Look Up

love came down

“They turn, but not to what is above” (Hosea 7:16).

Trying times came upon the children of Israel. They were threatened by foreign nations. They were facing a very real existential crisis. But, they did not know that turning away from God led to their problems – and the further they walked away from the Lord, the greater their problems became. Yet, when all seemed lost, they refused to come back to God. They refused to call upon Him. Instead they turned to false god’s. They turned to Ba’al, Marduk, Molech, and Ashtoreth, amongst others. They turned everywhere but to the one true God who was calling to them (Hosea 7:7, 10, 14). As they called to Ba’al they cut and mutilated themselves. As they called to Molech, they sacrificed their children. But, despite the intensity of their actions and the sincerity of their misguided beliefs, there would be no answer. They called, but silence is all they received. Yet, during all this, God was there watching them; and through His prophets calling them. The message was simple, “Seek me with all your hearts, and you will be found by me” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). God longed to save them, but they would not “cry to Him from their hearts.” Even in all their sin He was ready to save and protect them. How much sorrow do people bring upon themselves because they don’t “turn to what is above?” God never turns from people. People turn from God. God loves with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will gladly receive anyone unto Himself. There is no sin that can carry one too far away from His reach. No one is too far gone for the Lord’s help. He comes – He always comes – to those who look to Him and cry out to Him from their heart. When we turn to Him, even in the depths of our sin, we will be met with compassion, kindness, love, and hope. All we have to do is, “Look to what is above.” When we do, we will discover that God is already looking at us.

The Strength of Hope

What is so special about Easter morning that sets it a part from every other morning? The answer is simple. Easter morning, like no other, represents the fulfillment of promises and the giving of hope.

As we think about the first disciples and apostles we cannot overlook what that first Easter morning meant for them. They woke to that first morning with a heaviness and sadness that would be hard for us to understand. All their hopes had vanished. Everything they had longed for and hoped for in Christ seemed, at the moment, to have evaporated.

Isn’t that just like people, to lose all hope so quickly. Truly Jesus knew what He meant when He said that we are helpless and harassed like sheep without a shepherd. But little did those first followers of Christ realize that their darkest hour was in fact their greatest victory. It would take them a little time to understand this great truth. But soon, every apostle and disciple of Christ would be traveling the known world telling every soul they could about this victory that Jesus Christ achieved on their behalf.

So, Easter is significant because in it we recognize that God the Father has fulfilled every promise He has ever made. The bible says,

“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:18-20).

The apostles, and first disciples of Christ, did not realize Continue reading

Bleeding Green

Scratch below the surface and one will discover that just about all churches bleed green. No, they are not environmental enthusiasts; they bleed the older green, the type that has defined civilization since the time of Nimrod. Greenback is another slang that most churches would not wish to be associated with. But there it is. Churches need money, spend money, and like all people and organizations, can’t live without it.

The hard reality is that everything costs money. Life is expensive. Just ask new parents who are spending what was once going-out money on diapers and formula. Spending money on others is hard work. It takes intentional effort not to to spend it on yourself. Window shopping can be a painful experience. Seeing the things you really want but having the discipline not to buy it – even better, using that money in a way that gives someone else what they want, even when those things generate zero interest on your part.

Oh, but there is the rub. Using money on what blesses others. Church life, at least as defined by the Bible, is about learning to follow Christ. Christ followed the Father, and in so doing He was obliged to spend a tremendous amount of capitol on others – even others who violently reject Him. Of course His currency was His blood – and he spent it all, giving it freely away to those who would become eternally rich by His offering.

I don’t like to part from by greenback. Most churches don’t like to either. I suspect that Jesus was not too fond of being parted from His blood. In fact, the Bible tells us that He pleaded with His Father to take that cup from Him. The Father declined. Jesus spent it all. We are saved.

Why do we find it so hard to spend on others? We sometimes cling to our money as though it were our blood. The funny thing though, the Bible indicates that when we freely give away, the more we receive. In fact, the investment strategy of the Bible is very different from that of the world. The world says, build and save. God says, give it away. When we do, God replaces what was given. When we invest in others, God promises we will receive a return. But when we save for ourselves we seem to have a diminished return. Maybe we should view our money like Jesus view His blood – as a blessing to others?

