The Kingdom of God Is At Hand: Are You Ready To Be A Part of It?

A Reflection on Acts 1:6-14

When is life going to be normal again? God why don’t you just make this all go away? These are a couple of the questions that must swirl through our heads at a time like this. We don’t embrace terms like “new normal” and we are simply fatigued with our circumstance. However, God is not a static God, He is not like a bridge or a building, but rather God is active, God is moving, God is a dynamic force on the world, and the Church is called to be powerful, dynamic, and moving into the world.

Kingdoms of the world are generally static, and are defined by the buildings and structures that they have built. Egypt had it’s iconic pyramids, Rome had the Colosseum, China had its wall, throughout the world there are palaces and castles dedicated to the kingdoms throughout history. The followers of Christ sit in contrast to that, they focus upon a cross, an empty cross, a cross that reminds the church that God’s kingdom is on the move.

There is a temptation of the church to mimic the worldly kingdoms by building extravagant churches and edifices intended to honor Christ, as we can see throughout the world extraordinary cathedrals and churches. These churches and buildings, while dedicated to the service of God, are static, and only good if they promote the church to get up and go out and spread God’s message and kingdom.

The disciples of Christ still thought like much of the world that the kingdom was a static place, and that Israel would get its land back from Rome, and it prompted this interaction with Jesus just prior to His ascension, in Acts chapter 1.

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. 

Commission

Jesus opens up correcting the assumptions of the disciples, for they were thinking about a transformation that looked like the conquering kingdoms of the past. They still hoped that Jesus was going to lead an army into Jerusalem and take over, and yet Jesus patiently reminds them that their thinking is incorrect, and that they needed to rely upon the Father as He is the ultimate authority and provider of all things. They wanted to know the ending, but Jesus reminds them that the next step is the most important step, and that God is calling them to yield their thoughts and vision away from the physical and political, and toward the Spirit.

When we focus on the Spirit, our understanding shifts away from the world as geography, to the Kingdom of God as a spiritual kingdom that extends beyond geographical boundaries. Jesus tells the disciples that their power, and our power comes not from government, or money, or property, but it comes directly from the Holy Spirit. God’s Kingdom is spread by witness, not by soldiers, through a gospel of peace, not a declaration of war, and by the work of the Spirit, not by force, political intrigue, or violence. At the same time, when we reject the politics of the kingdom, we must avoid super-spiritualizing it, because God’s rule operates on Earth and not only in heaven.

Just as Jesus told the disciples that the ministry did not have boundaries like the kingdoms of the Earth, so too we must appreciate that our ministry must be focused outside our church buildings and out into the communities that we are called to serve. This requires us to release our attachments to the Earth and allow God to take everything and use us to our full capacity.  

Vision

In order to operate at this capacity, we must allow our vision to synchronize with God’s plan for the world. We must take time to be in awe of all the things that God has done for us, but there also comes a time when we must fulfill and act upon the commission God has given to us. While we come up with ideas, and plans, if they do not have an understanding of the fullness of God’s mission in the world they are lacking and without vision. 

The disciples needed a reminder from the people dressed in white, that Jesus is coming back, don’t be fixated upon when and where, but trust God and carry out His plan, and that we only need to be better at carrying out what God has planned for us. The vision God has planned for us is unique, and we must be adaptable to the circumstances that we find ourselves.

Unique times put us in unique circumstances that require the church to adapt. This adaptation requires us to be flexible in our vision, and try new things. Most of us have had to learn how to attend church via YouTube, Facebook, or Zoom, something that most of us had not even thought about before it became a necessity. However, the successes in this new way of church have shown us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the negative, and continue to spread the message of hope, peace, and love in spite of physical distancing. This should encourage us to be able to move forward trusting that God’s vision for the church will succeed, no matter the circumstances. 

Prayer

To begin trusting this vision, we need to start in the same place as the disciples after Christ’s ascension, in prayer. Prayer is where we seek God’s vision, where we ask for the Holy Spirit to come and lead us, and we quiet our voice and vision and yield to what God desires for us. As we move forward may God’s blessings be upon us, His vision guide us, and the Holy Spirit power our mission in the world to spread God’s Kingdom beyond our walls, and all boundaries.

Unspoilable Faith

A Reflection on 1 Peter 1:3-9

Unprecedented times have led to changes in our lifestyle. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we were not ready for the changes that have happened in our lives over the last month. So much of the world we had thought was secure, so many of the institutions in which we placed our faith have let us down, and we are left grasping the air.

