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May 12, 2016, 9:34 AM

The Love of God Changes How We Love

Last week was Mother's Day. It was great to get to go see Carrie's mom and my mom. Emory took each a couple of roses from our rose garden. We got to Carrie's mom first and Emory gave her that rose. The pink rose with double blooms really are very pretty, but not when you leave them in the car all afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far. My poor mom didn't get her rose. We left it in the car and it wilted. They looked like a rose puddle than rose petals. But, that got me to thinking.

My mom's best Mother's Day gift was a little cameo brooch. I don't recall it being an expensive looking piece of jewelry. I think it probably came from a yard sale or something. What made it special was that my mother received it from a little neighbor girl named Samantha. 

Samantha didn't have a mom. Actually, like so many kids today, she did have a mom; but that lady was not really a mother. Samantha was the same age as me. She lived with her dad, brother and sister just two doors down the road. The dad tried to do the best that he could. The bother was a lot to handle. Sometimes he would get angry and beat up the older sister. All of this lead to Samantha spending a lot of time at our house. We were friends until Katie came a long, then Samantha had a girl to play with. Samantha went to church with us every week. 

Samantha and her family moved away when we were still in grade school. I often wonder what happened to her and her family. Did they make it ok? Did all of those trips to church make a lasting impact on her life? It is impossible to know, but my mom still prays for her and wears that brooch on Mother's Day. 

The truth is, for my mom Samantha is one of many similar stories. The family that moved in to that house next had two sons. I was much more excited to have another boy in the neighborhood. Chad and I became good friends. Chad went to church with us each week. In fact, just about everywhere we have lived there has been a similar child or friend. But, I don't think any have been as touching for my mom as Samantha. 

The love of God changes how we love the people around us. For my parents, it opened their eyes to those children around them who needed an extra set of parents to love them. The love that they had experienced from God the Father drove them to extend open arms to a little neighborhood girl that they didn't have too. Looking back, this neighborhood girl was a part of the family that everyone probably wished would move away. They weren't the best kept neighbors. They weren't the quietest neighbors. And sometimes their family problems spilled out into the neighborhood. 

But, that is who we once were as sinners. We were the neighbor that ruined the neighborhood for everyone. In our helpless and unlovable state, Jesus stepped out of Heaven and went to the cross. He did so, so that we could be adopted as sons and daughters. He did so, so that we could experience the love of a Good Father.  That love should drive us to live different.  It should also drive us to love different. 

Love the unlovable ones. Love the broken ones. Love the ones that don't know how to love back.

That is who we were when God loved us first.  

May 5, 2016, 7:25 PM

Mother's Day

One of the things that I find puzzling in the Bible is the number of barren women who become Mothers later in life. Some that immediately come to mind are Sarah who become the mother of Isaac, Samson's mother, John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth. There are others, but these stand out because of the unique circumstances that surround each situation. 

I have often wondered why these women were barren for so long before having this child. It seems from surrounding texts that this is a great weight and a great burden on these ladies. Why had God not enabled them to have children up until that point? Was God keeping them from having children? After all, the Bible does say that children are a blessing from the Lord. 

One obvious answer seems to be the unique role each of these children play in the redemptive story of God. Scripture, and even all of history, is God's story of redeeming mankind. Each of these children had a highlighted role in that story. Isaac was the son through which God would establish His people through. Samson was a judge who would play a role in establishing the Hebrew people in the Promise Land. John the Baptist was the one who would prepare the way of the Lord. 

So, perhaps the role that these children would play in God's story warranted their unique birth. A miracle birth to emphasize their special role in God's story. But, especially in the case of Sarah and Elizabeth who were advanced in age, would it have been any less of a miracle birth if they had already had children. Was it necessary that they wait to have children? I'm not sure. 

Maybe the observation that should be made is that God has a unique plan for each child. Maybe their unique birth story is meant to highlight that truth. I think it is safe to say that God has a plan for everyone. His Word seems to say so in Jeremiah 29:11. But, could God not have illustrated that point even if those children had siblings? David had siblings and it worked to help show that point in his story. 

The truth is, I'm not sure if there is a good answer to my question. But, I think I have an interesting observation. Maybe these stories play out this way to emphasize that God has a unique plan for the mothers. Scripture makes it obvious that these ladies had a strong desire to be a mother. Yet they have to wait and wonder if it will ever happen. 

