Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

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HOPE for 2013

[This article is from a sermon I preached on 12/30/12.  Many thanks to A. Todd Coget, whose sermon “What If? and Why Not?” (December 29, 2002) inspired me to go deeper into the subject of HOPE.]

hopeHere’s my personal list of what I believe are the Top Ten news events of 2012.  See if these prompt your memory banks, and if you agree with me about their importance or their impact.

  1. The reelection of President Obama was, by far, the biggest news event of the year for the United States.
  2. The internet continues to be one of the “drivers” of our culture.  From FaceBook going public to the death of Whitney Houston (the number 1 story “googled” this year), the internet continues to exercise its muscle and influence.
  3. Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, and the storm’s aftermath, is a reminder that we don’t have control over nature … and that sometimes the storms of life are literally storms!
  4. The uncertainty of gas prices, and the rise and fall of prices at the pump, continues to get our attention daily.
  5. The mass murders … what some now are calling “Spree Killings” … in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Oikos University in Oakland, CA, the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut!  The thing is, guns are being blamed, but Hollywood and the computer game industry continues to outspend the NRA.
  6. The Middle East continues to capture our attention every day – with the ongoing tensions associated with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israel, the phony elections in Egypt, and the murder of the US Ambassador in Libya.
  7. The “Fiscal Cliff,” and the inability of our government to get a handle on spending; the national debt, and the world’s economy.
  8. The London Olympics was the biggest distraction and emotional lift for our country this past summer.
  9. President Obama’s Supreme Court health care ruling (in his favor) was huge news with huge implications for our nation.
  10. The new tensions arising in the world because of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

These stories, circumstances, and influences have, and will continue to have, an impact on our times and our individual lives.  What happens in the Middle East and North Korea will impact your life, as will decisions that follow Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, and our government’s spending.

We are standing on the threshold of a New Year … 2013.  The world didn’t end on 12/21/12!  We have a future!  But do you have HOPE!

There is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to include HOPE as one of the “big 3” … one of the THREE THINGS THAT WILL LAST FOREVER!  

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Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, HOPE and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)  Or, as the New Living Translation reads, “Three things will last forever — faith, HOPE, and love …”

Let me tell you something:  If you feel HOPEless, you won’t love or exercise faith.  HOPE is critically important to life, and life in God!

HOPE is “confident assurance.”

Look with me at Hebrews 11:1 and 6 –

“Now faith is confidence in what we HOPE for and assurance about what we do not see …And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (NIV)

“Faith is the confidence that what we HOPE for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see … And

it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.”  (NLT)

  • We talk much about love, and we should, because it’s the greatest of the Big 3.
  • And we talk a lot about faith, and we should, because without faith it’s impossible to please God.
  • BUT what about HOPE?!  Do you have HOPE?

But not just ANY HOPE?  Do you have HEAVENLY HOPE??

LUKE 24

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  16 But God kept them from recognizing Him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said.  “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him.  21 We had HOPED He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.  This all happened three days ago.

There is nothing so devastating as having lost HOPE.  For these men, their HOPE was gone.  The one they had HOPED to be the redeemer of Israel, was, in their mind, dead.  Along with the death of Jesus, came the death of their HOPE.

If you’ve lived beyond childhood, you have lost HOPE in some sense, at some point in your life.  When we lose HOPE we are overcome with feelings of senselessness, purposelessness, and despair, discouragement, depression.  The energy is just sucked right out of our lives.  Lack of HOPE can actually destroy our very lives.

  • Maybe you have a memory of driving away from the only friends you’ve ever had to move to a new town, a new school, and a totally new life … one NOT of your choosing.
  • Maybe it was when your favorite sports team got so far behind in points that there was no HOPE of them winning.
  • Maybe it was a little more serious …. Maybe there was time when you were without a job, and you had no money.
  • Maybe it was a health issue … where you thought there was no HOPE for you or your loved one.

During those times perhaps you were tempted to take the advice of Job’s wife, who told Job to “Curse God and die.”

But let me interrupt that thought process with this truth:  for the Christian, life is essentially a life of HOPE.  And that is what I want to talk about today.  The HOPE we have as children of God.

Ephesians 2:12 and 13 says, “Once you lived in this world without God and without HOPE.  But now you have been united with Christ.  Once you were far away from God, but NOW you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no HOPE.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “That is why we never give up.  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we 

cannot see will last forever.”