Hum, maybe we should bleed green? If my money is your blessing, then what am I saving it for? And if God seeks to replace what I use to bless others, what am I afraid of? I won’t go hungry or homeless. I may have to sacrifice something, but … well, Jesus bled for me. Praise God for all those who have bled for me!

Unleashing the Power!

Much mischief has come to the church from people operating on manmade expectations. People like busyness, and they like productivity. But, some people seldom consider the impact that is being made for the Kingdom of God. I had a conversation with a man who told me about all the wonderful stuff his church was doing just a couple of years ago. However, he forget to mention the crisis that took place during that time: the number of people who left; the conflict in the church staff; the dishonest way certain committees attempted to manipulate church circumstances; the many people who weekly attacked the pastor after every sermon – and oh, there was the deacon who left his wife and kids and ran off with a woman in the choir half his age – oh those good old days! But, the church had programs, and appeared to be productive!!

And people wonder why churches cannot reach their communities. We have forgotten the gospel. The gospel is not about busyness and programs and productivity. It is about life transformation. It is about becoming a new creation in Christ. It is about righteousness and Godliness. It is about having the entirety of one’s life turned upside down – or should I say, turned right side up. It is about learning to live for God, as one learns to love God. That may not be very flashy. It may not have the outward appearance of being “productive,” whatever that means in the economy of God’s kingdom. But, it is the very heart of the gospel.

Paul said “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation….” The church that expects to see power again (we once called that revival) must make the gospel the center of church life. I don’t want the “good old days” to come back to the church. I want the power of God to rock the foundations of the church!

A couple of weeks ago there was an earthquake about sixty miles from where we live. A friend’s house now has a nice long crack on his basement floor because of it. The power of that earthquake reached far beyond its epicenter and impacted by friend’s house sixty miles away. The church will reach its community only when it learns that the gospel can unleash the power of heaven. When it does, homes and lives and families far from the church will feel the impact.

The reality is that the church that does not know the power of God must substitute true transformation with superficial busyness. A pox on that house! Let us get back to the gospel! And maybe God will have mercy and pour out the fullness of His Spirit, so we can once again see lives transformed through the gospel of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Hard Path to Life

Judgment. Today it’s deemed a strange word. It has fallen out of use. It was once an accepted reality. No longer. Many people have jettisoned this idea as being not credible. They cannot reconcile how love and judgment can come from the same source. Recently there has been a flurry of books that attempt to teach that love and eternal judgment are irreconcilable. Instead, we are confidently told that “Love Wins;” the idea that in the end, there is no such thing as eternal judgment. Sounds nice, even comforting; but what if such ideas are wrong?

Everything is at stake. It’s a winner take all, loser loses all proposition. But there’s the rub. For those who propose that there is no eternal judgment, it’s winner take all and everyone is a winner proposition.  It sounds good, but has no correlation to reality. Unfortunately, people have accepted the idea that they can live as they wish, embracing any form of deviancy, call it normal and expect God to approve of their decisions. But they are wrong, and it will cost them everything.

But some cry foul and say that is just unfair! After all, they assert that there is no such thing as sin, only choices, and man, not God, makes the distinctions. Such a response, however, is visceral. They “feel” that it is simply unfair to send someone into a state of eternal torment – because despite their sin, they are good people – just ask them, they’ll tell you so. And they’ll respond, “How could a god who ‘loves’ all people torment people forever?” On the surface it sounds like a good question – even reasonable – especially when the idea of love is expressed as feeling. Feelings are always nice – especially nice feelings. But the only effect they have is to free us from the responsibility of good thinking.

The current trend that judgment is no longer a credible truth is born out of a generation that has been raised in a toxic brew of narcissism were conclusions are based on a “me center” approach to … well everything. The central issue is, “How does this affect me?” Of course, eternal judgment affects people very significantly. If one takes time to consider the implications of their sin, then what follows is the possibility of someone having very bad feelings about themselves. Unfortunately bad feelings are no longer accepted in our culture. It no longer matters what people think, so long as they feel good about what they think.

When people “think” about God they above all, want to feel good about themselves. This has become the central concern of much of what passes for Western Christianity today. Books and sermons by the truck-load Continue reading

Love’s Warmth

Love can be a difficult thing to measure, but I suspect at one time someone said the same thing about heat. How do you measure heat? Perhaps when new technologies were being discovered to measure heat, someone thought, “Measure heat? You can feel it!”