There is benefit in the struggle and questioning. 

One of the points raised in our Strategic Revival this week is that there is benefit for us from times of struggle and questioning. God's will and God's timing work together, but we often have to wait on His timing. This is hard. It leads to many questions and much anguish. But it also leads to a deeper walk with Christ and a greater understanding of God's love. 

All too often we associate God's love with Him blessing us, and there is that aspect. But, God's love is much too deep and much too wide to be thought of in that way. God's love is there when the blessings don't seem to be. God's love is there when the questions can only be uttered as tears. God's love is there when the struggle makes it hard to breathe. If we only recognize God's love in celebration, we have only begun to scratch its surface. 

Psalm 23 says “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”  While these mothers were not going through the valley of the shadow of death, they were stuck in the pit of anguish and despair. When that is where we find our self and we wonder where God is; Psalm 23 says that He is there with us. 

I cannot pretend to know reasons why these ladies went through years of wondering, questions, and anguish. Just like I can't pretend to know why an innumerable list of others situations are the way they are. Just like I cannot understand why the heart breaking situations in my life did not go a different way. But I do know that I benefited from the struggle and the questioning. 

I understand God's love in a way that can only be understood from heart break. These women did too. They understood that God was with them. 

God has a desire for us all. He wants us to trust His son Jesus as Lord and Savior. He wants us to know that He is with us. He wants us to understand the depth of His great love. He wants us to understand that His greatest blessing is Himself. Sometimes, this comes in times of struggle and questioning. 

April 30, 2016, 12:14 PM

Our Father In Heaven

Every night I put Emory to bed. Often, she does her best to delay my efforts. Sometimes this comes in the form of not cooperating with me. Usually though, she does her best to ask questions and guilt me into reading to her. 

A few months ago, she noticed her baby monitor. She became very curious about what it was. It is kind of odd looking and is noticeably out of place. The first time she asked about it I simply told her it was the baby monitor and it allowed us to know that she was ok. That was good enough for her, at the time. The next time, she needed more details. I told her that the monitor allowed us to see her sleeping and know that she was ok, and that was enough information to satisfy her for the moment. 

However, about a month or so ago, in a desperate attempt to hold off bed time she needed all the details that could be known about this strange looking thing in her room. I like the fact that she is curious and wants to learn, so within reason I try to give in to these attempts to stall. I showed her the monitor screen so that she could see her bed. I told her that the monitor was a camera with a microphone in it. It allowed us to see and hear her at night so that we could know that she was safe and hear her when she needed us. I told her that if she needed us, all she had to do was look right at the monitor and call for help. We would be able to see her and hear her, and then we would come. 

The next morning, I hear her calmly say “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” I go to get her out of bed and she is sitting up looking at the door. In a very excited manner she said; “I just looked up and said Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, and you just came right through the door!”  A little confused by her exuberance, I said “What baby?” Emory looked at me and calmly said; “I just looked up and said Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, and you saw me and you just came right through that door.” 

Isn't that a lot like prayer. I think we often get caught with a little bit of doubt. Some feel that when we call out in prayer, we are really calling out to an empty room. Or maybe that we are calling out to a God that isn't really listening or doesn't want to enter the room and help out. The truth is, when we call out in prayer we are calling out to a Daddy that can see us and He wants to come right through the door. 

This week we are going to study prayer. We have great curriculum inspired by the movie War Room. We have great video lessons that will expose us to some great ideas. We will have great fellowship. But, the first we must begin to wrap our mind around what my daughter so firmly believed that morning. We have a Daddy who wants us to look up and call out when we need Him, and if we do He will come right through the door. 

Jesus told his disciples to pray like this: “Our Father in heaven”. We have a Father in heaven who listens when we pray. 

April 21, 2016, 12:04 PM

Developing an Outward Focus

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately has been what it is like breathing through a straw.  I know that sound weird, but bear with me.  Breathing in through a straw is horrible.  You can never seem to get enough air.  You can get close, but never to the tipping point.  So you breath in harder, but still no difference.  Breathing in through a straw restricts the air flow just enough so that you cannot keep up. 