HOPE is to the human spirit what oxygen is to the physical body.  

The word HOPE occurs some 52 times in the New Testament alone. And if you take the time to look up those 52 passages you will find that it ALWAYS is connected in some way to God.

God is the author of HOPE, Romans 15:13 tells us, “I pray that God, the source of HOPE, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

FOUR things to observe:

  1. God is the source of HOPE
  2. When you have God’s HOPE, you will be filled with joy and peace
  3. That joy and peace will be a result of TRUSTING in Him.
  4. If you learn to trust Him, confident HOPE will overflow in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

HOPE connects us with the future just as memories connect us with the past.

We reflect on our past through our memories … we think back on what happened.  Through our memories we en-vision our past.

HOPE helps us envision our future.   How do we know what will happen in the future?  We have HOPE, which is placed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure there might be valleys in our future, just as there were valleys in our past.  But the HOPE we have in Christ Jesus should make us realize that some day we will stand on the Holy Mountain of God, reigning with Christ, beautifully adorned as bride for the bridegroom.  Worshiping God, praising God, dwelling with God.  That is what HOPE does for us.

One of the definitions I read for HOPE stated, “HOPE is desire, with the expectation of getting what is desired.  One cannot HOPE for that which he neither desires or expects to receive.”

Sometimes HOPE can be misplaced.  David wrote:  “Some nations boast in their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.  Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm.”  (Psalm 20:7-8)

  • There are those who HOPE to receive eternal life in heaven without acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
  • There are those who HOPE to grow in Christ without reading His word or going to God in prayer on a regular basis.
  • There are those who HOPE to live happy lives even though they are in rebellion to God.
  • All these are misplaced HOPEs, false HOPEs, HOPEs that our not founded and based in God.
  • Life can be difficult and harsh, and there are times we may think that it will not get better.  But there is HOPE, true HOPE in Christ, and there is true HOPE no where else.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.16.05 PMNo matter what our situation, HOPE is there, that HOPE that is Jesus Christ.  The angel Gabriel gave this HOPEful assurance to Mary in Luke 1:37:

  • “For no word from God will ever fail.”  (NIV)
  • “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  (KJV)
  • “For God can do all things.”  (New Life Version)
  • “For nothing is impossible with God.”  (NLT)
  • “ … every word shall not be impossible with God.”  (Wycliffe)
  • “But God can do anything.”  (Worldwide English NT)
  • “For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.” (Phillips Translation)
  • “God can do anything!”  (Easy-To-Read Bible)
  • “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” (Amplified Version)

Warfare and Building

Spiritual building and spiritual warfare go hand-in-hand.  Jesus is the Master Builder.  He is building a spiritual Kingdom … the Church, and we are “co-laborors” with Him in the building process.

Simultaneously, we are under attack.  While we are working with Jesus we are being constantly attacked by His enemy and ours.

The juggling act – of building and warring – are beautifully described in the Old Testament book written by Nehemiah.  Take a look at the first three chapters of his book to get some context and then dive into this:

You must understand that you have an enemy!   You didn’t pick the fight.  You don’t deserve to be attacked.  BUT YOU HAVE AN ENEMY, NONETHELESS!  His name … or names … are many!    (Abaddon [Hebrew name for Satan meaning “Destruction”], the Accuser of the brothers, the Adversary, an Angel of light, the Antichrist, the Beast, Beelzebub, the Deceiver, the Devil, the Dragon, the Enemy, the Evil one, the Father of lies, the God of this age [or this world], the Lawless one, Liar, Lucifer, the Man of sin, Murderer, the Prince of the power of the air, a Roaring lion. Satan, the Serpent of old, the Tempter, the Thief, and the Wicked one.)

Jesus told His disciples in Luke 10:18 that He saw Satan “… fall from heaven like lightening” when God banished him from the throne room.

Your enemy, Satan, hates you because God loves you.  Satan’s a liar and a killer.  He loves to murder the innocent, slaughter the weak, poison the hungry, sicken the healthy, and lay waste to children and ruin futures.  He inspires all evil and all wickedness, and he’s so deceptive … he will make everything he does appear to be the work of God.  Peter said of him:  (1 Peter 5:8) Stay alert!  Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

AND don’t let anyone tell you he is a toothless lion.  He is not!  Peter called him a “great enemy.”   And making fun of him is not going to weaken him in the least.  If you want some biblical advice about how to think of Satan, the devil, look at Jude.  8 In the same way, these people — who claim authority from their dreams — live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings.  9 But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.)  10 But these people scoff at things they do not understand.  Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.  11 What sorrow awaits them!