Love works something like that. I don’t suspect we will ever design a device that will measure love, but God has given us the ability “to feel it.” Just as we have a built in system to “feel” varying degrees of heat, so too, God has given us a built in system to experience various degrees of love.

In Luke 7:36-50 we are introduced to a woman whose heart was overflowing with love for Jesus. The measure of her love was so intense that others could feel its presence. Unfortunately, it made some uncomfortable. But I suspect that Simon, (and people like him) who have never really had that kind of love in their hearts could not understand her passion. But Jesus understood it. And many through the church age who have been able to read of this woman’s account have also understood it.

Jesus was not in the least bit offended at the woman’s display of love, and many people have been deeply moved by her story. Her love burned bright, and many have been touched by its heat. No, we cannot measure love like we measure heat. But the truth is that our love for God can burn so bright that others (including God) take notice.

So, I think we can measure love. Our “love temperature” can be clearly gauged by observing those around us. Just as people respond to heat by moving away from it, they too respond to love by moving. Some people move closer because of love. Some (like Simon) move away from it, but love always makes others move. To gauge the “temperature” of our love, all we need to do is look around us. Are people moving?

Hopefully they are moving in the right direction; but even if they are not, let them move still. Perhaps, on a cold day, when they are need of loves warmth, they will remember how those gentle rays settled upon their heart, and longing for its warmth, they will finally move into the full orb of its light.

I hope we all are moving in the direction of God’s love. Never forget, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Just like Him!

There are some people you just cannot please. If you say black, they will say white. If you say up, they will say down. The bottom line is that they will always look for a way to criticize, discourage and argue with you.

Jesus had just performed a miracle by casting out a demon from a man who had been a life-long mute. No doubt the demon terrorized the man for his entire life. When Jesus saw him, He had compassion on him and relieved him of his distress. In response to His act of mercy and kindness the self-appointed spiritual know-it-alls responded by saying, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

I am not certain, but I suspect that there was a long, silent pause in heaven after that ignorant remark was made. It’s amazing to consider what Jesus had to endure as He shared God’s love to those around Him.

But He came to a broken and dark world filled with bitterness, envy, jealousy, strife, deceit, and wickedness of every sort. What is really amazing is that such people did not discourage Jesus from continuing to do good to others. The very next verse reads, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt 9:35).

What a beautiful sight. It seems that the cruel remarks of the Pharisees made Jesus double-down in his efforts. Not only that, but He made their community the object of His kindness and mercy. Look at that verse again. It says that He went all over “teaching in THEIR synagogues.”

Instead of quitting in anger, or arguing with idiots, Jesus gave them a season of mercy, love, grace, and kindness. What a lesson for us!

Has someone discouraged you lately? Have you ever felt like quitting because of the cruel and insensitive remarks of some thoughtless person? Instead of quitting, let their disparaging remarks lead you to double-down on your efforts to do good.

Treat your tormentors with kindness, grace, mercy, and love. Pray for them. Do good to them. Continue in the work to which you were called. Who knows, maybe they will come around some day. Your love will have covered a multitude of sins, but more importantly, you will be acting like Jesus, and revealing what the Kingdom of God is all about!

A Little Perspective

When I was a child in Michigan, I liked to exhale and watch as my warm breath hit the bitter cold air. My breath would crystallize for a brief moment, and then slowly disappear. Concerning the life of man, the Bible says that “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4).

From God’s perspective, our life is like that brief period between the time the air is exhaled from the lungs, hitting the cold air, and the time it disappears altogether. When life is put into that perspective, it becomes an understatement to say that life is short.

Since that is the case, why do so many people spend so little time focusing on the things of eternity? Why do people spend more time watching T.V. than the time they spend in prayer? Why do people neglect God’s Word (the words of eternal life), but can devour a novel? Why do people neglect worship, but will not miss an opportunity go to the beach?

There are people who will look over their lives and wish they would have focused more on the things of eternity. Unfortunately they will do so just before they are about to enter eternity.

