Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January's Article

I Am Resolved

A new year dawns and an old one passes away. This time of year we often make promises for the upcoming year. These promises, or 'resolutions', usually reflect our goals and desires for the next twelve months. Whether it be to lose pounds, stop a bad habit, or start a good one, our resolutions define for us what our ideal self is. Unfortunately, as far too many of us know, these promises are fragile and are all too easily broken.

This upcoming year I would like to propose that we as a congregation make a resolution. In fact, it can be the only resolution you make this year. That's right, just ONE resolution. It's my opinion that if we keep this resolution, we will have one of the most spiritually fulfilling years ever in the history of our body of believers. (NOTICE: I said "spiritually" not physically. God doesn't see things the same way the world does.) What resolution could carry such promise? What could we possibly resolve to do that would bless this corner of the Kingdom so greatly?
The answer is found tucked away in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. As he strives to promote unity in a congregation that struggles with everything from false teachers to marital infidelity to the abuse of spiritual gifts, he reminds them of the secret to his success in planting the assembly at Corinth: "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2 NIV). Why such an extreme resolution? "so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (v. 5). The point Paul is making is simply this: if you trust in yourself or some other earthly person, you will fail in what really matters. If you put your trust in God, you will succeed.

If we determine to know nothing except the gospel message of Jesus, God will grant us everything we need in life (remember that whole "seek ye first..." promise in the Sermon on the Mount?) If we determine to know everything through the lens of Christ, we will be able to accomplish whatever God desires for us (Phil. 4:13). When we focus on God's ability rather than our inability and His strength as opposed to our weakness, we will see God's power perfected in us (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we determine to know only Jesus, we will make decisions according to God's will and act according to His purpose.

There is a catch however. Paul's use of the word "resolve" is tricky to define into English. It carries the connotation of a conscious decision that requires critical thinking (the Greek word is, in fact, the root word for critical). In other words, Paul "chose" to know only Jesus. It was a conscious choice that required constant effort. The same will be true of our resolution. We must choose Jesus. We must "determine" (the NAS and NKJV translation of the same word) to be steadfast. We have to look at the world and look at the cross, weigh the options, and choose the cross. Then, and only then, will we truly succeed at being resolved.

Until Next Time,

Monday, December 15, 2008

"And the Word Became Flesh"

What is a word? Is it significant? What power does it hold?

These are powerful questions; important questions. Their answers are staggering. It was by the power of a spoken word that the universe was made (see Genesis 1-2). It is by the hearing of the word that we are saved (cf. Romans 10). We all know that words are imbued with power. We have all felt the sting of insults and the warmth of well-spoken compliments. History has been altered by words spoken emotionally, rashly or ill-advisedly. "Give me liberty or give me death" echoed in the hearts of the original American patriots while English resolve during WWII was strengthened by Churchill's, "never, Never, NEVER give up!" What Christian has not been comforted by Jesus' words in John 14 or heartened by David's 23rd Psalm? The word is an alarmingly powerful thing and when we speak of God's Word, the power is limitless.

So what is a word? It's an expression. It's a communication. It's the attempt to convey an idea into something tangible and real. Now consider John's phrase in John 1:14, "the Word became flesh..." All the power of God's Word wrapped in swaddling cloths. The ultimate expression of the Divine idea of love is contained in the weak fleash of a newborn baby. All this power, all this love, all this expression, wrapped in the most unlikely of packages. Why? So that God could communicate His love for us in a way we would understand. Flesh to flesh. Face to face. Mouth to ear. The Word became flesh.

The next time you see a nativity set up, whether it's in front of a church or in a store display, I pray you will recall the mystery of the Word becoming flesh. God did this so that he could "dwell" among us (John 1:14b). I love the KJV translation: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us." The tabernacle is where God said He would meet His people and communicate His will for them. When Jesus came in the flesh the message is clear. God is communicating His will for us and He desires to meet with us. That's the message of the baby in a manger. That's the message of Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What have we become?

In the past year there have been some very disturbing news stories that reveal much of what we have become as a nation. In June of 2008 a story aired on Fox News that showed video surveillence of a hit and run during which a 78 year old man was hit by one of two cars that were "racing" each other through downtown Hartford, CT. What appalled me was that this man lay in the street for over 3 minutes while over 30 people walked past without assisting him. Later, in July of 2008, another story got my attention that reported how a woman in a Brooklyn, NY emergency room collapsed. She lay on the floor for over an hour before a nurse finally walked over and discovered she was deceased. Once again, what raised my eyebrows was that in this crowded waiting room no one got up to help her. Most recently, what comes to mind is the poor man trampled to death on Black Friday as he opened the doors to his neighborhood Wal-Mart. I am most baffled by the shoppers' reaction to the news that the store was closing due to the death. They were actually angry, not because of their own carelessness, but because they had waited so long to get inside the store and were now being forced to leave.