I personally know people who once made light of Satan, called him things like “old slewfoot,” and shrugged him off.  They are now broken people, still healing from wounds brought about because they didn’t understand just who they were dealing with!

You are Satan’s prize … or rather, the prize is your eternal soul.  God wants to save it.  Satan wants to destroy it.  It’s as simple and as complex as that!  And he will never fight fair.  In case you were wondering, that’s why life is unfair.  He’s prideful and arrogant.  He steals and destroys.  He’s angry at God and takes it out on you!  You are in a war, and in this war – with the biggest stakes imaginable, there will be casualties!  DON’T BE ONE!

Matthew 24:9-12 –  9“Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.  10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other11 And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Those of the words of Jesus!

I want to take you to the book of Nehemiah, because it’s a story of God’s people at war while at the same time, building.  Isn’t that a good and appropriate picture of the Church of Jesus Christ around the world?  We are all warring and building, building and warring.  We’ll take a look at Nehemiah 4:11-23.

First, you need to KNOW YOUR ENEMY!  In Nehemiah 4:11-12 – 11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”  12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!”  

Our enemy, Satan and his minions, are described this way in Ephesians 6.   Ephesians 6:1212 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

And in 2 Corinthians 7:5-65 When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us.  We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.  6 But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

Second, look at how Nehemiah defends the work of God and the people of God!  The principle is that YOU MUST BE EQUIPPED FOR BATTLE!

 Nehemiah 4:13 – 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas.  I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.

Ephesians 6:10-1311 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.   13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 

Next, (Third) you should UNDERSTAND … THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S!   Nehemiah 4:14 – 14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy!  Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10 – 10 Be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power.   The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 24:8 – Who is the King of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty; the LORD, invincible in battle.

Fourth, DON’T BE CAUGHT OFF GUARD!    Don’t go into battle unequipped!  And don’t be caught unaware by the enemy!  In Nehemiah 4:17b – 18a it reads:  17B   The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.  18A All the builders had a sword belted to their side … 23B …We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.

Paul give a warning and then informs us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 – 11 so that Satan will not outsmart us.   For we are familiar with his evil schemes.

If and when you become familiar with the way Satan attacks, you’ll understand how important it is to be “armored” (7 components) in the battles.  Paul describes God’s means of protecting us and arming us in Ephesians 6:14-17 – 14 Stand your ground, putting on (1) the belt of truth and (2) the body armor of God’s righteousness.  15 For (3) shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  16 In addition to all of these, (4) hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  17 (5) Put on salvation as your helmet, and take (6) the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here’s a key verse … one to memorize for the days you find yourself under attack:  Psalm 144:1 – Praise the LORD, who is my Rock.  He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle.

And remember this:  VIGILANCE IS THE KEY TO VICTORY!  Look at Nehemiah 4:23 – 23 During this time, none of us — not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me — ever took off our clothes.  We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.

You see this principle of vigilance described in Ephesians 6:18 – 18 (6) Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.   (7)Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Think about this.  There are two major factors involved in living the life of a follower of Jesus:

  • Building – Your primary purpose is to advance the Kingdom of God.  Your enemy wants to stop the building!  Jesus said He would build His Church, and you are (1) part of that building, you are (2) a co-builder with Christ.  Nothing is built unless someone is willing to count the cost of the building and for the building.  If we build wisely, things last and are very fulfilling.
  • Battling – No battles are won unless you armor up, organize your troops, and make sure you’re ready for battle.  There is no neutrality in spiritual warfare.

We are MORE than conquerors in Christ because He give us the means to victory!

Anyone Seen Lazarus Lately

I was studying the book of John, and came across this in chapter 11, verse 33:  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled.

Then, in verses 35-37, the Lord’s humanity is beautifully depicted.  The words are important.  He was more than sympathetic.  He was deeply moved.  He felt their pain and grief even though He would soon relieve it.  Look at this:

35 Then Jesus wept.  36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!”  37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man.  Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”

The question has been asked since time began.  “Why didn’t God …?”  You can fill in the blank.  Or, “Where was God when ….?”

