A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

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The “Ides of March”

March is a month full of madness. We have Pi day, Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day, spring breaks, and of course my favorite thing about March… March Madness! Although my beloved Kentucky Wildcats just fell short in the elite 8 I still have one thing to proclaim… Go CATS!

I’ve heard it said that the safest bet you can make in the month of March is that people will be distracted. I know I definitely am! I look at my phone checking the scores of teams I couldn’t have cared less about a little more than a week prior. It’s actually reported that American companies will lose $1.9 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers in the month of March. Do I have your attention, or have I lost you to your bracket?

In spite of all the distractions in March, and might I add any other month, we should never lose sight that our own “Ides of March” moment is coming.

If you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” you might know you’re supposed to beware them from the old saying. Why? In ancient Rome, the “Ides of March” were equivalent to our March 15. In the Roman calendar, this date corresponded to several religious observances. The Romans considered the “Ides of March” as a deadline for settling debts. But for our modern world if you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” it’s probably thanks to William Shakespeare. Tradition has it that a “dreamer” warned Caesar that harm would come his way no later than the “Ides of March.” On his way to the Theater of Pompey, the place of his assassination, Caesar passed the man and joked, “The Ides of March have come,” to which he replied, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare immortalized this event when Caesar was warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate. In the play, and in reality, Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March in the year 44 B.C.

Beware the “Ides of March.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if someone told you the exact day on which you would die? I can’t help but relate this thinking to the upsets in the NCAA tournament this past weekend. Would the losing teams have played differently if they’d known they were going to lose? Would they have beaten themselves mentally even before the game had started?

If someone told you, “Beware of May 23, for that is the day of your demise,” would that make you live a better life today? Or would you walk around in despair knowing the date of your death sentence?

Well, let me give you some bad news followed up with some good news. First, the bad news: Your “Ides of March” is coming. At some point, you and I are going to die. We don’t know the day or hour, but that particular day and hour are coming.

What’s important is that we don’t live our lives foreboding, or distracted. We should live our lives forgiving, forgetting, and forgoing.


Forgive

Matthew 6:12-15 says,

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Forgive those who have wronged you. It takes way too much energy to hold on to the wrongs and injustices against you. Free yourself from the control of that anger, bitterness, and revenge. Whether the offender deserves forgiveness or not, when you forgive, you are releasing what is inside of you that holds you back from freedom and new life.


Forget

Philippians 3:13 says,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Forget what lies behind! Let go of the past, so that the past will let go of you. You can’t progress when your memories of the past exceed your dreams for the future. It’s hard to move forward if you’re always looking back. God told the children of Israel in Isaiah 43:19,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Forgo

Luke 14:33 says,

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

To forgo means to surrender, relinquish, and renounce your way and accept God’s way as the key to living a fulfilled life. We must give up in order to grow up! Spiritual toddlers keep demanding their way. Spiritually mature Christians are willing to “go without” in order to “go with” God and His plan for your life.


Yes, the bad news is bad: For each of us, our “Ides of March” is coming. But that makes the good news all the better: in Christ, we are going to live! Romans 5:21 says,

So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rejoice that through death comes resurrection. Romans 6:5 says,

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Death is a moment in time that gives way to a place that has no time. We must be willing to let go of earth in order to embrace heaven. If you are “in Christ,” He will lead you through that moment in time when you face your “Ides of March.” The reason we fear no evil (or death) is because God is with us.

Psalm 23:4 reassures us of this. It says,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The One who abides with us will bring us past the “Ides of March” to the place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4 says,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

As one of my favorite hymns says:

There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

Just Don’t Stay Down

For those who are involved in my personal life you certainly know that I shoot competitively. This past weekend was my first competition back from my off-season and my first of many to be shot in 2019. This particular match was called “Hard Rock” and is the first of a trio of matches called “Hard as Hell.” My expectations were that it would be hard… but I truly couldn’t have expected what myself and my gear would be pitted against just in order to finish each individual stage.

There were moments in the middle of the snow and sleet trying to manipulate a firearm that was determined to not function correctly that frustration set in and it was all I could do to continue to fight through in an attempt to finish.

At one point while walking back to my vehicle after a slippery run through the woods shooting steel targets an Army Ranger who was there shooting asked me how I did. My response was something along the lines of, “I fell down 3 times on the course of fire. The run was decent, but I know I could’ve done better.” His response was short but sweet. He said, “Well… it would’ve been worse if you had stayed down!”

I am no stranger to the feeling of disappointment when you fail and fall. This past weekend is probably the poorest I have ever done at a shooting competition. But… if you allow yourself to learn from failure and you get back up and go right back at it your character will reflect your resound.