Peter found himself thinking the same way after Christ was taken away. All that he thought was secure was nailed to the cross, and his sworn allegiance to Jesus was shaken because when pushed, Peter denied. With this lapse in faith and judgement Peter found himself in a situation where he needed a Savior, he needed a fresh faith.

We don’t need to give up on our faith because the fabric of life seems to be breaking apart at the seams. Through bitterness about our circumstance, we may be willing to give everything up and walk away from obedience to Christ. However, we have a lot to learn about ourselves, and about how Christ meets us in this temporary time. This same Christ met Peter after the resurrection, and even when Peter had denied Christ, God’s grace removed the disgrace, and reinstated Peter as the rock of foundation for the Church. It was in this grace-filled circumstance that Peter writes the following:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV

No failure of faith keeps us away from the salvation that Christ offers to us through His death and resurrection. No matter the things that we end up putting in front of God, we are not beyond redemption. No matter how hard we try to make things work for ourselves, we are reminded that none of the things we do for ourselves lead us toward salvation, not our job, our bank account, or even our government. Christ is our only Hope, He saves us from our own stubbornness, and our sin.

Salvation is God’s work and not our work, this is the Hope that comforts us in this current situation. The hope is not something that we do to cause an effect, like wearing a mask or washing our hands to keep from getting sick, but rather a knowledge that God has already done the work that leads to salvation. Our actions give us a better chance, but God’s actions are assured to be efficacious.

It was this Hope that led the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the promised land. God promised Israel a land that was flowing with milk and honey, which was their inheritance. Peter reminds us that our inheritance is the Hope in Christ Jesus, and our faith in God cannot be removed, does not expire, and will not spoil.

When we start walking in this faith is where we are able to begin our life with Christ. When we are obedient to God, we can more easily be identified as Christ’s disciples. Even in our struggles: like missing our friends, our jobs, sports, and our church, God provides us with the Holy Spirit to walk near us and lift us up when we need support. We need to lean into this support, as it is the same God that raised Jesus from the dead, can certainly support us in our limited darkness.

Our circumstances are temporary, these times will come to an end, and we need to allow our faith to instruct us at this time. Peter reminds us that at times of darkness and despair help refine our faith, like fire refines gold, and to God our faith is far more valuable than the most pure gold. When we lean into this faith, all things are put into their proper perspective, and joy is produced deep within our soul.

This joy is not a result of achievement, but a gift from the Almighty God, as it disconnects us from our dependence on good circumstances. We can have joy in our grief, we can grieve the pain so many are experiencing, we can grieve those that are dying, we can grieve in the midst of pain; but in grief God reminds us about that which is true – God loves us and saves us from death. In this, we have Hope that doesn’t fail, Faith that doesn’t spoil, because God loves us and grants us a beautiful and wonderful joy.

The Lord’s Supper

Rain

Jesus along with the disciples were celebrating and practicing their custom, the meal that acknowledges the saving power of God, Passover. The meal that celebrates and acknowledges that God released the Hebrew people from bondage at the hands of the Egyptians. So too, we approach the table that Jesus establishes for us in remembrance that we have been released from bondage; the bondage of sin.

The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus celebrating this meal with His disciples.

Matthew 26:17-25 (ESV)

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ ” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 

Jesus turns this meal that had been a celebration about release into an acknowledgement of the current circumstance. Jesus was going to be betrayed, and it was coming from His close group of friends. Being friends with and having a relationship with Jesus does not preclude you from betraying and turning on Him. We sit and pray to the Lord, we ask for God’s blessing over our meal, we talk, we laugh, we enjoy one another. However, sometimes bad things happen, we are pressured to do something contrary to our faith, something akin to selling out our Lord and Savior. At times when the pressure mounts, we must lean further into the relationship with Christ, rather than flee from it; remembering that we must conform to Christ’s agenda, not try to conform Christ into our own agenda.

After speaking with the disciples and warning them of trouble to come, Jesus then stands up and expresses what He is about to do. The act that Christ is about to carry out is in continuity with history, it is an act of salvation. There is no better time to point this out than during a celebration about how God saved the people of Israel from enslavement in Egypt, because the people are no longer enslaved to their sin.

With the following words Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper:

Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

The feast and celebration of the Passover is an opportunity for Israel to look back at how God had been present with them in their escape from Egypt, while simultaneously being comforted and assured that God is with them through the troubles that exist currently, and looking to the future with hope because God will continue to walk alongside them.