All this leads me to the conclusion that in many ways, America has become a self-centered society. All the new, technological toys that we buy that range from the incessantly ring cell-phones to the blackberries that dominate our minute to minute activities, serve only to insulate us from the concerns of others. Our thoughts become dominated by the "me" mentality. Who's calling ME? Who's texting ME? What's on MY agenda for the day? What's going to interrupt MY schedule? How dare they inconvenience ME? The death at Wal-Mart is a loud condemnation of our selfish, consumer driven, self-serving mentality. But should we expect anything more from a society that sacrifices the unborn on the altar of convenience and tries to teach us, through public schooling, that we descended from animals and are therefore driven by a "survival-of-the fittest" mindset?

Now the question arises, "Is there any hope?" Well the answer is both good and bad. It's good because there is hope. The Bible clearly teaches that our focus is to be on God first ("Seek first HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness...") on others second ("regard others as more important than yourselves...") and, finally, ourselves. So there is hope. But the negative side of this answer comes in trying to get the self-centered person to see the sense of putting God first, others second and yourself last. The self-centered person is focused on pleasing himself, serving himself and looking out for the good of himself, and thus, consequently, they do not wish to focus on someone else's will for them. Such inward focus leads to a calloused approach to life. If any good comes of these astounding stories perhaps it's a tool to pierce through the calloused heart and open the eyes of a nation to see just what we have become.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

December's Article

No Ordinary Night

It was just another night, until the first pangs of labor struck. With all the usual efforts and pains that accompany birth, a child is born. But this is not just another child. No, this is a child who was prophesied about, who was eagerly anticipated, not merely by his family, but by a nation and by the world. This child would revolutionize how man perceives God and how God relates to man. This child was the "anointed one", the "Prince of Peace" and "Immanuel: God with Us." Yes, this was an extraordinary child.

It was just another night as nearby shepherds tended their flocks. The faint bleating of sheep is the only sound that disturbs the cool night air. Weather-worn men, weary from a day's work, prepare to bed down for the night when the sky explodes. A cacophony of music dispels the quiet as the brightest of light chases darkness away. Men accustomed to dealing with dangers ranging from wild beasts to armed thieves now shake in absolute terror as an army of heavenly beings proclaim the birth of God's own Son. It's as if God is proclaiming that He is the God of everybody, from the pious, religion-minded priests down the social ladder to the blue-collar, work-every-single-day-of-the-week, shepherd. Yes, this was an extraordinary proclamation.

It was just another night, until God stepped into flesh. He traded a throne for a bed of hay; the songs of angels for the bleating of cattle; the streets of gold for the dirt-packed streets of the first-century. now instead of robes of white linen, he was wrapped in the rough homespun of swaddling cloths. Instead of the riches of heaven, he saw the poverty of his earthly parents. Instead of assuming the all-powerful role as the creator and sustainer of the universe, he sacrifices everything to become as helpless as a newborn babe. Yes, this is an extraordinary God.

It was just another night, until Christmas came, then it was extraordinary.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stolen Symbols

The hype is finally starting to die down after a truly historical election. I wanted to wait to write my thoughts down because I didn't want my objectivity skewed by emotions. America has watched a man with great charisma, eloquence and influence win the highest office in the land despite a short record and very serious questions as to his qualifications. Now, I am not going to waste my time bashing our future president, but I can't help but wonder, how in the world did this happen?
Everyone has a theory. Some say it's a knee-jerk reaction to an unpopular president/war/political party. Others feel it's due to a questionable economy. Yet others feel it's a sign of the times as America drifts further into a post-Christian culture. I think all of these have some veracity to them, but ultimately, I think America chose someone that made them feel better. Love him or hate him, Obama has a command of language that captures an audience and holds them in his sway. As I watched him give his acceptance speech, I saw a man with great passion deliver a message that moved many to tears, others to applause, and others to solemn reflection. His was a campaign of hope, and that struck a chord with the American people.

Hope. People are thirsting for it. They thirst so much, that they are willing to drink whatever this man offers in the name of hope. But the hope they thirst after is not a hope that any politician can fill. They may hope for a "better America" or a "better economy" or merely a "better president," but their hope will go unfulfilled. For the hope that the human soul longs after is not one born of this physical world. The only hope that will slake the thirsting of our souls is the hope offered in Christ Jesus.
Do we want a better America? Then reach people with the true Message of Hope: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Changed lives are what will change America. Changed hearts are what will alter her course. Changed souls are what will turn her back to God. Changed policies and an idealism based on pure personality will never change America for the better.

