Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Brings Hope

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”   Woody Allen

  Is there anything worse than hopelessness? I’ve been down that dead end road more times than I want to remember. It seems there is no way out, it’s futile…all hope is gone.
  Can we even then begin to imagine what the disciples and Jesus’ followers must have felt when He cried out, “It is finished!”? It was the death of hope. No wonder they hid out in the upper room. Sure, they were frightened of the Jewish leaders but I think they huddled together in mutual hopelessness.
  Jesus’ resurrection is a message of many things. One of the greatest has to be that there is hope! The greatest enemy any of us will ever face is death, yet Jesus conquered death when He arose bodily from that tomb. And with His victory, He gave us hope.
  Sadly, we’ve tamed or domesticated Easter. It’s become just another holiday. It’s often devolved into little more than Easter egg hunts or baby chicks, rabbits or ducks. It’s about new clothes or family get-togethers. BUT it’s not! Sadly, even in the Church we’ve re-made Easter into something dull and bland. I heard of a church a few years ago where on Easter the pastor threw out beach balls, making it a big party. But Easter is not about springtime and renewal. It’s not gentle or warm and fuzzy.
  Read the biblical account. The Gospels shout at us with words and phrases like “terrified,” “bowed their faces to the ground” and “amazed by what had happened.” Those followers of Jesus had just gone through an unimaginably traumatic experience. Their beloved leader, who’d been called the Messiah and the King of the Jews, had been horribly tortured by Roman soldiers in Jerusalem only three days earlier and then publicly executed by the cruel, gruesome act of nailing Him to a cross. These were the most despondent and demoralized of people. They fled and sought to not to be associated with Jesus at the end. They were nowhere to be found – leaving only a few loyal women like Mary Magdalene and His mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross.
  Author, Annie Dillard, in her book, “Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters,” catches our domestication: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return.” Easter is so awesomely powerful that we need a bomb disposal suit and a crash helmet. Easter is power beyond what we can imagine apart from Scripture and the eyes of faith, because Easter is true hope.
  Easter means that a holy God is satisfied! Jesus died to pay for our sins, the world’s sins, all sin – past, present and future. And a holy, just God is satisfied – the debt has been paid. For those who have come to the Cross and trusted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, there is no more guilt. The debt has been wiped clean. Jesus paid it all, (Romans 8:1). The only reason a believer confesses sin is for renewal of fellowship, but the relationship is secure and eternal. Nothing else needs to be done. There is absolutely no more debt to pay. “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
  Easter means that all our suffering is temporary! All of us know or have a loved one who’s suffering with a broken, decaying body. Easter reminds us there is hope, because every believer has a new and perfect body awaiting them (1 Corinthians 15:53). No more suffering, no more pain, no more sickness.
  This past week I hit a wall. Being sick for so long began wearing on me. I cried out to my Heavenly Father and began to sob because I was so weary of this sickness. Yet, my time of sickness has been so limited compared to someone who’s been disabled or born with a handicap, or dealing with cancer or some other dreaded disease. And it’s all temporary! It will all ultimately end and there is a new and glorious body awaiting every believer which we will have for all eternity!
  It also means mental anguish is temporary. Many struggle with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder or some other mental/emotional malady. They grow so weary of the struggle, longing for relief, even death. Easter means even that any and all suffering is temporary. Easter is God’s dynamite ultimately blowing all our suffering away. It means we have pure joy everlasting awaiting us!
  Easter means that our worst situations are all fleeting! God has blessed me with a wonderful marriage and family. I have the greatest job in that I have the privilege of sharing the Word each week. On top of that, God has blessed me with the privilege of being your Pastor. Yet, this joy was not always my situation. As a teen, I felt my circumstances with an addicted, volatile father and as a motherless child were eternal – they weren’t. And neither is your situation. I know some are in miserable marriages. Some carry the heartache of a wayward child or a fragmented family. Some struggle in horrendous work situations. Yet, because of family obligations or because they’re nearing retirement, they’re trapped. Yet, it’s all temporary. Someday there will be no strained or contaminated relationships. Easter is the power that shouts into our soul – “The worst of this world is transient!”
  Easter means that our sin and the curse of death are conquered! Please read 1 Corinthians 15. At the end Paul seems to shout, ““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vss. 55-57).
  Not only is the penalty of sin totally paid, the power of sin has been eradicated and ultimately, the very presence of sin will be removed. It means as I stood recently by the casket of my adopted Mom and so many other loved one through the years who have died in Jesus, it is never “Good-bye.” It is instead only “Good night! I’ll see you in the morning, that great Resurrection morning!”
  Easter is power! Power beyond anything in this broken world. Christian friend, let the Spirit unleash its power in your life (Philippians 3:10-11). Live in Easter’s power! And please share this power and the message of Easter, the only message of true hope with a dying hopeless world!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Got Compassion?