So too, as we approach The Lord’s Table, we recognize that God has been with us throughout our lives, bringing us salvation by dying for our sins, breaking us free from the bondage and death present in this separation from God. Also, God is with us currently, walking with us through all trials and temptations. He invites us to lean into our relationship with Him, and to give all our highs and lows to Christ, because through the power of God we can make it through our circumstances. When we take the bread and cup, we also do so in a community that is a foretaste of eternity in the Kingdom.

Even now, as we are separate, I invite you to join together in partaking in this foretaste of the glory awaiting us.

Anointing and Betraying Jesus

Matthew 26:1-16 (ESV)

26 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” 

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” 

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The Conspiracy

The powers of the world have conspired to remove the power of Jesus, and they plan to carry out their plan as secretly as possible. The world does not want to incite action, but knock us down when we are not looking. By removing Jesus in secrecy, there is an attempt to remove the head for hope that the body would die off.

Little to the powers of the world know that on the other side of their conspiracy is a Divine Plan to restore that leads to resurrection, and these world leaders did not anticipate God’s action. Their fear was in what the crowds were going to do, so they avoided stirring the crowds, however their fear should firmly be directed at God, and God alone.

We ultimately know that Jesus doesn’t strike out against this conspiracy, but rather allows it to be used in Christ’s ultimate purpose to die for our sins, so too the Church should not be dismayed at those that seek to harm and destroy the church, but rather we look toward the disease, those that seek to hurt, and destroy the church the way that Jesus approached his death, without fear, and with the knowledge and understanding that the Holy Spirit is with us to comfort us, and that we are strengthened by the power of God.

Jesus knew His purpose, and is calling to us to fulfill His purpose for us even now in the face of darkness. Think about how you have been feeling during this pandemic. Anger, fear, frustration, boredom, anxiety, sorrow, sadness are legitimate expressions, and we need to bring these to God.

Pouring It Out For God

A woman, not even given a name in this passage, gave Jesus a great gift. A gift that most of Christ’s followers could not even comprehend. Many of them could only think about how the woman was doing something foolish with an expensive ointment by pouring it all upon Christ. It caused an upheaval among the followers of Christ. 

Instead of looking to Christ for a response, they acted out of their own worldview. They chastised and sought to point out the foolishness of the woman. They thought of all the things that could have been done with the money that could have been made through the sale of the ointment. They saw the woman as a commodity, and did not stop to see her humanity. That is what Jesus saw.

Jesus saw a woman giving a gift of great expense. Pouring out the ointment as a service to God. She may not have understood just what she was doing, and the disciples were certainly clueless about what was happening, but Jesus was aware and obedient. Jesus saw this woman’s humanity, and the gift she was willing to give. She was obedient to God’s purpose, and Jesus commends her for her actions.

Jesus calls us to obedience even if it does not make sense to us. Rebellion comes in all types of activities, some of us point out where others are falling short, and others of us just act in open rebellion against God. While we may not see our rebellion as outright betrayal of Christ, or in Judas’ case, selling Him out, any time we act contrary to the Will of God we are His enemies.

We should think about how we give to God, and how we fulfill God’s call in our lives. God requires us to acknowledge the humanity in each other as CHRIST acknowledges the humanity in each one of us. Additionally, God calls us to unite with Him in joining in bringing God’s Kingdom into the world, against the powers of the world. In this way we are either joining the world in destroying Christ, or joining Christ in waging a battle against the powers of the world!

Jesus Is A Conqueror… Just Not the Conqueror We Expected

A Reflection on John 12:12-19

We need a savior. Trapped in our homes, we search for salvation from an invisible enemy. Our leaders give us daily reports on the progress of the virus, and our progress toward fighting it. It looks like we are losing ground every day. More cases and more death cause our spirits to fail. The enemy is winning, we need a savior.

However, our savior is not coming, at least not in the way we expect a Savior to come. Jesus didn’t come to free us from our homes, or to bring us a vaccine, or an antidote or our current circumstance, instead Jesus came to bring freedom from captivity to sin, freedom from the result of our missing the mark, and freedom to truly live.

I wish nothing more than to preach that Jesus came to conquer CoViD-19, and that we don’t need to stay in our homes because Jesus has made us immune from the effects of this nasty disease, but that simply isn’t true. Just as so many that were sitting on the side of the road as Jesus came into Jerusalem, thought that Jesus had come to kick out the Romans, and liberate the nation, Jesus has bigger plans than we do, a greater focus, and longer view on salvation.

Jesus didn’t come just to save the day, but rather Jesus came to save us for all eternity. Let us look at how the Gospel of John captures the moment that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeting as a conquering Savior and King.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 

“Hosanna!” 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  

“Blessed is the king of Israel!” 

