Monday, July 11, 2016

May the Lord Bless You and Keep You

I wanted to write this morning to praise God and thank you for such a meaningful Sunday morning as a church. 

We live in a world with nearly endless amounts of pain from sin, that has led to war, famine, oppression, racism, terrorism, and conflicts of every sort.  Our corporate worship sometimes leaves little room for emotions of grieving and mourning.  We are so accustomed to coming to praise, that it’s possible that on any given Sunday, you have a hurt that needs to be expressed first in sorrow so that the Lord can bring you relief.  With the tragic events of this past week throughout our nation, and in our own community, the Lord guided our team to make a change of plans in our worship service to create space for lament.

I learned a lesson Sunday: leave room for every emotion.  As our service began with the song, “Lord I Need You,” I could immediately sense a hungriness in our church to call out to our Lord.  Through song, through scripture, and through gathering in small groups for prayer, God ministered so well to our church yesterday.  We were able to un-bottle our tears, our anxiety, and even our anger, as we cried out to God for those who suffer so terribly from the effects of sin and evil.  We related with the Psalmist, David, in Psalm 5, who rocked back and forth between indignation at the wickedness of his enemies, and recognition of his own wickedness that brought him to humble gratefulness for the mercy he had received.

So much of our worship and daily living-out our faith is cover-up.  We are quick to pretend we’re all okay, that we’re mature enough and strong enough, and we tend to hide emotions that we might deem “weak emotions.”  David’s cries out of weakness were urgent and intense.  The cries of Israel in Lamentations are powerful and passionate.  Jesus, in all of His power, wept for lost friends and cried tears of anxiety before His Father in heaven.  When we repress our tears, our fears, and our weakness, we continue to carry them with us.  These emotions can be like an infection that turns into a nasty sickness in us.  Fears will become cold-heartedness.  Anxiety might become detachment.  Hopelessness could lead to indifference. 

Let’s bring our suffering into God’s presence.  Let’s go as deep as the hurt is within us, trust our good God to bring us out of the pit, and raise us up in His strength.  Our honest lament, when laid before our strong God helps us to face personal suffering and the troubles of this world, and it reminds us of the day in which all suffering, weeping, and death will be no more.

I’m grateful for a church that did this yesterday.  Let’s keep doing it every day.  And may The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6:24-26)


Trusting Jesus with You,

Kevin 

Monday, June 13, 2016

#OrlandoHorror

I don’t watch the news on Sunday mornings.  I get up early, come into the church office, and begin to focus and pray on what the Lord is doing in our church, and I prepare to welcome our church body together for worship.  This past Sunday, I was oblivious to the tragedy in Orlando until my drive home, when I heard it being discussed on the radio.  Shooting.  Night Club.  Massacre.  Deadliest shooting in American history: 50 have died, 53 more are injured.

I began to think of the similar recent tragedies, in San Bernardino, Paris, and Brussels.  I thought back to that movie theater in Aurora, CO, to Fort Hood, and to the shootings at Wedgewood Baptist, not too far from my home when I was a senior in High School.

I began to think on other threats to culture and to our way of life: violence, prejudices, culture wars, poverty, sex-trade, terrorism, and so on.  Our world is at war with itself, and in an even deeper sense, our world is in rebellion against God.  Of all of the motives for such terrible acts, people are in a crisis of identity and of security and of authority.  Ever since Genesis 3, we’ve been resisting God’s rule over this world, and in so doing, we’ve forgotten who we are and we’ve stopped trusting His protection, His provision, and His ways.  Some have allowed their rebellion to lead them into actions so awful that we’re all thrown into fear, anger, and confusion.  I’m personally weighing through emotions of sadness and of urgency to react, and at the same time, I’m not shocked.  We’ve been accustomed to acts of terror.  And while I’m on guard that I wouldn’t become calloused, I’m sober minded about this: 1) Every sinful act is treason against God, 2) I’m guilty too, and 3) Our world desperately needs a Savior. 

We started a series in the Psalms this past Sunday.  In Psalms 1, the focus is on my personal relationship with God, and how His presence and His will changes me within every circumstance of life.  This week, I’m reading Psalm 2, and it’s there that I’m reminded that while the world in chaos, my God is not shaking.  He is steady.  He is not out of control.  His plan is perfect.  What does God say to all of the tragedy?  He says, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (Psalm 2:6-7)” 

You know who this Son is.  His name is Jesus.  He once encouraged His followers with these words: “…In Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”  Jesus said a good many other things about how to live in times of crisis.  He said:

Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  In other words, it’s okay to grieve.  Face your feelings.  Talk with God about your feelings and about who He is in the midst of this moment.