“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”   Francis Schaeffer

  It’s amazing how God works in our lives! Oftentimes, I’m staggered by how patient the Father is with me. We human beings tend to get out of balance and out of whack so easily. We swing from extreme to extreme…and I knew better…I just didn’t do better.
  At one point in my ministry, I swung to the extreme of orthodoxy versus compassion and love. Orthodoxy is so much easier. I found, too, it fed my ego more than compassion, after all, “I was right!” But sadly, I wasn’t.
  God has given me several wonderful gifts over the years to help nudge me back to spiritual balance. The one He has used most in my life is my wonderful wife, Jane. If you look up the word “compassion” in the dictionary, you’ll find Jane’s picture there as an illustration. Jane has a servant’s heart. She is consistently consistent. Sometimes I have to confess that I act more loving and compassionate than I actually feel like being.
  Maybe it’s when you are on the receiving end of compassion the Father rings a bell inside your soul. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been on the receiving end. It’s been a powerful reminder to me how important it is to know that your brothers and sisters love you and care for you. I think we assume they know…but assuming is always faulty. We also get busy and forget how important compassion is to others.
  Probably, our biggest issue as Christians at this point in history is we have allowed Satan to cause us to overreact. Our world knows so little of truth. Truth has become fluid and subjective. We live in what the prophet Isaiah described as: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). In our defense of truth, Satan has often led us to jettison compassion for “truth,” causing us to forget that while we are to cling to the truth, God doesn’t need us to defend the truth. To be candid, for most of us, truth is easier. Yet, truth without love and compassion is often brutal…at the very least, heartless and unfeeling. We forget, too, the issues we face are not new. The 1st century church faced the identical dilemma of having the truth in a world where there was little or no truth. So much so that Pontius Pilate bemoaned, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
  As I look back over my life, I can remember very, very few occasions when “truth” in the hands of another was memorable and touched my life. Yet, I’ve lost track of how many times love and compassion from a brother or sister touched my life. Compassion was like medicine for my soul.  
  Some acts of compassion I’m sure seemed so simple, the individual probably gave them little thought. But they were huge for me! Even nearly five decades later, I still remember that Bob and Joyce Collins (Bob was my Sunday School teacher when I was a boy), sent me a card every month for several months just to let me know they were thinking of me after my Mom died. Or, Bob Wroten, Dan Hardin, or Kent and Rita Richards – all of whom would frequently drive out of their way (we’re talking at least ten miles), just to give me a ride to church. Or, the anonymous individual who gave me an airline ticket when I was in Bible College, so I could go home. I didn’t have the money. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone but one day it just showed up in my mailbox at school. And I can’t tell you how many times that my soul has feasted for days, even weeks on notes of encouragement I’ve received.