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; 

see, your king is coming, 

seated on a donkey’s colt.”  

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. 

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” 

Hosanna! Save us now! Jesus came to do that, but not in the way that the people expected as he rode into the city, as a Man of Peace, not a conquering warrior. May we too allow Jesus to conquer our hearts with God’s Peace on this Palm Sunday, allowing the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace show us how to be more than conquerors through the Peace that surpasses all understanding.

The Expectations

The people of Israel were shackled by Rome. They kept hoping that someone was going to break them free from the bondage, a bondage that was set upon them from a conquering government. Throughout history Israel rose up, and each of these rebellions was squelched, and resulted in a half-blood king put in control with the authority given by Rome. The government put in place was established to keep peace in the region. Even with these “peacekeepers” in place, it was still apparent that the people were under Rome’s control. 

Through the experience of being in the control of Rome, people are always looking for a liberator. The people have heard about Jesus, and that he was healing people, shaking up the establishment by spending time with the people that were cast aside, and even bringing back people from the dead. Jesus certainly had the power to throw out the Romans and bring freedom to the people of Israel.

Just like the people of Israel, we expect Jesus to swoop in like a Superman, and bring us salvation from all the evils of the world. This has only amplified in recent years. We look to the government to help, for the evils of the world. Whether the evils be seen as war with other countries, greed, corruption, hunger, illness, and oppression. Unfortunately, even the most powerful in the world cannot eradicate the source of this evil, because it lies within our sinful nature.

When we expect our heroes to save us, we need to make sure that we are no longer contributing to the problem. Sin gets in the way, it blocks our path to the Father, and leads to some horrific circumstances. Sin leads to war, hopelessness, hatred, pain, disease, famine, heartbreak, and ultimately death. Israel set up a system to deal with sin, but it involved death, and was a cycle that became never ending and unredeemable. The nature of the unredeemed sin contributes to further suffering and further death.

The world needed a conqueror to break us free, and the Justice League nor the Avengers would be capable of breaking the world free from the effect of sin. That is where Jesus stepped in to save not only the day, but our lives for all of eternity. Our first step away from the tyranny of sin, is recognizing that the conqueror we want is much much less than the role of conqueror that Jesus Christ came to fulfill.

The Reality

We got a foretaste of how Jesus came to show the world what His mission was in the world. Throughout the Earthly ministry of Jesus, people were healed, freedom from sin was proclaimed, the lame walked, demons were cast out, and even the dead were brought back to life. All of these miracles gave people the hope that Jesus was coming to change the world, and they got their Hosanna voices primed.

Jesus, however, did not come marching into Jerusalem with an army. Instead he came on a symbol that was the antithesis, a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of coming in peace, thus telling the world that he was coming to bring peace and not war, coming to make peace between man and God, coming to deal with sin once and for all.

Like many of you, I wish that God would make a single finger snap and this entire pandemic would all go away. That is the conqueror I want, but instead of giving us what we want God gave us what we needed. In Jesus Christ, God dealt with sin and death, God took care of the root problem, in order for God’s people to be able to rise up against the effects of that sin.

The people of God can then rise up and bring the Kingdom of God to the World and overthrow the oppression, the evil, the illnesses that run rampant. The people of God come armed with Hope, Peace, Joy, Mercy, Faith, and Love, and against these no weapon or disease can prosper, not even CoViD-19.

As much as we are frustrated that the effects of sin are still present among us, we have the knowledge that Jesus conquers all, and that death has already been defeated. This doesn’t make hardship obsolete or invisible, but it makes it manageable because of our faith that God is bigger than any problem we have on Earth, and that through the mercy of God, and the saving power of Christ Jesus we are saved. Saved by a loving God that sent Christ Jesus to die on a cross, and raised Him from the dead, so that sin and death would forever be conquered.

What It Means To Live

A Reflection on Romans 8:5-11

For many of us life looks different today than it did a month ago. For those that work, and are still working, the environment has changed. No more large meetings in person, which for many of us is probably a good thing, no catching up with co-workers around the water cooler, workspaces have been moved further apart, physical distancing has introduced foreign concepts and movements that we find different. Many workers have transitioned from the office environment to a virtual workspace where people connect through video conferencing and online workspaces, trying to manage working from home, while being home with kids or spouses or dogs and cats.

Our social lives have also changed significantly. We cannot go to that friend’s house and chat, or meet up for lunch, we are not allowed to go to Disneyland or the beach or even the mountains, but instead we are instructed that we are safer at home, and that we can only go out for essential items. Even our churches have shuttered the doors, and we encourage our congregations to listen to the advice of our health professional and stay home.