God hates death.  Death was and is the wage of sin, and it terrorizes the human family.  Sin wasn’t God’s idea, and the impact sin has on our world and our individual lives wasn’t God’s desire.  His desire has and will always be a loving relationship with each one of us.  But sin did come into the world, in spite of God’s warnings.  (We won’t go there now, but have you ever thought why the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was put in the Garden.  In a phrase, “No tree, no choice, no freedom to choose, no life [only existence as a puppet or robot], and no real love.”  Think about it, and we’ll talk about it some other day.)

Paul wrote in Romans 3:2323 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Then he wrote in Romans 6:2323 For the wages of sin is death …”

Eventually Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus.  But even after being miraculously raised from the grave, Lazarus would still be held in death’s power.  He would die again.  We know that.  Has anyone seen Lazarus lately?  Where’s Lazarus?

Jesus is not a passive bystander in this Death narrative of Lazarus … or of the human race.  He came to destroy the works of the devil.  The worst result of Saran’s work is Death.  This enemy (Death) and Jesus are standing face-to-face in this chapter.   And see it!!  He is deeply moved.  And He’s angry.  But He’s not at Lazarus, or his sisters, or the mourners.  His strong feelings are reserved for Death, and behind Death, Satan.

Take a look at the original language version of John 11:33.  Iησους ουν ως ειδεν αυτην κλαιουσαν και τους συνελθοντας αυτη ιουδαιους κλαιοντας ενεβριμησατο τω πνευματι και εταραξενεαυτον

Enebrimesato (ενεβριμησατο) is from the classical Greek, and it is a word used to describe the snort of a horse in war or in a race.  When it was used for humans it was usually translated as outrage, fury, or anger!  It’s a word that’s typically used to indicate an outburst of anger.  When you add the word etaraxen (εταραξεν), Jesus was not only outraged but “troubled!”

And He was troubled heauton (‘eαυτον) in Himself!  No outside force is acting on Him.  He was stirring Himself, from way down deep inside … down in His spirit.  He was stirring Himself to battle Lazarus’ enemy, Death.

In John 11, the long struggle between good and evil comes into focus.   The many years of Satan’s assault on the human race troubled Jesus in His spirit and He desired to put an end to the horrors of Death which plagued and plague the Human Family.

The war … the conflict began in the Garden of Eden!   The struggle involves every man, woman and child from Adam on.   No wonder the Lord groaned and snorted and was troubled!   He feels the sorrows and pains of His children … His friends … His followers … and the whole human race.  In effect, Mary and Martha’s trouble became His own.

Friends feel each other’s pain, but Jesus is more than a friend!  He took and still takes upon Himself the sorrows of all of us!   Take a good look at Isaiah 53:3 – 6: 

He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.  4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;  it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Lazarus’ enemy, Death, was also Jesus’ enemy!   But Lazarus, Martha and Mary could not stand on their own before Satan and Death.   They had no power to stand against the power of such an enemy.  Satan’s opposition to Lazarus was another of his efforts to destroy God’s creative purposes.   The enemy of man is in reality the opponent of God!

Satan uses darkness, deception and death.   Jesus combats him by the power of the Resurrection.

The next time you wonder, “Where was God when this innocent child was abused?” or “Where is God while all these people in Somalia are ruthlessly starved by warlords?” or “Where is God in my battle with cancer?” and a thousand other questions … read John 11.  God is there!  Present.  And His solution to Death and evil and disease is always the same:  Life!  Resurrection!  But resurrection and life may not come in the way you thought, or even hoped.  But it will come!

How To Amaze Jesus

How To Amaze Jesus

I don’t think that it comes as a surprise to us today that people coming in contact with the unique Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, were amazed by Him.  The miracle worker, healer, and teacher extraordinaire consistently amazed the crowds.  Here’s one example.  In Matthew 7:28-29 you’ll read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

But this is a stunner:  on two occasions the Bible says that Jesus was amazed!  That’s right, Jesus was amazed … as in astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, staggered, and the always brilliant Shakespearian King James version … taken aback!

Have you ever pictured Jesus with a stunned look on His face?  A look that says, “Wow!”

Look at Mark 6.  (Second book in the New Testament, sixth chapter)

1 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples.  2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

There it is again.  People were amazed … even in His hometown of Nazareth.

