Monday, July 21, 2014

The Endurance of a Nation

I recently finished a book by Joel Rosenberg entitled, The Auschwitz Escape. I purchased the audio version of this novel so that I could listen to during my morning jog. Like most of this authors other titles, this novel is a work of historical fiction. Which simply means that although the characters in the story are fictional, many of the events are historically true. This particular account follows the life of a Jewish boy who was caught in the turmoil of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power during WWII. The details of his experience in the Nazi death camp in Aushwitz was deeply moving. As I finished the book this week, I was wiping tears from my face as I jogged through my neighborhood streets. It was a moving reminder of the plight of the Jewish people during such a tragic time in our history. And yet, it is just one of the stories involving God’s people. They suffered during their slavery to Egypt and the oppression of the Roman Empire. Even as we speak, the nation of Israel wakes up to a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza. The rhetoric of Muslim leaders around the world is a call to completely “eliminate the Zionist regime”. And yet God made a covenant promise that protects the enemies of Israel from ever accomplishing this threat. He will one day restore the nation of Israel under the rule of Jesus as their Messiah and King. Until that day, may we pray for the nation of Israel to see the hope of their salvation in their Messiah today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Beauty of God's Design

Let’s talk about rain… that’s something near and dear to us here in West Texas. And let’s go back to where the process begins - the ocean. This is the place where water that ultimately falls on our crops must begin its journey. This is where the sun causes the water in the ocean to evaporate… a process by which water stops being water for a while so that it can go up and not down. It rises as a vapor until it forms a cloud. And once in the sky, the clouds actually begin to remove all the salt from the ocean water, because saltwater on our crops would kill them. Once purified, these tiny droplets of water begin to form around microscopic particles of sand. This cloud of water then travels hundreds of miles carrying billions of pounds of water. In fact, one square inch of rain, which falls on one square mile of farmland, would be almost about 2 million gallons, or 1.6 billion lbs of water. So billions of pounds of water ascend from the earth, traveling hundreds of miles in the sky, and then it all falls back to the earth with a gentle tap of a rain drop… giving life to the fields, to the animals, and to us. Now let’s turn from a rain drop to a tear drop. Tears are the lubrication system for the eyes. Inside each tear drop is a thin layer of oil that keeps water in your eye from evaporating. That’s important because tears give clarity to your vision… which is why you blink in order to see more clearly. And have you ever started crying when you cut onions? Do you know why? It’s because onions release a chemical that turns to sulfuric acid when it comes in contact with the eye. But those tears make that sulfuric acid harmless… and even though it stings, your tears are actually keeping you from going blind. In fact, each teardrop is filled with all kinds of antibacterial agents that fight infection in your eye every second of every day. Even tears that are released when you’re sad have a purpose. How many of you have actually felt better after a good cry when you’re sad? There’s a reason for that! The chemicals that accumulate in your body during times of stress are released in incredibly high concentration through your tears. I give you these examples because I want you to see the deep complexity in the apparent simplicity of God’s design, because we are just scratching the surface. All we’re talking about is rain drops and tear drops. But even in them we see the miraculous beauty of God’s design guided by His infinite wisdom. You see, God understands how life is supposed to work because it was His idea to begin with. He wants us to live in the beauty of His design. And when we learn to walk in wisdom, guided by His Word and empowered by His Spirit, we experience more than we could ever ask or imagine. It is a profit that is greater than silver or gold and more precious than jewels. Nothing you desire could ever compare to the richness of who you are in Christ!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Celebrating Freedom

Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence declaring America’s independence from Britain. It’s one of my favorite holidays because it is often filled with many of my favorite things: cookouts, family, friends and fireworks! It is a great celebration as we enjoy the freedom we have in our country that many in our world will never know. But actually, at Melonie Park Church, we began this celebration of freedom a week early... but in a different way. We celebrated the testimonies of changed lives through baptism. People spoke of the new freedom they found through faith in Jesus Christ. A freedom from the penalty of sin and the hope of a new life in Christ. I love the way Eugene Peterson portrays the picture baptism in The Message. He says,
“That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace = a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism in the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of is raised into a light filled world by our Father so that we can see where we are going in our new grace-sovereign country.”
As we celebrated the freedom we have in our country, always remember that this world is not our home. We live in a new life in a new land where grace reigns through faith in Jesus Christ. May your life tell the story of His redemption every single day!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Telling Your Story

Memorials are an important part of God’s story in our lives and the Bible is filled with examples. God often uses these memorials to create a conversation that He expects to be passed down from one generation to the next. And this was particularly important for the ancient cultures who depended on their oral tradition as a primary means of communication. In fact, much of what they knew about God was based on the stories the children heard from their parents and relatives in their own social community. This is hard for us to appreciate in the digital age because we often don’t need other people to gain information. For example, if you want to know about a subject, all you have to do is “Google it”. As a result, we don’t often share our personal stories of how God is at work in our lives. In fact, I read a recent study that revealed 40% of church going Christian homes either rarely or never discussed spiritual matters as a family. It is the absence of these stories that can make God into a subject I might learn about instead of a person I get to know. That’s why I want to encourage the body of Christ to be committed to telling their story. We need to raise up the next generation of Christian disciples by teaching them how they might know the living God in a real and personal way as we have come to know Him ourselves. Take some time on this Memorial Day to consider how you might continue the tradition of men and women who have been faithful to tell their story.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Hope of Rose

Well, I went to visit my friend Lisa this weekend, just like I encouraged others to do. It’s easy for me to give out advice that I am unwilling to follow and so I took the time to go and visit my sweet friend in the Lord. Lisa was up in her chair and she grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. She went on to explain (as she always does) how good God has been to her and what she has learned from listening to sermons and devotionals that she engages with most every day. Lisa spoke these words over the hum of a ventilator machine that was helping her breath. But that machine was the only reminder that Lisa was in poor health because her spirit is alive and well. During our conversation, she brought up the Easter message and told me, “I heard what you said brother Todd. Jesus is our only hope. I believe that.” Well of course she does. Unlike you and I, she isn’t distracted by the success of a career and the allure of riches. She doesn’t have a family or a marriage that is a security for her. Her health is failing and the promise of healing gives her no hope. Instead, she looks beyond this life and understands that the promise of hope is yet to come. Hope is not an emotion… hope is a person. About that time, I look over at her roommate Rose. Rose is paralyzed from the neck down and I have never seen her in any other position than lying motionless on her back. Mentally, she appears to be a bright person but a stroke has robbed her of her ability to speak. Although she can mouth the words, she cannot make the sounds. I try hard to understand what she says and so when I saw her trying to tell me something, I went up close to her face and watched her lips as she said, “I have that hope too.” Wow! What a humbling reminder. “If we are to hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1Cor 15:19) I can only pray that I can have the hope of Rose in both sickness and in health. A hope not limited to my present reality but in the promise of things that are yet to come. Hope is not an emotion... hope is a person. And that person is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the reminder Rose!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunday was Palm Sunday. The day the crowds were ready to crown Jesus as king. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." This is the day they had been waiting for... the day Israel would be set free from the oppression of Roman rule... the day the promised Messiah would deliver his people and establish His kingdom on earth. The air was filled with anticipation, and as the night grew dark, the excitement refused to sleep. The next day, Jesus walks into the temple and what He observes makes His stomach turn. The same people who were ready to make Him king were now in the temple preparing their hearts for worship. But instead of bringing their own animals, those that were without spot or blemish, they simply bought one from the merchants in the temple courts. Of course, they weren't as good as the animals they had at home, but it sure was more convenient. And in the end, it allowed them to fulfill their religious obligation without a great deal of personal cost. Jesus looked at the compromise that filled the temple and he knew it reflected the hearts of those who wanted to crown him as king. They liked the idea of worshiping God on their terms. They preferred a religion that minimized sacrifice and maximized benefit. They were all for Jesus when He did what they wanted Him to do. But when He began to turn over the tables in the temple, they just stood and stared. They began to realize that this might actually cost them something. It was a subtle but important shift. Those who were ready to crown Jesus as king began to wonder if this was such a good idea. After all, they like the idea of Jesus as one who would conquer their enemies and give them a comfortable life, but they were not as excited about the idea of Him ruling over their heart as well. They preferred the idea of a customized Messiah that came with minimal cost and maximal benefit... and we are not all that different.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I'm Discouraged