So much of what we LIVE FOR has been taken away, if even for a little bit, and it makes us question what is life if I can’t do these things that I love to do? We miss our friends, we miss going out of our homes, we miss the mountains, we miss the ocean, we miss Disneyland, we miss worshipping together in-person, we miss what life was like before CoViD-19.

One thing remains, God is present with us, and reminds us what we need to keep our minds focused upon Him, not just now, when we are cooped up inside our homes, but at all times. What does God desire of you? Our minds, our bodies must always be focused upon who God is in the world, and the person God desires each of us to be in the midst of His Creation.

The apostle Paul reminds us how we are supposed to maintain the mindset that there are things of the flesh as well as things set upon the SPIRIT, and that flesh fails and falls away, but SPIRIT endures no matter what happens in the world around us. Let us look at the words of Paul as we examine and choose how we are going to live and think.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 

Right away Paul reminds us that how we think, establishes our priorities and our focus. Therefore we must set aside our thoughts to focus upon that which is life-giving and eternal instead of those things that seem completely natural at this time. When we are focused upon the God that is always in control of our lives, we do not need to worry about whether we have enough, because God provides for us at all times.

Living According to the Flesh

If we think about selfish things, we will act selfishly, but if we think about serving God, we will act as God’s servants. Selfishness, like viruses, is contagious. Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, we “naturally” act out in what we think is our own self interest. This mentality leads people to hoard in times of crisis, to elbow our neighbor out of the way when we are trying to get the last package of toilet paper from the shelf. It also causes us to think only about our own personal joy and happiness instead of the health and wellness of our neighbors.

Because of this, we should not be surprised that people have been flocking to the beach, parks, and trails even if they are being told to stay at home. Most people think that they are going to be affected by CoViD-19, and therefore they don’t need to change their routines, even if their actions may adversely affect those that they come in contact with, the selfish thought wins and they do what they want to do.

While it may be easy to look at people that aren’t following the rules and say we aren’t like that, we must understand that we are still sinners and because of our sin, our “natural” thinking will also lead us to the nature of serving ourselves instead of serving God. We think about the things we are missing out on, and we want to scream and shout at people that are not acting as they ought. Some of us engage in less than polite conversation on social media or in conversations with our loved ones. We get frustrated by those that we are stuck in the house with, and we are not the most loving people to those that are closest to us. These thoughts and actions are the outcome of the fact that we still are affected by our sinful nature.

Paul tells us that living according to the flesh leads to death. Some project that an outcome of the “Safer At Home” Order is going to be an increase in the domestic violence reports and the divorce rate. Projections like this are evidence that we indeed will see a lot of these “deaths” because of the sin that is pervasive in our life. While we may not be party to this overt violence in our homes, our anger, our thoughts, and our frustrations show us that we too have undealt with sin in our lives.

The law was established by God to keep our sinful nature in check, to be able to give humanity an ability to get right with God, to understand that our sin had a cost. The cost of that sin was sacrificing life, giving up the life of an animal so that we could be made right with God. Ultimately, humanity even perverted that system of sin and death through corruption, greed, and trying to use God’s law as a weapon against people. Therefore, God had to redeem us through His Son Christ Jesus to protect and save humanity from the virus that sin had become in the world. 

Our relationship with Christ is how we move from death in sin to a life in the Spirit, for the Spirit reveals to us the path to peace with God, and true living. We must, however, be willing to cast off the life of sin that leads to death and destruction, and move into life, because even with all our might we cannot please God by living in our own power, but rather we must be obedient to the Spirit that empowered Christ to shun sin, and make a path to forgiveness and life.

Living According to the Spirit

This new living according to the Spirit is available to us when we are willing to give up our sinful lifestyle, and submit our lives completely to God. When we allow the work of the Holy Spirit to instruct us how to live, and allow God’s Righteousness to wash over us so that we no longer seek to dwell in our sin, but rather step forward into living fully obedient to God’s instruction and law, and becoming people that bring peace, hope, and love to the world.

This type of living does not think of self, but rather moves through all the aspects of our life and transforms us into the people we need to be in order to proclaim the change Christ has made in us. We are called to bring hope to the hopeless. We have all spoken to someone that has lost sight of hope in the midst of this global pandemic. For those that read the newspaper or watch the news there are repeated stories that project gloom upon the world. Those that use social media there are people panicking and arguing on all fronts. Our world needs hope, our world needs the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit that LIVES in you to bring lasting HOPE. It is this HOPE that proclaims that the Almighty God is in control and that we need to yield to God at this time.

