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Ephemeral Plant or Spiritual Redwood?

The yeErythronium americanum, Yellow trout-lilyllow trout lily is an ephemeral plant. The word ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading.¹ It is beautiful but it doesn’t last. Compare that to the giant redwood trees which live and thrive for hundreds of years.

Bill Easum and Tom Bandy have been involved in helping churches all over North America understand our times and themselves in relation to the mission that Jesus has given us—to make disciples. In a book, which they co-authored, called Growing Spiritual Redwoods they talk about some of the differences between “declining” and “thriving” congregations.

In these “thriving” congregations which they call “Spiritual Redwoods,” leadership is “all about letting go of control. The organization does not tell people what to do, but helps people discern their callings themselves, and then equips them to pursue those callings with excellence.” One thriving-church leader was asked, “How do you decide what ministries to begin?” She answered: “We tell people that if the Lord lays it on your heart today, you can do it tonight, and tell us about it tomorrow!”

That kind of environment, climate depends on some basic factors:

• A clear commitment to Jesus. Nothing matters except the
gospel. “The body of Christ will sacrifice anything and
everything—property, offices, financial security, traditional
music, familiar heritage—for the sake of the gospel.”
• A clear understanding of our mission (purpose)—to make
followers of Jesus (disciples). There is a passion for
transforming lives.
• Ministry is part of being a follower of Jesus.
• High expectation from each follower.
John 14:12- The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works,…

Messiah church—ephemeral plant or Spiritual Redwood? It’s up to us to decide.

¹Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
photo credit: flickr.com/

Disappointment

We rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. And hope does not disappoint. -Romans 5:2, 5

Have you ever been disappointed? If not, I would like to meet you.

It’s no fun. It can be devastating. So no one likes it.

For followers of Jesus (Christians) disappointment can be especially problematic. We can be disappointed with circumstances and events. But the disappointments often are in people. A close friend, a husband, a wife, other family members disappoint us. That can be especially painful. The church can disappoint us. But the most difficult of all disappointments is disappointment  with/in God.

But have you ever thought about the first cause of disappointment? What precedes any such experience? What is a prior necessity to your being disappointed? It begins with expectation. That is the prerequisite to disappointment.

Sometime ago I wrote about the place expectations play in the Christian gospel and life. God’s promises form a foundation for Christian understanding and living. But wrong expectations and the resulting disappointments are a great danger to faith.

Expectations that God will shield you from all difficulties, make you successful, and such are inevitably pathways to disappointment with God. And disappointment with God is of all things the worst. It can easily shut the door to real faith and confidence. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus that fulfills all our childish and sinful desires.  He does not rescue us from disappointments resulting from wrong expectations.

But our hope in what God has done for us in Jesus will not disappoint us.

 

 

Great Expectations

The people were waiting expectantly… -Luke 3:15  

“Great Expectations”

I read about a man who left a relative $1 million.  In return, the relative thoroughly cursed the man.  The reason—the man was Andrew Carnegie and he left $365 million to public charities.
This was a problem of expectations—he expected more.

One day a father told his son,
“Don’t swim in that canal.”
“O.K. Dad”
That evening he came home caring a wet bathing suit.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, sir.”
“Why did you?”
“Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?”  he asked.
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,”…

          To a great extent, our actions are determined by expectations.
So, our expectations affect our satisfaction with life and with people and how we act. Therefore it should not surprise us that expectations play a large role in our lives—spiritually. Notice the words of our text, “As the people were in expectation.”

It is no accident that promises play such a large role in God’s dealings with people and his  plan.  Every major event in the history of God’s redemptive action is preceded by a promise.  People were told over and over to expect certain actions on God’s part—at times against overwhelming odds.

God is THE God of Promise,
His People, THE people of Expectancy

The expectation often had bearing on the event.  Expectation has a close relationship to desire and is an element of faith.  How much do we want God?  What do we expect from him are important factors in our spiritual health.
It is of course  true that what happened was different from the details of what was expected—God’s surprises—but it was believing God would, as we say, “do God’s thing.”