But, the other day I saw a video of a dad and his some trying to blow out his birthday candles.  The little boy tried and tried but couldn't blow the candle out.  So the dad got a straw, and had his son blow through the straw.  It worked like magic.  The young child blew the candle out and jumped up and down with excitement. 

Breathing in through a straw restricts the air flow and puts us at a disadvantage.  Breathing out through a straw focuses your effort and maximizes you impact.  I believe that there is a great observation to be made here for the church.  Churches can develop either and outward focus (lets go and do ministry) or an inward focus (come and see what we are doing). 

For a moment, let's think of our church doors as the straw.  Most of our efforts toward church growth focus on trying to get people to come in.  We say it all the time; “Make sure and invite someone to church next week”.  We get really proud when someone that we have invited actually agrees to come.  We have big and elaborate events designed to get people's attention in hopes that they will come.  We have revivals with special music and special speakers hoping to get people to come.  Our biggest goal, and the end game of our efforts seems to be just to get people to come and see what we are doing. 

On one hand, all of these things are good.  We want people to come and see what we are doing.  We want to invite people to come.  The events we do can have a major impact on people.  We want the community to know we are here and realize that we exist to serve the community.  So, I am certainly not saying that we should get rid of the come and see events and efforts.  But, our biggest goal is not to get people to come to our church. 

Now, lets imagine that our Sunday worship service is really our big breath in.  We come to church on Sunday to get filled with the Holy Spirit in worship, get focused on God's will by God's word, and get encouraged by fellowship with believers with the same purpose.  Then at the end of the service, instead of being dismissed, we are commissioned for a week of service to our Lord and Savior.   We are sent out with force and focus to impact our community for Christ. 

If we will read the book of Acts, we will see that this is exactly the mindset of the early church.  The apostles approach was to go out and find people to preach to, rather than inviting people to come and hear them preach.  They viewed every encounter with someone hurting as an opportunity to do ministry, rather than an opportunity to invite them to church.  One thing that I find interesting is that every time they went out and did ministry, people came to see what was taking place. 

Perhaps the two go hand and hand.  If we will go and do, then they will come and see.  Just maybe, when people hear us invite them to come and see what we are doing at church; they first sit back and wait to see what the church is going and doing. 

If we as the church will develop the same burden for our community that Christ has, we will develop an outwardly focused view to the ministry that needs to be done.  Then we will be desperate to go and serve our King by serving our community. 

April 7, 2016, 12:29 PM

1 John

The book (which was more accurately a letter) of 1 John was written to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ against the heresy of Docetism. This should bring up some very valid questions.  What is Docetism? What are the dangers of Docetism? Why did John write an entire book of the bible arguing against it? Lastly, if 1 John is dedicated to Docetism, then should we even study it? What I mean is, why get mixed up in talking about something wrong? Doesn't that just make it more likely that someone may stray toward that kind of thinking?

First, take note of how John defends the gospel of Jesus. He does not spend any time attacking those with the false doctrine. John does such a good job of this that we barely know anything about those pushing the false doctrine. Our best guest only comes from a small mention by Irenaeus about a man named Cerinthus of Asia Minor. John, rather, dedicates a great deal of time and energy define the reality of who Jesus was and still is. John uses his letter to show the greatness of what and who he believes in, rather than showing the error of what he doesn't. I believe that this is a great example of how we should talk about Christ. No counterfeit can hold up when placed beside the real deal. 

So, what was so wrong with Docetism? Docetism is the idea that Christ was not fully human, and that He only appeared to be a Man. One might be tempted to believe that if we are going to error, this is the safer error. After all, Docetism still claims that Jesus was completely God, and isn't that what is really important?  Well, NO.

What is at stake with the issue of Docetism is Substitutionary Atonement. Those are just fancy book words for saying that Jesus died on the cross in our place as a substitute. When Christ was put to death, He fulfilled the Law. God, in the willing death of Jesus, justly punished sin once and for all. In raising Jesus from the dead, we see that God's wrath has been satisfied fully. 

If Jesus is not fully God, then He does not have the authority to forgive sin. If Jesus is not fully man, then He does not have the ability to fulfill the Law and face God's judgment on our behalf. If we take part or all of either away, we lose the truth about Jesus. And it is the truth about Jesus that sets us free. 

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