Who do you know that is worried right now? Give them a call. Who do you know that is in need right now? Go help fill that need. Who do you know that is panicking and full of anxiety? Bring them the PEACE of God. Living according to the Spirit is listening to the world with one ear and God’s prompting with the other and allowing the Spirit of God to move you into places that you are needed to help bring forth God’s Kingdom to a world that needs a major dose of PEACE.

Just as Christ brought peace between us and God, so too are we called to bring peace to the world. Even in chaos, God provides peace to those that are struggling. The beauty of God’s Kingdom, is that He allows us to be a part of that peace making. In times of wars between nations, peace and restoration spark an end to the fighting and destruction, and similarly God’s PEACE seeks to end our hostility with God, and bring a fullness and wholeness to all of humanity through Christ’s saving power. No longer is there a need to bring one another down in a Twitter or Facebook argument, no longer are we to spread lies and misinformation, no longer are we to split and divide people, but rather we are to seek restoration and unity, wholeness and strength.

With this understanding of our role in spreading Christ’s life-giving peace in this world, may we think about the words we use with one another. The enemy gets a foothold when God’s people are divided and weak, but when we focus upon Christ, and upon the miraculous work that the SPIRIT of LIFE worked in raising Christ from the dead, we no longer dwell in the darkness and despair, but rather we remember that God is ALIVE, and brings us a PEACE that surpasses all understanding. 

Any scan of the situation we are in right now, we see a world that needs to understand that fear, panic, selfishness, anger, and hatred are not bringing any of us life. These are all paths that lead us to division, destruction, and death, because they all build upon each other and cause us to think that we are in charge of our own ability to live. This is a stark contrast to the understanding that Christ is the source of life, and not each of us. Christ brings us LIFE, and the way to this life comes through Righteousness and Hope and Peace and Love. These things should define the way we live, because that is truly living. 

The danger is when we start to think that life requires hoarding, acting out of our own self-interest, disobeying the law because it interferes with my happiness, and setting everyone straight. This is dangerous and leads to death. Not just death from any illness, but death from the worst type of illness, SIN. Sin doesn’t bring life, but rather it leads to separation from God.

Fortunately, Christ is the cure to this illness, Christ, through the power of the Spirit, conquers death to bring us LIFE, true LIFE. Living is checking on the elderly, giving to the needy, being a peacemaker in the midst of the arguing going on around us, giving hope to the hopeless, providing grace to those that have hurt you, and listening to the Holy Spirit to bring God’s Kingdom to the Earth. 

May this LIFE move through us, not only today, or in this time of pandemic, but all of our days that we may lean on the power of Christ and the SPIRIT of LIFE whenever we are in need of peace, hope, and God’s enduring love.

The Lord Shepherds Us Through Darkness

The Twenty-Third Psalm

Darkness, separation, isolation, despair, and hopelessness abound in this day and age. With pandemics, viruses, social distancing, selfishness, hoarding, and panic describing how much of the world is reacting to crisis, the church should be different, and offer a counter-narrative to the world. Hope, peace, charity, love, selflessness, joy, and faith need to be our hallmarks right now. Even if we are not pleased with the condition of the world, and we shouldn’t be, we must respond to the darkness with hope. 

David, a man after God’s own heart, saw darkness, experienced tremendous loss, and had his life threatened on many occasions. In the midst of these dire situations, he teaches us about this hope, through the way he addresses God. He never loses sight that God is in control, so we too should never lose sight that God is in control. This is apparent as we look at one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

The Psalm reminds us that we have a God that loves us, cares for us, and instructs us in all times. There is nothing that separates us, pulls us away from the provision that is found in God’s grace. Even when the world becomes dark and it looks like evil is winning each and every day, God is beside us, gently leading us into places of peace and restoration. The Lord Almighty, creator of the universe, comes alongside us and shepherds us in our time of need away from fear and into hope.

Our Shepherd

During uncertain times, we find that we are desperate to be led. Unfortunately, the default for many is a descent into panic and fear. We see no exception today, with images of people rushing into the stores to buy up all the supplies, hand sanitizer, soap, toilet paper, and non-perishable food. The world economic markets are crashing because they do not like uncertainty, but none of us can tell what the future holds. The source of the uncertainty is our belief that we had control. Furthermore, it is our lack of faith that God is in control of our circumstance and our lives. While the adage states, that “nothing is certain, except death and taxes,” our faith must instruct us that nothing is certain except that God is in control.

