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.

Awake, Aware, & Active

In the Book of James, we see how faith and works are tied together. Faith is a beautiful thing but of what use is it if it is not expressed in our actions. Many times in the Gospels, we see Jesus opening himself to service, letting people know they are seen. We see Jesus speaking, touching, and healing.

Jesus showed us that faith, love, and action are connected. What drew the crowds to Jesus? In Luke 6:17-19, many came to Jesus because they knew he would see their needs, speak to their souls, and bring healing to their broken lives. Consider for a moment the following questions:

What would have happened if Jesus had stayed inside?

What would have happened if Jesus had closed his eyes?

What would have happened if Jesus had not reached out?

What would have happened if Jesus had not said a word?

Not only would the Gospels have been much shorter, but hearts would not have been reached and lives would not have changed.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, our faith calls to love and our love drives us to action. There are people all around us who need to hear the good news. We have the power to speak life to others, bring healing with a smile, or lend a helping hand. We are God’s hands and feet to bring relief to the poor, release to the captives, and comfort to the broken.

May God help us open our doors, eyes, hands, hearts, and mouths to meet the needs of those in need.

Trust and Love

For years, I worked for a company with people who worked to help others find better and more efficient paths to healing and wholeness. We worked hard to expand our reach and our success grew. Our profit margin grew because our actions were born out of love and care. 

We trusted our company to care for its employees’ well-being as well as those we served. Yet, as we grew, our company’s focus shifted from people to productivity and profit. Our healthcare company was more interested in growth than the well-being of its employees. When they forgot how to love, they lost employees and clients.

It is natural to desire growth, productivity, and profit. Part of my church’s mission statement is to grow in Christ. Numerical and financial growth are valid metrics to prove effectiveness. Every year I have to submit statistical reports to our conference. So, I am very aware of our need for numerical and financial growth and stability.

As we work to grow, may love take the lead. As one in our congregation said, we don’t necessarily need more money to fulfill our missions. What we do need to do is decide how best to express, foster, maintain, and grow love within our congregation and in the community. 

1 John 4:18 says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 

What drove our healthcare company to greatness was love. Trust and love for one another and others will be the driving forces to help us grow. As we grow our companies and churches, we cannot forget how to love. As long as love is the driving force, we will help grow God’s kingdom and help God’s people thrive. As long as all we do is driven by love, there will be enough. As long as love does not fail, neither will we.

With love

Pastor Don.

Connection

It is natural for us to remember our friends in particular ways. We have a tendency to expect them and our relationships to remain the same through the years. The truth is people change. They grow and develop in ways we cannot understand because we have lost touch. We lost the connection we once had. So, when we encounter them again, our friends are different people and so are we.

As we develop new relationships, we learn and grow together through the connections we make. It is with new relationships that we develop families, friendships, and successful business relationships. Most relationships weaken with time and distance because the connection is lost.  

When Jesus returned to his hometown in Luke 4, he was confronted by those who wanted him to perform the miracles he did elsewhere. They wanted him to be as powerful and effective among them as they heard he was elsewhere. So, what happened? Their lack of connection blocked their faith. Their expectations were locked in the past. They did not grow and develop with Jesus because they did not remain connected to Him.

Many of us grew up in the church, or have been Christians for many years. The problem is that many have lost their connection with the One who saved them. Some have forgotten that relationships must be cultivated and maintained for them to continue and grow.

Scripture refers to the Christian life as a walk and as a race. Christianity requires movement and progression. Christianity requires connection. To grow in Christ, we cannot go back to what we were, nor remain as we are. To effectively proclaim the Word requires faith, passion, and perseverance. We connect our faith with God in the ways we serve in our church, community, and world.

May our connection with God grow stronger through Jesus Christ as we continue to seek new ways to grow, proclaim, and serve.

Pastor Don.

Scripture Reference: Luke 4:22-30