Matthew 11:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  I’ve seen people respond to #OrlandoHorror with everything from compassion and empathy, to justification and arrogance.  When human emotions collide with human emotions, we can perpetuate one horrific act into many terrible acts among people.  We can (and should) choose to be peacemakers, not peace breakers.  I think the key to this is:

Matthew 11:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  The word meek means strength in restraint.  In our culture, we are so quick to try and dominate people with our ideas, thoughts, and power.  Jesus celebrates those who submit themselves (and their control and power) to God.

This reminds me again of Psalm 2, which ends with the encouragement to take our concerns, our thoughts, and actions before our Lord. “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:12)”

On Monday after the terrible news of Sunday, with you and with our nation, I’m pausing to pray and be comforted and led by God.  I’m finding hope, that God is still in control, and He is still near to the brokenhearted.  And I’m praying for you, that you would find healing and hope that is found nowhere else, but in Jesus, His Son.


Trusting Jesus with you,

Kevin


P.S.  During a crisis you’ll probably struggle with knowing what to say to your kids, how much to say and when to say it.  Check out this Conversation Guide from LegacyKids.



Friday, November 13, 2015

How to [be/not be] a Cowardly Lion

Our family chose a Wizard of Oz theme for Legacy's first Trunk or Treat.  I volunteered to be the Wizard or the Scarecrow or the Tin Man, but I didn't want to be the Cowardly Lion.  Maybe it's being a guy and maybe it's being in my 30s...but I'd choose to be associated with the mindless Scarecrow than the cowardly kitty cat.


You remember the cowardly lion, don’t you?  He was supposed to be the king of the jungle, but he had no courage.  I’ve known many people like the cowardly lion.  If I’m completely transparent—at times it’s been me.  Whether it be making decisions without guarantees or dealing with interpersonal conflict, facing any uncertainty takes great courage.  You've no doubt encountered measures of cowardice in others...perhaps you would even admit you've been a cowardly lion once or twice before.  

-Cowardly Lions often say what people want to hear even if it's not the right thing, or the thing that should be said.  
-Cowardly Lions frequently avoid conflict.  I'm not suggesting we should look for conflict, but ignoring problems never leads to healthy solutions. 
-Cowardly Lions are never willing to make the hard decisions.  Most people don't prefer change.  Change is in the nature of hard decisions.  Not engaging in these moments makes us stuck, and stuck makes us stagnate, whether your decision is about a relationship, an activity, or a direction to take.
-Cowardly Lions bail on others when things become difficult.  Basic human behavior seeks to protect oneself at all costs.  It takes real courage to stick with others, even when it costs us time, energy, resources, and reputation.

In the Bible, Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage his faith and life.  2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."  As Moses was about to die, and Joshua would take over as leader, Moses encouraged Joshua in the same way as Paul to Timothy, in Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Fear hinders what God has given us: His power, love, and sound mind.  Are you dealing with fears today that are gripping you so tightly that you feel helpless and hopeless?   

In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion does not understand that courage means acting in the face of fear, which he actually does, over and over throughout the movie.  As christians, we're called simply to "walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).  This is the idea of "abiding" that we studied in our EVERYDAY series.  We trust fully that God is with us and for us, and that He will not forsake us, and we act in the face of fear, depending on his strength, kindness, and wisdom to carry us through.

How can we practice courage with confidence in the everyday stuff we face?  
1) Start by praying for the Lord to open your mind and help you understand how to use the power given by His Holy Spirit. 
2) Pray for your heart to be filled with His loveknowing that His "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).  
3) Ask the Lord to clear your mind and bring to your thoughts His words, taking captive those thoughts not of Him. 

Let’s be people of courage.  In fact, since our "God is for us" (Romans 8:31), maybe courage should be one of our most defining traits!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What does it mean to "Walk in the Light" & what happens when I do?

Do you remember how popular those magic pictures were in the 90s?  They’re called “stereograms” (3D hidden pictures), and at the height of their popularity, you could find them on posters, t-shirts, notebooks, books, and they were a favorite in PowerPoint Presentations created on Microsoft Office 95!