When we begin to submit our lives to God, we then will seek God in the midst of everything. The Psalm opens up with a clear statement about God, and our relationship with God, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This is a two-fold recognition about the character of God, as a shepherd God cares for His creation and desires for His people to remain safe, and fulfilled, and it recognizes that we have no need that God is not able to provide. 

Therefore, it is imperceptible to have God’s people, those that are part of His flock, go out to the stores and stockpile supplies at this time. If we truly believe that God is in control then we should be gathering what we need for a week, and not being the cause of shortages. If anything, we should be looking out for one another, and be aware that there are many people that simply cannot afford to go out and stockpile. We need to be looking out for one another, and if anything we need to help those of us that need assistance at this time.

The Lord, as our shepherd, instructs us where to go and what to do. This is not because God is ruthless or self-serving, but because it restores us and keeps us safe and whole. Lay down in the pasture, find restoration along the still water, receive the healing that we need in our bodies, these are all the desires of a shepherd that loves His flock. There is a calm confidence and knowledge that God leads His people with, a calm confidence that desires for us to live lives fully in line with God’s law, because He knows what is life giving, and what is destructive. 

The calm and stillness we are all called to do in this Psalm is life giving. God calls on us to bring this peace to the world around us, and not react to the world by ramping up anxiety, fear, and panic, but rather we must be calm, rational, and healing. 

As churches throughout our community have made the decision to not hold regular services, there has been some criticism that we are being fearful of the virus, and contributing to the fear and panic. However, this is far from truthful, the church instead is responding to this out of love and care for our congregations, as we want to help keep people safe, and as such seek to allow God to shepherd us at this time, and follow God’s example to be sacrificial and caring to the congregation. That is why we have implemented the necessary physical distancing as suggested by the government. This does not mean that we cut off communication or connection, but rather because we serve a God that is not confined by physical space, you joining us here is worship, and the Holy Spirit is present. Our obedience to the orders of the governmental agencies is keeping the flock safe, and as such is done not to inhibit the work of God, but rather to show how powerful God really is at this time, that even though we are physically distant, God’s Name will still be praised.

In Darkness

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to remind us that darkness is all around us. The temptation to fear the future and worst case scenarios are always present. The enemy is out there trying to destroy the church, out there trying to destroy our bodies, out there working against our best interests. Our vulnerability to deceptions and lies is heightened at this time, as we are tempted to think we need to gain control over our circumstance. 

This darkness seeks to turn us against one another, it seeks to take advantage of our distancing and makes us feel as if we are alone. This seeks to isolate us and tear us apart, and when this happens fear and panic are easier to access than faith. Both of these feelings acknowledge our lack of control, but one grasps at anything to attempt to gain control, while the other yields control to God. When we yield to God, our mindset is transformed into one that focuses upon hope rather than fear.

The promises in this Psalm are safety, protection, comfort, restoration, and abundance. Like a good shepherd, God protects us even in the face of death and darkness, even in the face of a global pandemic. Though we are in the place of ultimate risk, where the darkness protects those who do evil and death casts its shadow, our fear is eclipsed by the presence of God. Where God uses His power to fend off the attacks on us, and God protects us by pulling us back from the areas where we wander into harm’s way.

In life, God doesn’t prevent evil from happening, but rather God offers us a response to the evil around us. Instead of fleeing from evil, God allows us to safely navigate our way in our enemies’ presence. Even going as far as preparing us a table, providing for us in the most turbulent times. When there appears to be little reason to hope, God gives us an abundance of hope, and casts out all fear.

At this time God is here to provide us with all that we need, and more. Out of the abundance God provides to us, we must in turn share that hope with one another. While you may not be able to physically be present with one another, there are an abundance of ways you can provide this hope. Call each other, pray with one another, be socially present for one another while you are physically distant.

So What Now

Now is the time to be directed by our faith. Respond to the panic and fear that is abundant in our world with God’s love, peace, and hope. While we physically cannot be close, we can socially connect with one another through phone calls, prayers for one another, connection through social media outlets, and sharing our excess. Some of us may not be connected through all of these outlets, but we must continue to pray for the needy, the sick, and the brokenhearted.

We must continue to strengthen our relationship with God, seek his grace and mercy, and continue reading the Word, keep praying, and be present for God’s mission in the world. This requires listening to the Holy Spirit. Many of us have so many voices and noise rolling through our ears, especially now that we are going out less. We should take the time now to turn off the noise, and listen better to one another, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit

Our enemy seeks to hurt us, distract us, and lead us to believe that we are self-reliant. We are tricked into seeking our own self-interest first and foremost. However, we look at the world, and need to recognize that we cannot rely upon anyone other than God. We need to recognize that God is present with us at all times, and that at this time we need to allow our own self reliance to fall, and our dependence on God to rise.