Failure doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Your slips and falls don’t have to determine the outcome.

In August of 1521 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon, and near the end of the letter he wrote these now famous words,

Pecca Fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christ

Our translation of this is,

Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!

Luther’s words have often been misunderstood as granting permission to sin or encouraging people to sin, but I’d like to suggest another view which perhaps can help all of us deal with our daily struggles with temptation, failure, disappointment, or despair.

Who hasn’t experienced the disappointment of trying to move forward only to fall back? Of trying to keep a promise only to forget? Of trying to overcome only to give in? Of trying to do what’s right, think what’s right, and follow what’s right only to fail? We all have! When we experience these disappointments, set backs and failures, we tend to slip into one of two patterns.

First, we enter into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a “cheap grace,” where we dismiss our sin in light of God’s grace without any inner transformation or true repentance. This is a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality of accepting and writing off our sins and failures as a natural and almost unavoidable outflow of our human nature. The Apostle Paul described this tolerance of sin in Romans 6:1-4 like this,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

This first pattern is one of flippancy toward sin where we dismiss it and continue to repeat the cycle of sin, brief regret, quick prayer, moving on, back to sin, brief regret, etc. The problem is the cycle goes unbroken, and we do not experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second pattern is where our sin and failure is followed by us being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and causing us to withdraw to a defeatist mentality. We either become a legalist where we hide behind a mask of “all-is-good spirituality” while struggling with guilt underneath, or like that Army Ranger pointed out we can alternately develop spiritual stage fright, where because of our fear of falling we hide behind our anxieties of the “what-ifs” and we fail to step out with bold obedience.

Both of these patterns consist of an attempt to overcome our sin patterns by some external means rather than the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the words of Martin Luther are helpful to us in whichever pattern we find ourselves. Following Jesus is a call for us to die to self and be reborn with the power of His indwelling Spirit like Jesus says in Mark 8:34,

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

In fact 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.

In other words, we cannot do it on our own! We cannot overcome our sins in our own strength and power. Therefore, we live our lives boldly in the transforming power of God’s grace. We don’t have to walk in fear of failure, but instead we walk in the love of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s words are not given as a license to sin but to stop living in the fear of falling, failing, and sinning!

I’ve never walked a tightrope strung across two high rises, but I imagine that the person doing so must focus on the destination rather than on what lies below. Like a tightrope walker if we live our lives thinking most about not falling, we most likely find ourselves in the disappointing posture of having fallen. It’s when we live our lives thinking most about the love of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves standing on His path of righteousness.

And when you do fall, because you will fall, get up, turn from sin and shame, live in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and refocus your life on Him. Failure can be eye-opening if you allow it to be! An old proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As long as you keep getting up, you’re not failing. Don’t be anxious about sinning, but rejoice in Christ!

You will fall… just don’t stay down!

O’ Comfort Where Art Thou?

In one of my favorite books Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

In our society and culture, it’s far more inviting to talk with people about the positive benefits of following Jesus rather than the negative consequences of rejecting Him. We much prefer the good news to the bad, the comfort over the discomfort, and mercy instead of judgment.

But… the Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

While completing my undergraduate degree at Campbellsville University I got to witness a group show up every semester to stand on the sidewalks on campus with signs and bullhorns “informing” the students there of the condemnation that was going to be heaped down upon them if they didn’t turn from their ways. Most of the statements they rallied around were very legalistic and their approach was all but gracious.

Standing on a street corner with a bullhorn shouting to people that they are going to Hell unless they turn to Christ tends not to bode well. It seems as if we, as the church, have no concept of the middle ground. We can’t share only the positives, but we can’t ignore the outcome of no decision made. Somewhere along the line, some Christians have missed the part about how our speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt.

Colossians 6 tell us this,

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

We are to respond with gentleness and respect like we are told to do in 1 Peter 3:15,

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

My natural personality aligns better with the gentle approach, but the older, or more seasoned, I get the more I’m learning that gentleness doesn’t have to mean “soft.” I can gently and respectfully talk with someone about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I have to shy away from presenting truth. In fact, one of the most respectful things I could possibly do is talk with someone about the consequences of our sin and how we don’t want an eternity void of Christ.

One of the problems we face is that not everybody shares the same concept of truth. If someone is a secular humanist, who doesn’t believe in a universal Moral Law or a personal Power behind that Moral Law, he or she is not losing sleep over whether or not they have broken the law and put themself at odds with that personal Power. It’s hard to convince someone that they need saving when they don’t consider themself needing to be saved.

If you don’t believe you’re sick, you’re not going to listen to the doctor, and if you don’t believe the bad news, you’re not going to search for the Good News.