It never really happened quickly for me, but I would stare hard and unmoving until the blur of colors began to take shape and a 3D image would come into focus.  What had seemed random and flat might become a person, an animal, or a beautiful garden scene (hint for the picture at the top).

This is what happens to us when we experience God: we aren’t given a new picture, but our "fellowship" with God brings our eyes into focus to see the deeper picture that’s already there.  It starts at our earliest moments of trusting Jesus, and the picture of God’s holiness, our sin, and Jesus’ grace become more and more 3-dimensional (bigger and more real).

I was reminded in this study of the conversion of the 18th century minister and theologian, John Wesley, who described attending church one evening, when against his will: “I felt my heart strangely warmed…and saw that Christ had taken away my sins (even mine!), and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  The picture was already before him, but now he saw the whole story with greater depth and personal experience.  For the person who walks in the Light (1 John 1:5-10), the picture just gets more and more beautiful and real, and allows us to daily walk in the Light!

As we really dive into our new series, EVERYDAY (advice from the little Johns), draw deeply on your fellowship with God.  Share in His vision, peace, power, and love in the midst of everything you do in everyday life.  As you do, you might just be surprised at what comes into focus.  It might just be that life can be more beautiful and the spiritual things more tangible than you realized.

*If you missed the opening of the series, check it out here: PART 1, and we'll see you this Sunday for part 2!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Before You Tweet

Before you speak (or tweet or FB) in passion, speak with God in humility.
Today, a culture shaping decision was made.  The US Supreme Court, by a vote of five to four, declared that same-sex couples may now marry in all 50 states, striking down the bans of states who have attempted do so.  We’re not the first country to come to this conclusion.  In the past five years, Ireland, Finland, Scotland, Luxembourg, England, Brazil, France, New Zealand, Denmark, Uruguay, Portugal, and Argentina have made decision to allow gay marriage (and many others before 2010).  This is also not the first culturally controversial and divisive decision made in the past five years.  Any number of issues have polarized our communities in terms of views regarding politics, economics, healthcare, war, technology, racism, and sexuality.  Are you curious what people are passionate about?  Just check your FaceBook or Twitter feed.  These are the domains that allow people to say things without fear of a punch in the face and the ability to walk away and ignore the consequences of their actions.  I wonder, on a day like today, when a current event brings about such heated debate, how many relationships go sour.  How many friendships fail?  And how many will let the sun set on their anger?  

Friends, let’s remember that Christian maturity involves a lot of things, but surely it includes knowing how to process your deepest emotional feelings.  Today (and everyday) before you speak (or tweet or FB) with passion, pray to God with humility.  This is wise advice, taken from the example of our Lord, Jesus.

Before Jesus’ passion, He prayed with humility in the garden.
On the eve of His passion, Jesus went to the garden of gethsemane to pray.  It was there that Jesus prayed the greatest prayer in the world.  Among the most debated, heated, and divisive issues you’ve encountered, none could be as controversial as the one Jesus faced.  Here, people rejected and were to kill, God’s own eternal Son, through whom everything and everyone has been created (John 1:3-5).  Without doubt, there was more angst and confusion, more passion and fury than in today’s decision.  The world itself teetered on this moment.  What hung in the balance was the glory of God’s grace and the salvation of the world.

Before Jesus’ passion, He prayed with humility in the garden.  He prayed openly and honestly, in conversation with God in heaven, and He consecrated Himself to God’s divine and providential will over His feelings of anxiety and hurt.  The righteous Son of God set aside His rights; His prayer was for God’s will, not His own righteousness.  Jesus then went, not to crucify others, but to be crucified.

Today (and everyday) before you speak or act in passion, pray to God in humility.  Ask Him to help you understand your feelings.  Ask Him to give you the posture that most glorifies Him.  And if it is His will, be ready to set aside your rights (of free speech and of being justified in your position) that His passion may be seen. 

Yes, God has spoken definitively on sexuality, as He has on many ethical and moral issues that evoke heated discussion today.  Yes, God’s intents, purposes, and His Word should be the final word for all of His creation.  Yes, Christians should watch their life and doctrine closely (a la Paul to Timothy) that we might live in the salvation that Jesus died to provide.  But when it comes to how we confront the world and all those we disagree with, we should follow the example of Jesus, and be more concerned with our own submitting to God’s will and dying to self than striking out to crucify others.

So today (and every day) would you, before you speak (or tweet or FB) with passion, pray to God with humility?