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. 

Now

In Steve Cordle’s, A Jesus-Shaped Life, he writes about having an urgency regarding those who do not yet believe in nor follow Jesus Christ as their Lord. I think that sense of urgency should extend to all whether they believe in Jesus or not. 

If we think all we have to do is believe that God is alive, we are in trouble. James 2:17-19 says, “So faith by itself if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.”

I do not think we should come to God just to escape hell but we should remember that we all have a very narrow window within which to come to faith and to learn to live like Jesus. That window is open only as long as we live. Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are spiritually dead and believers who are not living for Jesus are not any better off. Faith requires action and the time to act is now.

2 Cor. 6:1-2 says, “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, now is the time to believe. For those of us who are believers, now is the time to live as though we believe. Now is the time to spread the Word of hope, give to those in need, visit those who are sick and in prison, and live our lives for God.

Pastor Don

Holy

In this week’s devotional, A Jesus-Shaped Life, Steve Cordle writes about being “Set Apart.” Jesus knew he was set apart for a special purpose. When he called his disciples, he called them to something special. When Jesus called us, he also called us to something special. Jesus did not simply call us to be a part of a cool club or to put our names on a membership roll. Jesus called us into a relationship with him so we could be set apart from the world.

The disciples had to leave their homes, families, and livelihoods behind to follow the Messiah. When we are called by Jesus, we are called to leave behind our old thought patterns and our selfish desires. The more successful we are, the more we will become strangers to the things of this world. 

Leviticus 11:44a says “For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” When we hear the word “holy,” we often think of perfection. We cannot allow ourselves to get overwhelmed with the idea that we have to be perfect. Steve Cordle has a fine definition of holiness. He wrote, “To be holy means to be set apart or dedicated to God.” Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit that continually purifies us. Sanctification requires our constant cooperation and yielding to God’s will above our own. 

1 Peter 2:9 says, But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

God wants all to come out of the darkness. I truly believe that God wants everyone to be comfortable in his presence. That does not mean that we allow ourselves to be complacent. 

Jesus’ followers not only have a different kind of love, but they also live different kinds of lives. We have been called out by Jesus. Therefore, we are holy. We are set apart and dedicated to God. Though we are comfortable in our calling, we are not complacent. So, we will seek to grow closer to God and to become more like Jesus as we are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit.

May God help us remember we are holy and may God help us always yield to the sanctifying work within us.

Pastor Don

Ordered Worship

Mainline denominations tend to think more about an order of worship. In my experience in a contemporary church, we followed a pattern in our worship but we didn’t think of it as order. 

Most of the people I have encountered in both mainline and contemporary churches appreciate some sense of order in their worship experiences. Once we get used to whatever rhythm, we find that we are able to worship more freely within that context. 

I grew up in a traditional denomination and developed a deep appreciation for hymns and the regular sharing of communion. In later years, when I attended a contemporary service, I developed an appreciation and love for worshiping with a different style of worship and less formality. Now, I find I enjoy and appreciate both traditional and contemporary worship experiences.

Sometimes, it is tempting to only think of the singing as the act of worship. In reality, every part of the service is an act of worship. Other aspects of a service are also worship including the offering, sermon, even the words of welcome, and announcements. as they connect us to each other and to our community. We worship God with our presence together. We worship God by extending and receiving the welcome. We worship God through our tithes and offerings. 

The sermon as an act of worship is a little more difficult to convey. It has been explained as a mystery. What the sermon does is to connect the pastor to the people in a special way. In the sermon, you hear the end result of many hours of prayer and study in solitude. 

The congregation reaps the benefits of the pastor’s study in the scriptures, commentaries and other sources, as well as hearing from another’s experiences as connected through the Holy Spirit. 

There are times when particular parts of the service are more meaningful than others. This can change any given Sunday. Sometimes, the children’s message reaches people the most. 

Since every part of our services together are worship, make a promise to yourself that you will worship God and that you will see God’s love and grace in every part of the service. Do your best to see Jesus in every face and in every moment. Sing the words, pray the prayers, connect with others through the announcements, worship through the offering and during the sermon.

Determine now to be an active participant in the worship service by giving in love, listening with expectation, singing every song with joy, and praying every prayer with hope.

May God bless you,

Pastor Don

A LIFE IN ASHES

Greetings on this week of Lent. The purpose of this 46-day period, which this year is March 2 to April 16, is to provide an opportunity to set aside more time and put in more effort to one’s spiritual growth. It is also a time to prepare one’s heart to celebrate the resurrection. But before resurrection, comes crucifixion. 

As followers of Christ, we are called upon to take up our cross and follow Jesus. (Matt. 16:24-26). To take up a cross is to be willing and ready to die to ourselves, our pride,  desires, even our perceived needs in order to follow Jesus Christ. 

Time: To begin to take up our cross, we need to devote time away from the cares of the world. As we devote time to prayer, we give God an opportunity to speak to our spirits, minds, and souls. In prayer, we Adore our God, Confess our sins, Thank God for our blessings, and offer our Supplications (requests) to God (ACTS). All of these take time.

Sacrifice: The more we have, the harder it is to lay them down. Whether it be our free time, finances, activities, or possessions, given them up is difficult. Most of us are used to having our own way in our own time. Are we willing to ask God what He wants for us? Better yet, are we willing what we need to give up? What are we willing to give, to stop, to sacrifice for the benefit of our own souls, or for the good of our congregation? What are we willing to sacrifice for the kingdom of God?

Death: Ashes are such a great representation of mourning, loss, confession and death. As we place the ashes on our hands or foreheads, we are reminded of the palms with which we celebrated Jesus’ triumphant entry. All burnt to ashes. We place these ashes on ourselves as reminders of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We place them as signs of sorrow for our own sins. We place them as signs of a willingness to give of our time, sacrifice our desires, and die to ourselves.

My prayer is that we may all devote more of ourselves to God, our communities, and to each other. Determine now to devote time to God, sacrifice what you will, and die to yourselves so that Christ may live in and through you.

May God bless your journey,

Pastor Don.