Herein lies the reason the Good News is called good. It is good, because it gives us a way out of the bad. The bad news is bad, because it takes us away from the good. When we realize that we have wrongly chosen the bad path, which and all of us have…

Romans 3:23 tells us,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

It’s then, and only then, that we begin to understand the hope of the Gospel and the good news of Jesus and what He has to offer! Jesus met the demands of the Moral Law, for He never strayed off the path that leads to goodness. He is God in the flesh who saves us from the consequences of our own path, which is eternal separation from God. In other words, we cannot be open to receiving the good news and the comfort that accompanies until we understand the bad news that we see in Romans 6:23,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Once we have a grasp on our despaired and broken state, that bad news that we all have sinned and the price of that sin is death, we will be open to receiving the good news that we see in 1 Peter 3:18,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

If you stop to think about it, the claims of Christianity are quite terrifying and comforting all at the same time. When we face the brutal fact that we are sinners and our position is wholly desperate, it is terrifying to think of the eternal consequences for our wrongdoing. But there is also great comfort in knowing we have a loving, personal God who has provided the way out through Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In John 14:6 Jesus says,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So… again in closing C. S. Lewis once wrote,

In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

We are all sick and need the doctor. The bad news is our sickness is terminal… but if we listen to the Doctor we can find the Good News of an eternal cure. The Christian message does not begin in comfort; it begins in dismay, and we won’t be able to receive God’s comfort until we face our dismay.

Indebted

Have you ever borrowed something from someone? Maybe cash when you came up short on a fast food run, maybe you borrow your neighbors tools for tasks around your home?

What kind of borrower are you? Are you appreciative and responsible with the trust you have been lent? Do you respect the lender and seek to repay the favor?

Most of us have borrowed something from someone… but even if you can’t think of anything you have ever been lent or given I can confidently call both you and I debtors.

Romans 8:12 affirms my statement! It says,

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.

You might be saying… “Wait… what do I owe and why do I owe it?” Both of which are normal questions. To that I would respond with a simple verse we all know. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to him: to obey him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken his commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to his justice, and we owe to him a vast amount which we are not able to pay.

That debt we cannot repay is a debt of grace to be paid back to God. When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to God and to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches, not silver and gold, but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy, for we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without opening up the table sharing it with those around us. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth.

Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.

Just like the son of a successful business man who has been given a large inheritance and a position at the fathers company makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. We as Christians should joyfully share what we have freely received. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.

To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the company spending all their money on themselves.

Matthew 18:32-35 says,

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive in the story above, so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.

Again Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul’s command rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us.

In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God, which has been poured in his heart.

So… you are indebted. How are you going to work on repaying that debt today? Who are you going to share the riches of God’s love with?

Jesus in the Preparation

My wife is currently in Medical school. For those who don’t know, it can take more than nine years of study to become a doctor. That’s 9 years after your undergraduate four-year degree is complete! She sure is braver than I am!

But… even after so many years of study, practice, learning, and shadowing other doctors they still don’t become experts on everything. They have particular areas of emphasis where they are experts, and other areas where they only know enough to scratch the surface and refer to the expert in that field of medicine. Yet, every single drawn out moment of preparation for that role in saving lives and curing diseases counts.

It’s the same with ministry. When we hear the call of God to go into ministry, we can often burst out of the gate wanting to get through the training process as fast as possible. Let’s get these training wheels off and get on with the race! But, good preparation is essential for lifelong impact in the call of God.

It’s easy to read the Gospel stories and think that Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene and started doing his thing. It is likely, however, that Jesus didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his late 20s early 30s.

What did he do for those thirty years? He prepared.

Going to the synagogue, studying the Torah, reading the scriptures, praying, working at his carpentry trade. During that time, he probably gathered stories about mustard seeds, lost sons, and wicked tenants. He probably watched and studied the way the Roman Empire exerted its power on the local Jewish communities, regulating their lives through taxes and military force.

Above all, he waited for the appointed time, the right time. Even though he was waiting, he didn’t stop preparing. He was preparing for the moment when his waiting would end.

Just as Jesus is in the waiting, so also Jesus is in the preparation.

What is your mission? How have you prepared? Is now the appointed time?

Don’t Forsake Corporate Worship

“Good night, Momma.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Grandpa.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

“Good night, John-Boy.”

For many, those words evoke memories of the 1970s CBS TV classic “The Waltons.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it was about a Great Depression and World War II­-era family with three generations living under one roof in rural Virginia. The series aired for 9 years, and its theme of a multi-generational family living situation was a look back at the way things were prior to WWII and ran contrary to the time in which the show ran.