  As I had no real family, I am so thankful for many of you who have made our family part of your family. We owe you an unpayable debt. For the rest of our lives, Jane and I will never forget how many of you were there for us as Ben was going through brain surgery. We were never alone at the crisis points of our lives because our family – YOU – were there.
  Yet, it’s hard to care for one another without some level of vulnerability. It was very hard for me to ask for prayer for myself when I learned I had pneumonia and was being hospitalized. It was humbling to admit I didn’t have my act all together. Yet, I knew I had to admit my need. It was the right thing to do and how could you even know how to care unless I admitted I needed care.
  Then, having others visit me in the hospital meant so much. Debbie Ranke even stopped by before her shift began to pray with me and give me a hug. She even graciously scolded me for being a workaholic…words I needed to hear. And words could never express how much I appreciated knowing I was loved and cared for.
  The bottom line is we all need care. I was truly embarrassed recently and apologized to one of our members for being so obtuse. Someone shared with me that this lady hesitated to go out at night to church events because she went home to an empty house. What a simple thing…for someone to go home with her and make sure she’s okay. Or, to at least be available for a phone call after she arrived home to know that all was well.
  Only those on the receiving end know how much it means when someone shares a meal. It’s not the meal, it reminds you that you’re loved. Or, visiting someone in the hospital or making time to go to the funeral visitation when someone has lost a loved one. It can be something as simple as knowing their name, the names of their children and taking a personal interest in their children…and even their grandchildren.
  Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). But are we? Are we known for our love for each other? Too often we let the excuse of busyness steal opportunities to share love. Yet, when we give love, guess what happens? We grow, we’re blessed, we’re fulfilled and our Father is pleased! Loving others is rarely convenient. It’s demands something too many of us greedily cling to – our time – Me time. We must make it a priority.
  And for us to love each other, we must be willing to pull aside the masks and become transparent. It could start with just some transparency about prayer needs, admitting we don’t have our act all together. We all struggle with a myriad of sins and temptations. How much more victorious we would be if we knew how to pray for one another and then did it.
  Then, share if you need help. What fun to paint a room with a brother or sister or install some gadget! Help someone plant their garden. I have lifelong friends to this day (Russ and Linda Johns) because when I was a young man, I helped them wash the walls in their home. Make cookies for a single. Open your home. Invite someone out for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after church. 
  And yes, I’m going to be a broken record. Please don’t just attend the worship service. Be part of a small group…if for no other reason than for the fellowship. Switch what service you go to for a month just so you meet brothers and sisters you don’t know. May Grace Church be known as the church where we love each other and others…and God is pleased! 