Obama ran a campaign based on a theme stolen from Christianity. I don't believe he stole it on purpose, but he did realize that the chord of hope resonates deep within our souls. This world is stealing the symbols of our message and redefining them for their own purposes. The sign of God's protection to Noah, the rainbow, has been distorted to become a symbol of the homosexual movement. The cross, while a symbol of God's love for us, has become to many nothing more than a stylish piece of jewelery. And now the symbol of hope has been reduced to a campaign slogan. Obama may say he supports a woman's "reproductive rights," but in reality he supports state-sanctioned murder. He may support gay rights, but what he is advocating is the degeneration of the divine institution of marriage and the family. Why all the verbal gymnastics? Obama wants to be politically correct and popular. What he doesn't realize is the spiritual reality of what he is saying/doing. Satan is redrawing the battle lines by redefining terms. Why? To confuse the message of Christ. To make Christ-followers look intolerant, insensitive and out-of-touch. Now, more than ever, we must make sure we speak plainly on moral issues while offering God's message of grace and mercy.

Let's take back our symbols. Let's proclaim a true hope. A hope that says we serve a God that changes hearts and lives everyday. Now there's a change we can believe in. We have to if we are to have any hope for the future.

Hoping in Christ,

Friday, October 31, 2008

November's Article

Fall Splendor

The air is crisp and clear. The bright hues of gold, amber and vermilion warm your vision as the breeze cools your skin. Autumn has arrived in all its splendor. While I will always be a summertime boy, my artist’s heart loves the palette of the fall season. It’s almost as if God is saying, “Behold my handiwork and know that I am God.”
What I find even more astounding is that God accomplishes this metamorphosis to brilliant reds, oranges and yellows through the process of the leaf dying. As a tree prepares for its winter hibernation, it ceases all non-essential activity including producing nutrients for leaves. The result: a kaleidoscope of color that causes people to travel up and down the Appalachian Mountains oohing, aahing, snapping pictures and collecting leaves. Even in their deaths, leaves declare the glory of their Maker.
What a great reminder of God’s purpose for our lives. Through our daily dying to self (see Galatians 5:24) we glorify God. Every time we say ‘no’ to sin and ‘yes’ to God we declare our Maker’s praise. When we choose to walk with a cross (cf. Luke 14:27) rather than the way of the world, we testify to God’s holy standard. When we place God’s desires before our own, our lives flood the world around us with the colors of God’s glory.
Paul put it much more eloquently. Rather than comparing us with dying leaves, he compared us to jars of clay. In 2 Corinthians chapter four Paul described our earthly bodies to earthenware vessels. The comparison is a good one. Both are fragile, easily broken, and, compared to eternity, short-lived. But God placed a treasure within us so that while “we are afflicted in every way…perplexed…persecuted…” and “…struck down” we would not be “crushed…despairing…forsaken…” or “…destroyed.” How is this possible? By carrying “in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (verse 10). Once again, through death (this time Jesus’) God is glorified.
Now, don’t overlook the promise in that passage. Just as Jesus conquered death, we who are in Christ will conquer death. Just as a tree will turn green and blossom come spring, we too can bloom in the resurrection of Jesus. Eternal life begins at baptism, not the grave. The joy comes in knowing that eternal life doesn’t end at the grave. To quote an old song, let us “live like we’re dying” and glorify God to everyone we encounter. And the next time you admire the beauty of a tree bedecked in its golden, autumn robe, remember, we can glorify God through anything, even death itself.

Living for Him,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"You Have Heard that it was Said..."