In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and children living under one roof. Returning war veterans built suburbs and a new American family lifestyle emerged through the 1950s. The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21%, reaching a low of 12% by 1980.

Most of us know that unlike the distant past we now live in very singular societies. This is unlike biblical times as well when the significance of people groups, families, and generations was emphasized, valued, and held dear. Our worlds now largely value individualism above all else. As Christians, combating this self-first culture is largely what drives our God-given mandate to serve and love one another.

As a Worship Pastor of a local congregation I can’t help but wonder how much this individualistic worldview affects our approach to corporate worship. We know that the apostle Paul warns us to not give up gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But… I believe that Paul not only emphasizes our corporate gathering in his writings throughout the Word, but I think he also has some things to say about what we’re doing once we’ve gathered!

For example, Colossians 3:15-16 says,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says,

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a worship leader I’m aware of the need to lead people on a personal journey. I know that everyone comes from different places in life and that every individual’s response to and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an intimate and personal thing. But I’m also aware that there’s incredible power when believers gather together with one song, one voice, in unity to worship.

What Paul writes in these verses makes a pretty clear statement that speaks of this power of unity. We see that while the worship of our hearts is directed to God, the psalms, hymns, and songs are actually directed to each other! Make no mistake, they’re all about God, but the recipients of the songs in these particular examples are the fellow believers!

For years I’ve known the following passage in Isaiah to be an incredible picture of heavenly worship, the seraphim endlessly giving praise to God.

Isaiah 6:1-3 says,

…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

But read it again and see who the seraphim were calling to… each other! They were telling each other about the holiness and glory of God Almighty! What a powerful display of worship!

Time spent in worship individually and corporately are both incredibly powerful things and we can’t do without either. But they’re not the same.


Practically, I’d encourage you as a believer with a couple of key ideas when it comes to corporate worship gatherings.

1. Don’t quit showing up! We are members of one body and the whole isn’t the whole without its individual parts. Your contribution matters. Your faith matters. Your presence matters.

2. Sing like you mean it! Whether the worship team is singing your favorite song or not, your daily decision to sing audible truth of who God is encourages and teaches others. You may not be the best singer, but fortunately for you Paul doesn’t make any distinction about what you sound like. Make noise.

3. Seek to serve. Acts 20:35 says,

It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Suffice it to say, you’ll find more joy in being more aware of the needs of others in your worship than you are of the needs of yourself.

 


 

I pray that we all have moments regularly in corporate worship gatherings that leave us completely transformed as individuals, moments that we never forget. But I pray that our commitment to gathering and our faith to worship in every season isn’t limited to our own needs and expectations but that it’s grounded in a passionate desire to see Christ exalted and His bride, the Church, be everything that it’s called to be.

Drive Out Fear

We are in a season that celebrates fear. The stores are filled with scary masks and costumes. The TV stations are airing horror movies and thrillers. Our yards and homes are cloaked in the creepy crawly things that haunt people’s dreams.

But in reality… fear isn’t limited to this Halloween season.

Our everyday fear isn’t so much the little things you jump at when they scurry out of the dark corner or slide out from under the bed. The fear I’m talking about isn’t even the panic you feel when a car swerves into your lane and you have to lock up the brakes. That kind of fear is necessary to human survival, because it triggers our fight-or-flight response and causes us to take action! That fear is a natural and good feeling. Without some sense of fear we would make many stupid mistakes, hurting ourselves and others in the process. Without fear, we would not have enough wisdom to flee when true dangers present themselves.

What I’m talking about the fear that paralyzes. The fear of situations, of people and of things over which we have either no control or only limited control. The fear that characterizes itself as worry and anxiety, fruitless and draining… like fear of losing friends or family members, fear of not being able to pay the bills, fear of rejection or fear of losing a job.

And again, there is a difference between trying to avoid these negative things as far as we can, and fearing them… allowing them to overwhelm us, immobilize us, control us or exhaust us.

We live in a society of fearful people. What are some things you are scared of?

We fear what we do not know and what we feel we cannot overcome. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are afraid of.

Yet if we believe that God is ultimately in control, is completely powerful and completely omniscient, and has a perfect plan of salvation for all humanity, then what is there to be afraid of? The Bible shows us that this faith in God as our protector is incompatible with fear. There is nothing physical from which God cannot protect us. And yet we can know this intellectually and still struggle against that deep-seated emotional level of fear.

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 been perfected in love.

As we move from fear and into the love of God, we can replace anxiety with confidence. Fear is dangerous insofar as we let it drive us. We can overcome it by turning to the One who created us and all our emotions… including fear.