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Presidential Candidates and the War on Women

“The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive human and unaddressed human rights violation on earth.”  Jimmy Carter

  If the War on Women defenders are looking for two overlooked violators and big targets, they have them in the two leading Presidential candidates in this fall’s election. Usually, the expression War on Women refers to policies and legislation restricting abortion. The concept has rightly been criticized by pro-life individuals from both parties. There is though a War on Women and it has nothing to do with abortion. It’s about the abuse of women before and long after birth. It’s abominable two of the greatest terrorists on women are about to be our two options for the next President.
  This is not about politics. It’s about morality. It’s about right and wrong. Because these two individuals have certain political affiliations and ideologies, many of their supporters (even evangelical Christians) are about to give them a free pass. To me, that would be a terrible mistake.
 It’s very rare for me to mention someone politically. The greatest need of our world is not the next President or who we elect, it’s the Gospel. Yet, as prophets and pastors have done through the ages, some public officials are so vile and so horribly violate God’s Word and morality, they need to be called out publically. Personally, I believe it’s the case with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They already are commanders-in-chief when it comes to the War on Women.
  If he were not a Presidential candidate, this nearly seventy-year old would be dubbed a “dirty old man.” The fact he was interviewed by shock jock, Howard Stern, speaks volumes. In the interview, Trump not only admitted he was a draft dodger but qualified it by saying the danger he faced from getting some sexually transmitted disease was his own “personal Vietnam…I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” He recounted that he was lucky not to have contracted diseases when he was sleeping around. The man is both a sexist and misogynist.
  His infidelity which resulted in the break-up of his marriage to then wife, Ivana, is well-known. Ultimately, he married his mistress, Marla Maples, after committing adultery for several years. That marriage too fell apart a few years later. He stalked Princess Diana, bombarding her with expensive floral arrangements after her divorce from Prince Charles and publicly regretted not being able to date her in his 1997 autobiographical book. After his divorce, in 1998, he began a relationship with Slovenian-born fashion model, Melania Knauss. Seven years later, he finally married her.
  It’s common knowledge Donald Trump is a serial adulterer. The public record of his cheating ways is well documented. This is a man who’s broken two marriage vows (so far) while flaunting his adultery in the faces of his then-wives. His values are penciled in by him to suit whatever whims he desires. He’s profited off strip clubs and appeared on the cover of the nation’s pre-eminent porn magazine, Playboy. Despite his recent, transparently phony piety, he holds nothing sacred. When asked if he’d ever asked God for forgiveness, Trump replied, “Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes?” If a man’s wife can’t trust him to keep his vows, why would a nation trust him to keep his oath of office?
  It’s not Hillary Clinton’s fault that her husband probably has the worst record of immorality in the history of the Presidency. It is her fault though that she not only defends him, she viciously attacks the very ones he’s victimized. It was under his Presidency terms about sex which were once whispered in dark alleys became the fodder of the evening news. Parents had to turn off the television or usher children out of the room just to watch the news. All the while, the woman who wouldn’t be demeaned by baking cookies, demonized countless women and young girls her husband had used and then thrown out like the evening trash.
  Why are the foot soldiers in the War on Women willing to close their eyes to such grievous sexual harassment? How could any mother with a daughter vote for the wife of a man who destroyed an impressionable twentysomething girl who was taken advantage of by the most powerful man in the world while working as an intern in the White House. Instead of reporting his crimes of sexual harassment, White House staff moved the victim from the White House to the Pentagon.
  Then, in a very carefully orchestrated smear campaign, this young intern was branded “a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, that woman.” Hillary, the great crusader in the War on Women called Monica Lewinsky “a narcissistic loony tune.” What if it had been her daughter? What if it had been Chelsea?
  Rather than rushing to defend and assist the victim, the First Lady blamed the victim. She sacrificed Monica on the altar of her political career, a carefully crafted political career the Clintons had built over decades while crushing women they were supposed to protect…because Bill can’t control his sexual urges. The only difference in my mind between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton is that to my knowledge, Clinton has never drugged his victims. Yet, as there has been a national shaming of Bill Cosby, there should be a national shaming of Bill Clinton. Instead, he’s heralded like a hero and has now been drafted as the campaign manager in his wife’s march to the White House.  
  To me, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the modern day King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The primary difference is they’re political foes rather than a political couple. Behind both is a huge wake of victims they have used their wealth and power to abuse. But they won’t get away with it. God is a God of justice and there will be a final accounting.
  God cares greatly about righteousness and a nation’s political life. It was God who ordained human government (Romans 13). Without government, society would descend into anarchy. He desires us to live “a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2) and to pray for “kings and all that are in authority.” 
  Yet, God also gives a nation the leaders they deserve. The first role of any government is to protect the innocent from evildoers. Yet, two of the leading candidates this election cycle are the very ones who brazenly abuse the innocent. While the Bible commands us to respect and submit to government, it never requires us to vote. If these two are the candidates come November, Bible-believers have a terrible dilemma when they enter the ballot booth. How can a Christian vote in good conscience for two of the most evil people to darken the American political landscape? 

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

You Can't Choose To Be Happy or Make Anyone Else

“If you have no joy, there's a leak in your Christianity somewhere.”
Billy Sunday