The Sermon on the Mount has been called the “Constitution of Christianity.” Indeed, Christ’s most famous sermon is a treatise on Christian living. In it, Jesus moves from the list of mere “dos” and “don’ts” that defines legalistic religion and addresses the attitudes of our hearts; attitudes that reflect how we feel towards God and our fellow man.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Matthew 5:17-48. Jesus begins this portion of His teaching with a purpose statement, “I have not come to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them.” He then empowers us to fulfill them. In fact, He states rather plainly that we must in order to enter His kingdom (see v.19-20). What follows is an instruction on the spirit of the law rather than the letter. The Pharisees had become experts on the letter of the law, but had forgotten the spirit of it, creating a joyless religion. Jesus came to give us joy by creating a religion based on our relationship with God rather than our adherence to a moral code, Throughout this section Jesus inserts His commentary on the law by using two distinct phrases: “You have heard that it was said…” and “But I tell you.” Remember, Jesus is not abolishing, He is fulfilling. He is making the Law complete. He knew the human tendency to restrict following God to a list of rules, and He came to correct it.
Unfortunately, history repeats itself. I often find that we are guilty of the sins of the Pharisees; we have reduced the greatness of being a Christian to a “to-do” list. I’m just as guilty as the next person. I often find myself “correcting” a wrong without encouraging the right. If Jesus were to preach to the modern Church, I can’t help but wonder what issues He would address? Please don’t assume that I claim to have some ‘special knowledge’ or insight into the mind of Christ. But what follows is based on a careful reading of the Scriptures, and I think Jesus might say something like this:

“You have heard that it was said,
‘attend church every Sunday.’
But I tell you
Walk with me everyday and live a lifestyle of worship and service.
You have heard that it was said,
‘take communion every week.’
But I tell you
Commune with me every day. Talk to me. Tell me your hopes and fears. Confess your sins and celebrate your victories with me. Listen to me. I want to teach you, correct you and encourage you. Remember me. Remember you were bought at a price. By remembering you will live a better life.
You have heard that it was said,
‘Read your Bible every day’
But I tell you
Meditate on my Word. Digest it. Let it become a part of you. It needs to permeate your mind and heart. Let it become as vital as the food you eat and the air you breathe. Hide it in your heart so that no one will ever steal it from you. Don’t just read it, experience it and put it into action.
You have heard that it was said,
‘Go and evangelize the World’
But I tell you
Love people. I mean really love them. Love them the way that I love them. Make time for them. Listen to them. Meet their needs, even if it means making a sacrifice. In doing so, you are already teaching them about me.
You have heard that it was said,
‘You must be baptized to be saved’
But I tell you
Don’t forget to love me and do not neglect your faith. The new birth that only baptism provides is useless if there is not a new heart that beats for me or a new faith that lives for me.”

Remember, Jesus did not do away with any of the commandments He addressed. He merely raised them to His standard. We need to start reaching for His standard. A standard that demands more than obedience; it demands a relationship with God.

Living for Jesus,

October's Article

What are you Wearing?

There have been many difficult tasks I have succeeded at in life. Learning an ancient language? No problem. Passing Calculus? Piece of cake. Explaining complicated Biblical truths to pre-teens? I can do it in my sleep. However, there is one task that defies my abilities, strains my nerves and drains my energy: reasoning with a four-year-old.
There I was in the wee hours of the morning sitting in my daughter’s bedroom. My older two girls were abuzz with excitement because it was the first casual day of the year, which meant no school uniforms. Savannah, however, did not appreciate the freedom to choose what to wear. No, she liked the school uniform. She saw it as a badge of honor to show that she was a “big girl” and could go to school. I picked out a favorite dress of hers to wear. She shook her head. I displayed one that Grandparents had bought for her. Still she refused. I tried to let her choose from other items in her closet. Nope, not gonna happen. I tried telling her all her uniforms were in the laundry. She didn’t care. She would rather wear dirty clothes than the dress I had chosen for her. There were tears. There were hurt feelings, but eventually I got my way.
Later, as I reflected on the frustrations of the morning, I couldn’t help but realize that God must feel the same way towards us at times. There are sins in our life that we don’t want to give up. In fact, they have been there so long that we have grown comfortable with them. I have even seen some try to wear their sins as a “badge of honor” by misapplying Romans 7 when Paul writes, “the good that I want to do I can’t, and the bad I don’t want to do, I find myself doing.” “If Paul couldn’t defeat sin,” they reason, “how can I be expected to defeat it?” The simple answer is you can’t. That was the point Paul was making. By himself, he could not overcome the sinful habits in his life. Elsewhere, however, Paul shows us that we can. In Philippians 4:13 he reveals, “I can do all things through [Christ] who gives me strength.” What an incredible promise! Sadly, we too often fail to practice the truth of this scripture. Like my daughter, we would rather wear the dirty clothes of sin than the garments of righteousness our Father has chosen for us.
In Galatians 3:27 we read that all who have been “baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.” Later, in Revelation 19:8, John records that the fine linen that makes up the wedding gown that the bride of Christ will wear is composed of the “righteous acts of the saints.” We have been given new clothes and a new identity. Let’s use that freedom in Christ to convey hope to a world that desperately needs to see it. After all, as the saying goes, “the clothes make the man.”

Until next time,