But, God has given us everything we need so that when that day comes we will be prepared. The Christian life is about being prepared. It involves more than being saved. That is just the beginning. It involves spiritual growth for the purpose of knowing God; it involves learning to love God; learning to live in the Holiness of God (without which no one will see the Lord, Heb 12:14); learning to worship God in Spirit and truth; learning to love others, and serve others as Jesus served us. It involves a great many things—things that we need time to learn.

The more time one spends in preparation, the more one anticipates, and looks forward to that great day when God pulls back the curtain and reveals Himself fully. But not everyone will be ready for that day. They will prepare for a good golf game, a weekend at the beach, a good hunting expedition, or whatever else one can do to spend time in worldly pursuits, but they will not prepare to meet God. But that day will be here before we know it.

I can still remember the cold air. My breath lingered only for a moment, and then it was gone. Think about it, and then find a place to worship this Sunday …you’ll be glad you did.

A New Creation

The celebration of Easter has passed, but the reality of its truth lives on. The Bible says, “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” (Romans 6:3-4).

I like that phrase, “newness of life.” When we come to Jesus for salvation, we are given a new life. This life comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and empowers us to overcome sin, to love and worship God, as well as to love one another. As the Bible says elsewhere … in Christ we are a “new creation.”

One of the best things about begin a “new creation” is that we have a new identity with God. As a “new creation” we are His child. He no longer looks at us through the lens of the law (which can only condemn); but He looks at us through the lens of Christ, who came to save. This means God is for us! No matter what happens, God is always on our side.

Another benefit of being a “new creation” is that we have a new relationship with sin. Before we come to Christ, we are enslaved to sin. The Bible makes it very clear that we are in bondage to sin and can do nothing outside of its authority. This does not mean that unbelievers can do nothing good; it simply means that the alloy of sin is intertwined with every part of their life – good works included. The result is that they are not able to do God’s will. But when we come to Christ for salvation, the chains of sin are removed; in their place a robe of righteousness is given. The result is that we are set free to do God’s will.

Still another benefit of being a new creation is that we are set free from death and judgment. Jesus paid our debt on the cross. The incalculable debt we owed God as a result of our sin is now paid in full! Therefore, death can no longer claim us. In its place we are given the assurance of eternal life. The Spirit of God that dwells within us can never die. Jesus promised, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

There are many more benefits of being a new creation in Christ. But the great truth is that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we ARE a new creation in Christ; and as a result we CAN walk in newness of life!

Keeping the Faith!

In the book of Acts there is a great story told about Paul while he was a prisoner on a ship (27:13-25). He was going to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. This story would make a great movie scene. There is much drama, hardship, and uncertainly, but ultimately, victory.

As the ship heads for sea, the weather is calm. Unfortunately, not long into the journey they are confronted with a terrible storm they called a Euroclydon. Apparently this is the equivalent of a north-easter, or for us in the South, a hurricane! Because of the fierce winds, the crew is forced to let the storm drive the ship where it will.

At some point in this terrible adventure the crew spots an island where they believe they can find shelter. For a brief moment they struggle as they attempt to port the beleaguered ship. For a moment, hope swirls in the air. Unfortunately, it was a false hope as the winds take the ship back out into open seas. As the coast disappears from their view, so does their hope.

In response to their dire situation, the crew throws over their supplies in hope to lighten the ship. However, after a few days without food and no break in the storm, the crew and passengers on the ship sink into despair. But when all seems lost, God shows up.

An angel comes to Paul in the night and gives him a message from the Lord. The message is that the ship will be lost, but the Lord will spare the life of all on board. Then Paul says, “Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me” (25).

I love Paul’s unwavering faith! God gave him a word of Hope; he then stands in the middle of the storm on a sinking ship, and boldly proclaims that all will be well. God has spoken, how can it be otherwise?

This story mimics what can happen in our own lives! Sometimes it seems as if we are on a sinking ship with no hope in sight. There are wars, economic uncertainties, sicknesses, political instability, yet in the midst of it all, we have a word of hope from our great God and Savior, Jesus! He promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He promised that He will be closer than a friend. He promised to lend us His strength, to fill us with His love, accompany us with His Spirit, and guide the course of our lives. The reality is that He knows how to bring our sinking ship to a safe haven.

So, whenever we feel as if we are in a storm that threatens to take all, instead of sinking into despair, we need to remember the words of Paul, “Take heart! For I believe God…”