Himself, “We have to do something about this!”

So the Father, by the Holy Spirit, took his Son Jesus Christ out of heaven, and placed him  as an embryo in the womb of a young virgin girl named Mary.  Nine months later she gave birth to the Son of God from heaven.  Jesus having existed forever as an invisible spirit was now clothed with flesh and blood humanity. How awesome is that?

This Son of God suffered like we suffer, worse than what we suffer.  He knows about physical pain, rejection, sadness, loneliness.  He knows the feeling of being abandoned by God. From the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”  His death, shed blood, and resurrection makes possible the forgiveness of sin.  With forgiveness of sin we have the right to approach God.

The promise is, whoever believes in the Father’s son Jesus Christ, will have eternal life.  Life that will last forever.  Life on planet earth… the new heavens and the new earth.  This will be a life  forever free from sin, suffering and death.

Oh, the love of the Father demonstrated by the death and resurrection of his Son, and made real to us by the Holy Spirit!   Whatever your loss, rest in the inner circle of the Triune God, anticipate how wonderful life will be for you in the new heavens and the new earth.