Imprisoned & Guarded

“Imprisoned and Guarded” are the words used in Galatians 3:23 to describe the way we were before we came to faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that without faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ we are “under the law.”

The faithless imprison themselves to the lusts of the flesh and desires of this world because they hide from a reconciling God. The faithless guard themselves from redemption through Jesus Christ because they have become jaded. They don’t believe such incredible grace could be possible. The norm is to think there will be a payment expected; that there must be some kind of catch. So, they free themselves to indulge their desires and open themselves to that which pulls them farther from God.

So, why am I writing to believers about the effects of faithlessness? Because these same effects can creep into our lives if we are not careful. Our world is full of voices that would imprison us from faith, grace, and redemption. Perhaps we stop praying as intently as we once did. Or, maybe we get out of the habit of reading God’s Word. Before we know it, our guard starts coming back up and we are pulled deeper into shame and farther from the love of God. 

The ways of evil are deceptive and subtle. So, I remind you, as people of faith in God through Jesus Christ, to remember what Galatians 3:27 says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Since, in baptism, you were welcome into God’s fold and since you are clothed in the redeeming love and grace found in Jesus Christ, remember the beauty of your calling. Revive your faith daily in prayer and by reading the Word of God.

You are free! Free to thrive as strong believers in a vibrant church of redeemed warriors who will continue to grow in Christ, proclaim the Word, and serve others.

God bless you,

Pastor Don.

Scripture Reference: Galatians 3:23-29

Hope of Holiness

Peace, hope, love, and endurance are the keywords that jump out to me in the first five verses of Romans 5. In verse 5, the Apostle Paul says “hope does not put us to shame….” So, why are we prone to let shame grab hold of us? Why would we pay any attention to shame-based messages from others? It could be that we confuse conviction with shame. 

Feeling appropriately guilty about words and actions that are harmful to ourselves is useful when we allow the Holy Spirit to change us. Shame, on the other hand, turns us inward and away from God. 

Peace, hope, love, and endurance take hard work. We all make mistakes and fail to achieve the holiness and purity we seek. Yet, peace can be ours when we remember the grace God has bestowed and continues to show us. Hope drives us forward toward change. Love sustains our desire to please God and endurance builds our characters as we persevere.  

God does not want your shame. Reconciliation with God brings peace to our souls, hope for positive change within, love for God and others, and endurance to continue on this great journey we call, Christianity.

May God bless you and bring you closer to holiness and purity each day. 

Pastor Don

Scripture ref: Romans 5:1-5

Holy Spirit Peace

In many churches, including ours, we celebrate Pentecost and are reminded once again of the fire of the Holy Spirit. We wear red and drape our communion tables, lecterns, and pulpits in red remind to remind us of the tongues of fire that were seen above the heads of those who received the Holy Spirit for the first time. After which, they spoke words “about God’s deeds of power.”

In John 14:16, Jesus said that he would send us an “Advocate to be with us forever.” We can be comforted by these words for sure. The promise of God’s power continues in verses 26-27, where Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that he said to us. These promises are especially important to those who are anxious about speaking to others about God. Whether we preach in a pulpit or proclaim the wonders of God in our communities, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to share.

One of the most powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of peace. In a world of darkness, fear, anxiety, and depression the fire of the Holy Spirit burns bright within the hearts of the believer to burn those things away, leaving peace instead.

So, as we wear red and look at the red that is all around us this Sunday, may we remember the powerful fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us, teaching us what we need to know, reminding us of Jesus’ words, and burning peace within our hearts. With the Holy Spirit of God within us, we will be changed and we will bring change to the world. 

Blessings,

Pastor Don

Words and Actions

People express and perceive love in different ways. In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, he says the five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, and quality time. Chapman explains how important it is that we know our own love language and that of others to help us relate to each other better. 

John 14:23-29 highlight two of the love languages; words of affirmation and acts of service. Jesus proclaims his words of affirmation to the disciples and promises that his love will continue to be affirmed to them and us through the Holy Spirit. So, why is there so much anger, fear, and violence in our world? Why is there so much division? Because we have forgotten how to love. We became too focused on that which we have lost and so, forgot how to listen, serve, give, reach out, and spend time with one other.

When we remember God is love, we are driven to positive action. While shame drives us farther from God’s presence, God’s grace and love pull us inward and we are moved to perform acts of service. Just like we serve one another because of love, we serve God because of our love for God.

So, I encourage you to listen to God’s voice, rather than that of your own or that of others. When we hear God’s voice, we hear God’s words of peace and love which inspire us to be sanctified and holy for the glory of God.

Pastor Don.

Belonging

We all want to belong but not everyone is going to accept us. Though we come with good intentions, all some see is someone they want to put down, push out, or toss away. Rejected by the cool kids, the in-crowd, the powerful, we gravitate toward the few brave souls who give us the time of day. We become friends because we spend time together, open up, and share our hopes, fears, plans, and dreams.

When Jesus entered the world, he showed the true nature and image of God. He came with an opportunity to listen, learn, and follow. God offered connection through Jesus. The world met him with rejection, derision, and even crucifixion.

In John 10:27-28, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” Those of you who have heard Jesus’ voice, there is good news! You belong! 

So, spend some time getting to know him better. Open up in prayer to him and share your hopes, fears, plans, and dreams. 

You are loved, accepted, and redeemed. The world may reject you but you are accepted by the only One who really matters. You are accepted by the King of Kings! You belong!