This is a healthy dependence. Such dependence upon God makes us independent in this world. When we find our identity and our security in Him, we are free to deal with life and not cave in. Our heavenly Father longs to meet our dependency needs, so that we can be mature and healthy in this world—a sign of the new humanity redeemed by our Lord and invested here for His glory.

Standing with the Accused

The world is full of less than perfect people trying to figure out how to best cope with the imperfections in the world all around. When we all approach situations we have to make serious decisions about whether or not go one way or another. Some decisions made are right, some are wrong, and still others are ambiguous. The world is full of people doing wrong or regrettable things. At the same time there is a crowd waiting to pounce, waiting to tear the people apart that don’t have the power to hurt them back.

We live in a world where the powerful do wrong, and then when caught in the act they shrug it off because very often the people that accuse have no power over them, and no ability to enact change in their lives. When this happens we cry and yell about the injustice of the act and that something needs to happen to upend the power structures. In politics, this often turns into the imbalance of the power structures that lead to divisiveness that our political systems thrive upon these days. Power makes you think you can get away with anything, and if that power is not checked you become more bold in doing wrong things. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and any number of tech companies have all been caught in the same traps, that people will follow you and use your product, no matter what you do, because the followers or users feel powerless against the powerful companies doing things that are detrimental with their data, with their privacy, and with their loyalty. In this environment, we feel about power and wrong-doing, when we find wrong-doing that we can affect change upon we pounce.

Unfortunately, this leads to the mob mentality that wants to burn the house down of those caught in the act. You have no power to do anything to me, therefore I will destroy you. This has happened too many times in our society, especially in the social media age. One person gets accused of something, and then their social media accounts get published on the internet, and sometime worse their physical addresses get broadcast, and then the physical safety of the person standing accused is put in danger. The mob justifies the actions based on the accused gave up their freedom when they did wrong, but this justification is truly toothless. Rather, it is just an excuse to get release and try to establish justice in a world that is often devoid of justice, but this justice is not truly justice. Justice is essentially life giving, but the actions of the mob are truly destructive.

Jesus, in John 8, shows us a better way. Here a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the mob is seeking to destroy her and make her pay the price for her misgivings. However, Jesus doesn’t simply allow the mob carry out their intended action, but rather he makes them contemplate and asks if they have no sin then carry on, but if not then drop the stones. He doesn’t do this to point out their sin, but rather to stand in between the woman and the angry mob. Obviously, the only reason they pulled this woman out was that she could do nothing to defend herself, where was the man? Adultery takes at least two, but the man probably had too much power, too much voice to bring out into the light, therefore the justice they wanted to carry out was incomplete and destructive.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our world that are willing to pull the woman out for public scorn, but unwilling to stand up to the mob. Jesus calls us to stand with the woman, and to stand with the accused, even if they have done something wrong, even if they are guilty. There is no chance for reformation, and no chance for shalom if the person is destroyed and stoned and broken, and Jesus came to bring shalom not shame, He came to bring love, and not blame, and we are all invited to join in the Kingdom of God to defend the defenseless.

One last aspect of this is that we encourage those to go and sin no more, and it is vital that we do this. We need to do whatever we can, in order to help them carry this out, but if the mob wins, they do nothing but carry with them the Scarlett Letter and are not granted grace, but surrounded by scorn and ridicule that leads them to feel and know that it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around, they will always be that of which they are accused. We want to defeat and enjoy the grace that God gives us, and share it with everyone, especially the accused.

The New You, and a New Year

In 2016, we begin a new year, and so many people make resolutions and goals, and so many of them go “unacheived” as my Runkeeper reminded me last night. We try to be better people, but these goals and resolutions are really our trying to make ourselves better. This was clear as I introduced my wife to the Star Wars franchise this week, and as Yoda is training a young Luke Skywalker, he responds to Luke’s whining about trying, by saying, “You either do, or do not, there is no try.” Thus informing us thatwe all need to stop trying to be better people, and just be better people.

image

Luke completed his training by controlling his feelings and allowing the force to move through him, but we have a powerful “force” that enables us to be a new creation, in our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. We need to humble ourselves and allow the power of Christ to make us into more than we were.

The Message paraphrases this passage in 2 Corinthians 5 as the following:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 MSG

Therefore, the power and force that leads us into becoming more, and bringing peace and hope to the world begins with a step toward Christ. The work that will be done through you is mighty and miraculous and is not about goal setting, but about witnessing the power of God at work within each of us.