I have not written in recent weeks because I just didn't feel like I had anything worth saying. To be honest, I've been discouraged. I've seen the evidence of the enemy's attacks in what seems like every direction I turn. I've stood at the graveside of young parents who had to bury a child that didn't live long enough to see the light of day. I've looked into the eyes of a wife who has been abandoned by her husband... I've seen the same look of pain in the eyes of a husband whose love has been repeated rejected by his wife. Our church had an intruder who broke in and stole instruments and equipment used by those who help lead worship on Sunday mornings. People I've discipled have walked away from the church and the list goes on and on. And then I turn on the TV and listen to Carl Sagan's mentor speak of the spiritual connection he feels with science in knowing that all living things are connected in a great web of life that originated for the spontaneous evolution of a single life giving cell. I see a Russian tyrant have his way in the world because everyone else is too impotent or too apathetic to do anything about it. It's discouraging! It's discouraging because it's times like these that it "feels like" the enemy is winning. Like he's gaining ground and we are losing hope. Now, intellectually I know that's not true. I'm a pastor for goodness sake and so I know all the right answers. But I'm also a human being and sometimes it just "feels like" the prince of this world is advancing at a greater rate than the kingdom of God. And then God spoke to my heart as I prepared another sermon in our study of Nehemiah. Here you have a remnant of Jews, who are in the midst of a spiritual revival, trying to take steps of faith as they re-build the wall their enemies have destroyed. They are good people trying to do a good work for God. And yet, what does the enemy do? He shows up to mock the Jews and their miserable conditions. He belittles the work they are doing and threatens to terminate their progress by taking their life. As a result, the workers begin to crumble under the pressure. "The strength of the workers is failing and there is too much work to do. We are convinced that we will never be able to finish the wall." I look at those workers and I see myself. I too easily listen to the lies of the enemy and start to believe they are true. After most Sundays, I go through a mild to moderate depression as the enemy whispers in my ear, "Boy, that was a lot of work but I'm not sure anyone was listening. Did you notice that person nodding off? Is what you have to say really making a difference? The church sure had a lot of empty seats. Maybe your mission is failing." The enemy knows where it hurts and that's where he attacks. Like we see in Nehemiah, his goal is to discourage you enough that you will lost hope and quit. He speaks lies into those areas in your life where you struggle and doubt. It's like a person who stands over a piano and sings a note. Without touching the piano at all, the string that matches the note that is sung will begin to resonate. In the same way, Satan will speak a lie that will resonate in the areas where you struggle. For me, he tells me that I'm failing. That what I am doing is not making a difference. And if I'm not careful, I begin to believe this is true. I start to lose hope. And so as Nehemiah taught the Jews, I go to the Lord in prayer. I speak honestly about what is on my heart and I let the truth of His word speak louder in my life than any lie of the enemy. I crawl under the shelter of my God and know that He has gone before me. This battle belongs to Him. His is the victor, and when I belong to Him, His victory is my reward. I am more than a conqueror in Christ who saved me and set me free. I am an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation, and I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. That truth of the gospel is what informs every aspect of my life. For what Christ accomplished on the cross has not only transformed my life but it has given me a new and everlasting hope. And the hope of God does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. I will take up the full armor of God so that I will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. I cling to this truth, because He alone is my rock and my salvation. In Him I will not be greatly shaken!