As we have already seen, there are good and bad expectations—we might say holy and unholy ones.  The unholy ones when frustrated can cause bitterness, disappointment, frustration, and anger. Perhaps the most common form of unholy expectation is worry. Robert Frost once said, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”

But there are the holy ones—the real “Great Expectations” and they make   a profound difference in our lives. Here are some of the most basic for the believer:

EXPECT TO BE RID OF YOUR SINS. That is God’s ultimate goal for you. The angel said to Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
EXPECT RESISTANCE/OPPOSITION (In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33)
EXPECT TO GROW (Romans 5:3-5) God will take you to another stage in your journey.
EXPECT TO SEE GOD WORK. He promises daily renewal and final victory.

So in 2019, worship God with heart and mind, and spirit. Tell Him you love him. Praise His glory, His goodness.  Keep on singing, praying and listening. Do all of this with Great Expectations.

We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Unbelievable?

“they did not believe the women, because their words seemed…like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Those are some of the most telling words in the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Forever they should dispel the notion that Easter was created by the wishful thinking of gullible, unlearned, poor fishermen and such. The first reports that Jesus was alive did not seem credible to them.

These people had to be convinced that what seemed impossible to them was really true. Only when they saw him with their own eyes did they believe it. And this Jesus, once dead but now alive for ever, changed their lives and the world. He has changed me and he can change you too. Because he lives, he offers life to anyone willing to follow him.

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

It’s Holy Ground

  God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:8

 Moses had just met God through the experience of a burning bush when God spoke these words to him. The details of this experience were unique. However, spiritual experience is a universal human phenomenon.

It can produce fear, confusion, questions, peace, direction, joy and almost any other imaginable reaction positive or negative. It is often sought and sometimes intentionally evaded or avoided. It can be misunderstood and misused. It can be divine or demonic, even satanic. We have it on no less authority than Jesus.

For the Christian, spiritual experience is the life blood of a relationship with God and God’s son, Jesus.

One of the common results of an experience of God is how often it is connected to a place. There have always been places identified as sacred—places where God has shown himself or often shows himself. Chances are you have a specific time or place where you experienced God’s presence. However sometimes it is possible to be so tied to a certain place or experience that we become closed to God’s fresh presence.

And we need that fresh, that new encounter with God. It is a place where God is welcomed, expected, believed and honored. That place can be here. It can even be now, this moment. We can allow God to produce a climate an atmosphere here in Messiah Church where God is given the freedom to renew us all so that He can accomplish His purpose here. God is not confined to one place but fills with his love, wonder, and power wherever people desire Him more than all else. Will that be here? I pray it will.

One of the best places to experience God is in the presence of other followers of Jesus in a small group setting. Check out a small group at Messiah or a church near you.

 

 

This article also appears in the February Messiah Newsletter.

It Couldn’t Be Done. But God Did It.

“I bring you good news of great joy….a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10, 11

I know. I know. We’re two days past Christmas. Many people have already put away Christmas decorations or trying to figure out when they will have time to do it. There is a weariness that comes from the commercial push that started, to some extent, after Halloween and left many of us breathless. Whew! It’s all over except for maybe returning unwanted gifts and taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales.

But just maybe for those of us who have been fretting about taking Christ out of Christmas, the days after December 25th are the best time to make sure we really keep Christ in Christmas. Maybe we can find time to really listen to the story.

I have been thinking about those words of the angel to Mary, For with God nothing will be impossible.

Everything about the Christmas story is impossible!  From every important avenue, from every means of knowing, it is unbelievable, impossible.  It could not happen—but it did!  Even the little angel in JB Phillips’ story couldn’t believe it.  But the senior angle said, “But that he really went [to earth] I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that.”  The reaction to the words of shepherds was, “All who heard it wondered [were amazed] at what the shepherds told them.

I wonder if there has ever been a time when those words needed to be heard more than today—with God nothing will be impossible. What are the implications for our world? What are the implications for you personally? What are the implications for our praying, our hope, our expectations?  Most of all what does it mean for the way we live?

My challenge to myself, and to you, for 2018, is to live on the basis of the truth of those words. Whatever I face, whatever you face, God help us to remember with you “nothing will be impossible.”

It’s a Covenant

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” -Hebrews 8:10b (NIV)

For more than 200 years many Christians have begun a new year with a worship time called a “Watch Night Service.” Influenced by a Moravian practice, in 1740 John Wesley held the first Watch Night Service. It was a time of reflection, testimonies, singing, and prayer. Later Wesley would call them “Covenant Renewal Services.”