“Where did this Man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”  5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.   (Matthew 13:58 says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”)  6 And He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus was amazed!  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

How you view Jesus will dramatically effect your confidence in Him, your beliefs about God and truth (Jesus claimed God was His Father, and that He – Jesus – was the Truth), and your opinions on miracles and healing (did they, and can they happen in real life?).  Your perspective of the Carpenter of Nazareth will, according to Jesus Himself, determine whether or not you have a soul-saving, life-changing relationship with His Father (John 14:1-14).

The people in Nazareth saw Jesus as ORDINARY!  No one special.  They were familiar with Jesus.  He was just one of the guys.  Just one of Mary’s children.  A carpenter … and the son of an ordinary carpenter.  So …

What do expect from ORDINARY?  What do you expect from a carpenter’s son?  (Furniture … or maybe farm equipment?)

Here’s a lesson in human nature:  The tendency is that if you grow up with someone, and you compare them to your ordinary self, you’ll tend to expect little of them … or yourself, or your peers.  That’s why all of us are surprised when one of the gang makes it big.  All of us are surprised when someone we perceive as “like us” does something beyond us.

And that’s when our ego responds.  Psychologically … we get offended … and the reason we do is because the peer that rises above us brings awareness to our lack of accomplishment.  Because we’re in the habit of comparing ourselves with ourselves and our peers and our relatives … when someone outdoes us, selfish-humankind that we are – we get offended.

And why do we do that?  Because we’re made to feel small in our own eyes.  The Greek word here for “offended” means “to be repelled because of unmet expectations.”  (The Nazarenes had low expectations of Jesus  – so they were repelled by Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, and His power to perform miracles!)

Jesus was amazed one other time in His life.  Take a look at this (Luke 7 – third book in the New Testament, seventh chapter):

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.  2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal His servant.  4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, “This man deserves to have You do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him:  “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9 When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Because the Centurion grasped WHO Jesus was … and that all the power of heaven was behind Him … and because the Centurion understood that Jesus had power in and of Himself (!!) … he knew that all Jesus had to do was COMMAND the sickness to leave his servant’s body – and it would be done!

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had power.  The Nazarenes thought Jesus was ordinary.

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had authority. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was “upity.”

The Centurion recognized that faith in Jesus was the key.  The Nazarenes thought their disbelief was the smart (or safe) position to take.

So … Who do you have more in common with, the Centurion or the Nazarenes?  Are you willing to stand alone, with confidence in Jesus?  Or must you stand with the crowd where it’s safe?  Taken to the extreme:  Is Jesus God in the flesh, the Savior of the World … or was He another insane false messiah?

Think about it.



Living Proof

I like seeing a fresh coat of paint on things, so I thought I’d give this birdbath that we have on our deck a nice coat just a few weeks ago.  The problem was … is … rather than taking a wire brush or sandpaper to it, I just spray painted over the old paint.  I got lazy.

Now that it has been out in the weather for a few weeks – in the rain and the heat – I am starting to see little flecks … the imperfections and bubbles that indicate that the rust didn’t go away on its own.  There’s evidence the “cover-up” didn’t work.  I know that it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to have to paint again!

Isn’t that a good snapshot of how most of us have lived since we decided to become a Christ follower?  You know, content to just spray-paint over rust?  We … me included …  just sprayed a coat of religion over our old selves and called it good.

If you did what I did, we were just kidding ourselves.  Since then we’ve learned, haven’t we, that we can go to church, sing the songs, say “God bless you,”  think we’re okay … maybe even righteous … but … WHEN stuff begins to happen … real life … when someone rubs us the wrong way, or says something we don’t like – suddenly that coat of paint begins to chip off and the real person underneath the cosmetic cover rises to the surface and attacks back.

The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, that we need to let Christ sand us way down to the bear metal, in order to cover us with His way of thinking and acting.

Shouldn’t there be a difference between a person who says they are a Christ-follower and a person who is not following Christ?  When somebody … you or me, for example … chooses to do life God’s way, shouldn’t our lives look and sound like He is the primary Influencer of our thoughts, attitudes and actions?

According to Paul, there should be a stark, even sobering difference between those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, the Savior, and us!  But how do we go about the daily business of living for Jesus?