Most people associate this Halloween season with fear… fear of death, fear of dying, fear of evil. But when we come to know the true power and trustworthiness of God, many of the fears we have in life melt away.

In 1 John, we are told that perfected love drives out fear. That is to say, when we become certain of God’s love, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. It’s as if God is the parent who comes in at night and tucks us in, turns on the night-light, and tells us that there are no monsters. In God’s great and perfect love, all fear melts away.

We can remove our fears by serving others. When we abandon our lives in service, we often discover that our fears lessen as our friendship and love deepens. As you and I think about our fears now, I hope that we will see that just as God has protected and redeemed those who have come before us, God will protect and redeem us, too!

 

Pray in Confidence

Other than being caught in traffic, or the occasional Doctor’s appointment we spend fewer and fewer hours each day waiting. Waiting is “old fashioned.”

In this day and age everything is so instant. In fact, they are so instant that I think many of us have forgotten the art of waiting. Everyone wants everything instantly, and I think it has changed the way many Christians today view God.

We pray to God and expect immediate results, but most of the time, that’s just not how it works! God has His own timing. We may want something right away, but God needs us to wait until the timing is right. While this often doesn’t make sense in our minds, God sees the bigger picture and knows what we need and when we need it.

This expectation for instant gratification has left many Christians frustrated and doubting the goodness of God, or whether or not God hears their prayers and can do anything “for” them. I think that instead of becoming disgruntled when God doesn’t provide right away, we need to have a mindset that allows us to be patient and trust in the perfect plans of God. I must admit that for me personally this is hard to do.

Maybe you’re praying for companionship, healing, or help and see no results headed down the pipeline. I have felt this way! In fact, I feel this way a lot! I pray and pray, asking God for something I want so desperately and nothing seems to happen. This is incredibly frustrating. Despite this, I encourage all of us not to lose hope or give up on God. He has a plan. It may not be your plan, but it’s a perfect plan.

Psalm 27:14 says,

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

How do you trust in times of waiting? How do you pray in times of waiting?

Let me ask you… when you pray, petitioning God for something, do you really expect results? Do you pray as one who is already defeated just because you feel as if the timing is off, expecting before you even pray that God will not answer your prayer? Or do you pray with confidence that God hears and answers prayer, and that His timing is perfect?

Acts 12 contains a wonderful story that shows how even the giants of the faith and the pillars of the church had trouble putting their confidence in God through prayer. In that chapter we read about Peter’s arrest and imprisonment by King Herod. Having just had James the brother of John put to death, and seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod sent his soldiers to arrest Peter and put him in prison, intending on having him killed after the Passover. We read in verse five “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” The churches prayers for Peter were constant!

The point is clear in this passage that God’s people were praying with great zeal, great emotion, and great sincerity, asking God to save the life of their beloved brother.

While the people were on the other side of town praying for Peter, God saw fit to rescue him. He sent an angel to Peter who led him from the prison and to the gate of the city. Peter seems to have believed this was a dream, for verse 11 says,

When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

He immediately went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, knowing that the church at Jerusalem would be gathered there. He no doubt realized that they would be gathered together to pray for him.

But what happens next is interesting… as Peter knocked at the door of the gate of the house of Mary, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But all those that had gathered together to pray didn’t believe her.

Acts 12:12-17 says,

When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.

Do you see what happened there? Believers who had been with Jesus and had learned from His disciples were gathered together to pray for Peter. These were people who should have had great faith, in fact many of them had seen great miracles, yet when they heard that their prayers had been answered they did not believe it! You can almost imagine them snarling to the poor servant girl “You’re crazy! It can’t be Peter! He’s in prison and we’re busy praying that God will save him!” The situation is almost comical, isn’t it?

You have to ask yourself, is there any purpose in praying if you do not really believe God is capable of answering prayer? Why pray if you do not believe that God is willing to hear your prayer? God is not only capable of answering prayer, but He is also willing to answer prayer!

Pray to God with your expectations set high. Exercise faith through prayer, trusting that God hears your petition. God may not answer your request at the time you expect or in the way you expect, but trust that He will answer.

Sometimes it seems that our answers can’t come fast enough.

It is easy to lose hope while waiting on God, but we have to hold on to the hope that God will give us what we need in His perfect timing. It is this God-given hope that will get us through the days of unanswered prayers. So while it would be easy to lose hope and give up on God, don’t! God has a plan.

He has always had a plan. 

Take a deep breath and keep praying in confidence. Pray for peace, and hope, and above all, patience to deal with the sorrows of this life and the things we want to be fixed right away. Some things take time. So take heart and wait on Him.