In the book of Hebrews, the writer places this statement in the context of God’s dealing with His people in the Old Testament: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10)

Few concepts or terms are more basic to the Bible story than that of covenant.  It is not a concept unfamiliar to us either, though the term may not be as common as some others—contract, agreement, deal.  God’s relation to His people (from the Biblical perspective) is a covenant relationship.  It is about a relationship governed by promises, obligations.  God is the initiator and prime determiner but His people have a part to play.

The blessings of the covenant are more than part of a ceremony. They become reality in the life of His people.

The Bible makes clear that at the heart of the covenant is God’s love. You are important to God, more important than the whole world.  And that applies not just to the saints.  Whoever you are, whatever your past or present state, even your future, God loves you.

The Old Testament story shows a people who are hard-headed, unfaithful, ungrateful, unloving, and untrustworthy who repeatedly break their promises to God and break His heart.  The book of Hosea compared them to an unfaithful wife, an adulteress.  His book is 14 chapters of sins and shameful behavior.  In dramatic fashion, God compares his love to that of a husband to an unfaithful wife:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1 NIV)

What does God say about all that?  I love you.  I have chosen you. God’s love (graciousness) is prior to everything else—our sins, our faith, our righteousness and it lasts beyond all else, in spite of all else. Even if we have been a total disaster as a person, a church; no matter how long the list of charges against us might be; how far we have left God, He is pursuing us like the “hound of heaven.”  Should we ultimately make our bed in hell, it will be over the broken pieces of God’s heart for He will still love us.

In 2017, can we assume our part of the covenant and love God back with all our heart, soul, and mind? It is my prayer for you and for myself.

 

Thanks Giving-Why?

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

A few years ago, I wrote a post (Thanks Giving Is What We Do) that was a reminder of the main reason we are to give thanks. It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible.

But there is another reason for giving thanks. Giving thanks changes us.

It brings us joy. Grateful people get more out of life.  In a best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” author and researcher Dr. Robert Emmons argues that what gives life meaning is gratitude.

Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude…. [He] found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” (www.gratitudepower.net/science)

In the Biblical record thanks giving is joy. Grace, gratitude, and joy come from the same basic Greek word. Someone has said, “Joy is what you feel when you’re grateful….[It] is the subjective experience of gratitude.” Many lack joy because they are not grateful.

As I emphasized in that earlier post that it is not just about feeling grateful but actively “giving,” expressing thanks, verbally or by deeds motivated by gratitude. In fact expressing thanks makes us grateful. Actions often precede attitudes and feelings.

Of course for those who follow Jesus, the recipient of thanks is God. Words closely connected to it are praise and magnify. Some time ago I read this:

If you were to look at the words on this page through a magnifying glass, it would not change their size, shape, or meaning in any way. All that would change would be your perception, and the words would appear larger and clearer.  So it is when you praise or magnify God. He isn’t changed, but your perception of Him is – you see Him in a new light, from a new perspective, and more clearly.1

So don’t just feel it. Say it, express it. Thank you God!

1CrossWalk.com

All In

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. -Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Recently in my daily reading these two verses caught my attention. Specifically the phrase “it is with your heart that you believe” set me on one of those “I wonder…” paths which has lasted for a couple of weeks.  I keep coming back to these questions: “Why did the apostle not just say “believe”? Why “believe in your heart” and “with your heart…you believe”? Don’t we generally connect believing with the mind, with the head? I think I do.

However, there is a problem with that. Have you ever done something and said “my heart was just not in it”? Have you ever made a statement which you accepted as true but which didn’t make a lot of difference to you? I think there are many people who accept the story of Jesus as being factual, true but which has little effect on them. As Pastor Steve put it, they’re not “invested” in it. It’s a little like someone throwing you a rope and saying “catch this or it will hit the ground” vs “catch this so I can pull you out of the river to prevent your drowning.” Both statements are true but there’s a world of difference between what they mean to me.

When the Bible uses the word heart, it is usually referring to the whole person, with all that may infer. Yes, it involves my mind but also everything else about me. To believe with my heart is to say, “I’m all in.”

As a follower of Jesus, am I all in? Are you all in?