Here’s what Paul wrote (Ephesians 4:17-31):

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this:  Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.  18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him.  19 They have no sense of shame.  They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ.  21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies.  Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.  26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”  Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing.  Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.  29 Don’t use foul or abusive language.  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Have you ever noticed how many times the Scriptures tell us that if we want Jesus to transform our lives we must allow Him to transform our minds?  Read it for yourself in Romans 8:7 –  “That the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God.”   The mind is the battle-ground for our actions – for how we live.  Our constant challenge is found in Colossian 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

If we are committed to living a Christ-centered life, then we must make a choice to surrender our mind, our thought-life, our decision-making processes to God.  We don’t “dumb down.”  Christ-followers change their minds.  And for our minds to change we must make a decision.  In verse 17 of Ephesians 4 it says, “Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.”  We are asked to make a decision.  We are being encouraged to not only make a decision to love Jesus … but to live for Him as well.

You do realize that even the devil believes in Jesus?  Wrap your mind around THAT!  In fact, Satan is smart enough to tremble at the mention of His name while many people take His name in vain, or use it as a curse.

Believing in Jesus is not enough.  Our belief of Him and in Him should lead us to make a decision that WE WILL CHANGE!  WE MUST CHANGE!

The source of our changed life is God’s power let loose in us (vs. 23), but the goal of a changed life is the positive way we treat each other.  How we care for and treat others is a measure of living a life of love … living a life for Jesus.  Remember, He said, So now I am giving you a new commandment:  Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.”

Our lifestyle is supposed to be “living proof” that we love Jesus.

Think about that!

“If Christ were here now …”

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name – Mark Twain – is one of the most beloved authors and humorists in America’s history.   He wrote some classics:  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and more.

I found a great story about Mark Twain at the SermonCentral website.   The story goes that Twain “… loved to go fishing, but he hated to catch fish.   The problem was he went fishing to relax, and catching fish ruined his relaxation, since he had to take the fish off the hook and do something with it.   When he wanted to relax by doing nothing, people thought he was lazy, but if he went fishing he could relax all he wanted.   People would see him sitting by the river bank and they would say, ‘Look, he’s fishing, don’t bother him.’

“So Mark Twain had the perfect solution:  he would take a fishing pole, line, and a bobber, but he wouldn’t put a hook on the end.  He would cast the bobber in the water and lay back on the bank.  That way he could relax all he wanted and he would be bothered neither by man nor fish.

“Mark Twain is like a lot of Christians I know.  They have their pole in the water, but there is no hook on the end.  They are not fishing; they are relaxing.

“Do you think this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’? (Matthew 4:19)”

Whoa!

By the way … Mark Twain didn’t speak well of organized religion, hated hypocrisy (especially when it was evidenced in his own life), and thought the Christians of his day were not representing Jesus at all.  He once said, “If Christ were here now there is one thing He would not be – a Christian.”

Think about that for a minute.

Now that you’ve thought about it, if you claim to be a Christ-follower, are you good at it?  Does that claim make your life different … better, more loving, compassionate, generous, and concerned about the eternal impact your life has on others?  Do you look like Jesus in any way (and I’m not talking about robes and sandals)?  Do you sound like Him?  Good questions, aren’t they?

If you aren’t a follow of Jesus Christ, consider this:  Jesus didn’t come to this world to create a religion or philosophy.   He came to build a bridge to God, His Father.  He came to make it possible for us to have a close and eternal relationship with God … something God wanted!  Jesus was crucified by the people of His day, not just because He was so different, or that He pointed the religious people of His day as hypocrites.  His death on the Cross was part of God’s plan to save Mankind from a lost, God-less eternity … and to give us LIFE, here, and now.

Think about that for a minute.

Now … what are you thinking?

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge - to Christ, Spiritual Maturity, and Hope to the World

The Bridge.  A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation.  By the way … I’m that new pastor.  I took the position in October, and it’s been great!  I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.

Maybe you noticed the logo caption.  We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus.  We will never change the message!  It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN!  And coming King!

While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”

Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money.  The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?”  Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”

The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out.  If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out.  If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead)  tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”

It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things!  I want to hang out with people like those I described above.  I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.

Sounds idealistic?  Sounds impossible?  I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge.  Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.

Give me some feedback!  What did I leave out of my vision.  That’s an honest question.  I want to know.