Loving Jesus

In John 21:15-17, there is an interesting interaction between Peter and Jesus that occurred after Jesus had risen from the dead. In this meeting, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. The response does not change, with the exception that we know Peter’s feelings were hurt, after being asked for the third time. 

When we look at the Greek translation, we see different words for love were used; “Agapas and Philo.” The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he “Agapas,” him, while Peter responds that he has a “Philo” love for Jesus. “Agapas” is more “deliberate,” while “Philo” is more “personal” and affectionate (EBD). It wasn’t until Peter’s feelings were hurt that Jesus changed his usage to “Philo” to match Peter’s response. 

According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary (EBD), it seemed as though Jesus was not connecting with Peter as closely and personally as he. As you can imagine, this grieved Peter greatly. So, perhaps Jesus was giving Peter the opportunity to connect on a less personal level. But, Peter was having none of that. He persisted until Jesus matched with the same kind of love (Philo). 

Peter’s denial of Jesus was public. But so was his proclamation of deeply personal and affectionate love. He did not let shame and guilt overwhelm him in such a way that it kept him from loving Jesus openly and affectionately. 

While conviction keeps us from spiraling out of control, shame and guilt are destructive and can keep us from an honest, open, and loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

As children of God, we naturally want to serve well and live well. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to fall short. When this happens, let the Holy Spirit convict you in such a way that it brings correction and draws you closer to holiness. When we persistently draw near to God, God is there with affectionate love and reconciliation.

Receive God’s Love,

Pastor Don.

Peace

Though we serve a risen savior, we are often faced with difficult situations. Those we love perish, and grief grips us. Our finances crumble, and fear overtakes us. We face physical, spiritual, and mental losses and wonder how or if we will recover.

The disciples of Jesus Christ were very familiar with grief and fear. They saw what happens to those who go against the status quo. So, they went to the upper room, closed the door, and locked themselves away from the world.

Have you ever felt so afraid and so beat down by the world that you just wanted to close the door and lock yourself away? It’s in moments like those that we need to listen to the words of Jesus, “Peace be with you.” The peace of Jesus comforts us in our grief and overcomes our fears.

We notice a few things in Jesus’ encounter with the disciples. First, Jesus proclaims peace to them more than once. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that peace is with us. Second, Jesus sends them out. They could not remain behind locked doors forever. Third, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22). 

While the Holy Spirit is received, peace is realized. In other words, the words of Jesus are not a wish that they would find peace, rather it is a proclamation that peace is already there. 

Jesus comes to us while we are locked up in our grief and fear and proclaims that peace is with us. He calls us out of our private spaces and sends us out to proclaim God’s peace to all. Jesus Christ has breathed life into our souls, we have received the Holy Spirit of God. Now, all we have to do is unlock the door, open it and walk into the peace that is with us all.

Distraction

Holy Week is one of those weeks that remind me of a dark time in my life and how God brought restoration and renewal. I had become distracted by activities, ministry, education, and service to the point that distraction wrecked my life. You might ask, “How can distraction be so powerful?” Distraction takes hope and turns it into depression. It takes love and turns it into selfishness. It takes peace and turns it into shame and guilt.

I allowed distractions to lead me away from everything I loved, including my children, career, and marriage. You have heard the warnings against distracted driving and how dangerous that can be. Distracted driving is nothing in comparison to distracted living. When our minds wander from God, we forget God’s gracious gifts of salvation and sanctification. This leads to confusion, anxiety, stress, discouragement, and loss. Thankfully, there is always an offramp to distraction and an onramp to God’s grace.    

2 Cor. 5:17-18, saysSo if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (NRSV). 

When I refocused on God, renewed my commitment, and realized the hope, love, and peace that was freely available all along, my life began to change. God lit the way out of the darkness and held my hand as I moved from distraction to focus, from shame to grace, and from death to resurrection. That is why I love joining God in “the ministry of reconciliation!” I know what it’s like on the other side and I don’t want anyone to get stuck there. May we all help each other and those around us stay free from distraction and live into God’s resurrection power.

Be Loud

Why do so many people find it difficult to praise God out loud? When the scriptures tell us to praise God with our words, songs, and even our lives, why do we remain silent?

Maybe they praise God inwardly and quietly. Maybe people are distracted by what is going on in their lives or the multitude of thoughts going through their minds. Maybe they are afraid they will be singled out. Could it be possible they have yet to have built a close enough relationship with God to proclaim joy at God’s presence and power?

In Luke 19:29-40, we see Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered the Holy City, his disciples expressed their joy and adoration by loudly proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” When the Pharisees said that they should stop, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

What led the disciples and others to praise Jesus?  Maybe, they were convinced the Messiah’s time had come. Possibly, they thought Jesus was finally going to take control and free them from Roman rule. Certainly, the days that followed left many, if not all of Jesus’ followers discouraged, frustrated, disappointed, and confused. The days that followed were certainly somber, quiet, and reflective days.

Then, Jesus was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven! After Jesus’ sacrifice, we learned the fullness of Jesus’ mission, sacrifice, and love. Now, fully aware of the true mission of Jesus, we can once again shout, “Hosanna!” In every gathering of Christians, we should be shouting praises to God and singing with all our hearts. If you are not filled with the joy of Jesus Christ, ask yourself why? Pray to God to help you realize what great love has been given to you! Pray for peace in your soul, connection with God, and a realization that leads you to loudly proclaim the joy of God’s presence and power.