The dust has settled. All of the confetti has long been swept away from Super Bowl 50. Other than the Broncos win and potentially Peyton Manning’s last game, it’s all settled into the dustbin of history.
  One item though which will be remembered and no doubt resurrected at the beginning of next year’s NFL season will be Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s postgame interview. The only thing “Superman” was dabbing after the game were his eyes. Sullen and subdued, he sat at his press conference for a limited time, saying hardly anything before finally getting up and exiting the press conference. As a result, many were quick to label Newton as a poor sport, even unprofessional. I’m not so sure. For a passionate athlete who loves the game, losing is always a very tough pill to swallow. To me, it’s a time for some private moments of grief.
  Somehow we’ve devolved into a culture where public figures are expected to share every second of their lives with an insatiable public and cynical media. The bottom line is everyone knew Cam Newton was unhappy and there was only one thing which would have made him happy – winning the Super Bowl. Everyone also knows on the field of competition, there can only be one winner. For someone to win, someone has to lose. If the Broncos won, the Panthers had to lose. With a few changes that evening, it could easily have been Peyton Manning sitting in the hot seat of loss, giving a postgame interview. 
  On Super Bowl night, no one could say the right thing, there was no magic pill – only one thing would have changed Cam Newton’s perspective – winning…or is there? Please understand, I’m not suggesting we should become ecstatic about losing or even apathetic. There is though one thing we can control – and it’s not our circumstances, it’s our attitude.
  It’s vital we learn this. It’s vital we teach this to our children and grandchildren. A core fact is, because of sin, life is not fair…this world is not just. Yet, well-meaning parents and spouses continually attempt to make their children or spouses happy. It simply can’t be done. More importantly, it probably shouldn’t be done.
  We tend to be fixers. Character and maturity though are developed in the heat of adversity. So what are we teaching our children? What if the source of the pain for the child is their sibling or a parent? Are we going to sell the sibling on E-bay? Should we have the parent who troubles them move out or limit their interaction with the child? That’s just dumb.
  In today’s world of parenting, if a child doesn’t like a particular food, they don’t have to eat it. If there’s a subject in school they don’t like, they don’t have to take it. If they don’t like a particular teacher or coach, switch classes or teams.
  While it’s true, there are some things we tend to like more than others. It’s part of our personality, how we’re wired. Yet, a child will never grow into a mature, well-rounded adult, when anything and everything which is distasteful or a source of unhappiness is eradicated from their lives. Parents and spouses who hover, seeking to remove sources of unhappiness are not only seeking to do the impossible, they’re ultimately doing a terrible disservice to the very ones who in love they’re seeking to help.  
  Adults who have not learned to they can’t always have it their way, to persevere, problem-solve and change their attitude do one of two things. They move from job to job to job, relationship to relationship, church to church to church. They’re stuck in perpetual emotional and spiritual immaturity. They often sit and sulk, chronically complaining about their lot in life to anyone who is still listening. (Sadly, after a while, no one is).  
  It’s like the anecdote of the two construction workers taking their lunch break. They opened their lunch boxes. One looked inside his box and said, “Not baloney again! I can't believe it. I hate baloney. This is the third time this week I've had baloney. I can't stand baloney!” The other said, “Why don't you just ask your wife to make you something different?” He replied, “What? I don't have a wife. I made these myself.”
  If your child is unhappy, (I’m not talking about one too young to reason through things), work through a character study of how God used adverse circumstances to develop character in the heroes and heroines in the Bible. Because the fact is most of the “baloney” in our lives, we put there ourselves with our own attitude. If we ever want life to be any different from the same old baloney we keep serving ourselves, we must choose to break out of doing the same routine. And it’s impossible to control the circumstances in our lives, people in our lives or the things in our lives. But we can always control our attitude. We can pray and trust God’s grace to bring joy into our lives no matter what. That’s the power of the gospel!
  As Christians, we must learn and teach our children there is a world of difference between happiness and joy. Happiness depends upon what happens, therefore, we call it happiness. If you put your trust in happiness, you'll be a victim of circumstances, people or things – because they will continually change.
  Wonderfully, God never changes! The Bible doesn't tell us to rejoice in circumstances. We’re commanded instead to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1). Happiness is like cosmetics but joy is part of character. Happiness meets surface needs. Joy meets your deepest needs. Happiness is like a thermometer—it registers conditions. Joy is like a thermostat—it regulates conditions. Happiness always evaporates and disappears, particularly during times of difficulty, when the heat is on – whether it’s a lost football game or a strained friendship. Wonderfully, joy frequently intensifies, in times of suffering. It’s almost cruel to tell someone, “smile, and be happy.” The Bible says though of the Lord Jesus “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And, yet, the Bible continually speaks of the joy of the Lord.
  Please, stop trying to be happy. And please stop trying to fix everything problematic in the world of your children or spouse, so that they will be happy. It won’t work and you’re doing them a terrible disservice. Because joy and a joyful attitude are always an inside job.

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