Storms

I often share the story about my adventure with my friend Dan on the water. Dan invited me to go fishing with him once, which I was happy to accept. I was in the Air Force at the time and stationed in Idaho (there are some beautiful and great spots to fish at in ID). We set out with a small, metal boat attached to his pickup truck and headed to a local reservoir near the air base we were stationed at not knowing the perils we were about to face.
Everything seemed okay as we cast the boat from shore. The sun was shining, the temperature was not too hot and not too cold. We rowed out to the middle of a tributary of the reservoir and cast our lines for a quiet time of fishing. After a little time on the water, we began to see a storm off in the far distance. Dan wasn’t to concerned and thought it would pass to the west of us. So, we continued to fish even though the storm continued to move our way. It wasn’t until the water began to become choppy that we decided to head back in but of course was too late.
As we began to paddle, the choppy water began to hit against the side of the boat, the wind had also picked up and began to push against our attempts to get to shore. To make things worse, it began to rain, not a nice summer shower but a straight downpour. The boat began taking on water and there were a few moments that I thought we might have to swim for it (thank goodness we didn’t I might not have made it). After what seemed a life time of paddling, tired and weary we made the shore line almost a half a mile from where we cast off and Dan’s truck was parked.
When it comes to the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus in the storm (Matthew 8 and Mark 4) I can relate. I could understand their panic as waves are battering them side to side, to see water filling up the boat and wondering if it was going to sink to the bottom. I would have been shocked to find anyone on the boat asleep let alone Jesus. The disciples, frantic for their life, wake Jesus and wonder if Jesus even cares that they might die. Jesus responds by calming the storm and then stating to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” to which the disciples stand in amazement of Jesus and His power over nature.
I think we can be just like the disciples in our lives. You might not be on a boat in the middle of a literal storm like I was in Idaho, but we face figurative ones through out our lives. These storms include things like financial hardships, broken relationships, deep seeded temptations/sins, waiting for a diagnosis to come back, facing a disease or upcoming surgery and many more which can be added to this list. All of these and more keep us up at night, flood the brain with worry and causes our bodies stress. Just like the disciples we can even be asking Jesus, “do you even care?”
The thing about the disciples in the boat was that they didn’t have to worry, they had the Lord of this world with them. Their boat and lives were not in real danger (though it may have seemed to be) because God Himself was with them. The problem was the disciples didn’t realize it and we don’t either. You see the same Lord that calmed the storm on the boat with the disciples, is the same Lord that can see us through ours. We must have faith though, to face the fear of the storm not by ourselves and our own strength but by knowing Jesus is right there with you. Jesus who defeated death and sin is there with us. Whether we see the storm taken away, pass through the storm or we cross over with Him, as believers we know that life is eternal in Him. So today I ask why are we so afraid, do we still have no faith?

Just For Today

Just for today: I will lift my eyes up to you, O Lord, and seek to tell you of my love for you.

Just for today: I will lay all of my questions down at your feet and leave them there.

Just for today: I will express my praise for you. I will rejoice in who you are.

Just for today: I thank you for all you have blessed me with. My life is so full.

Just for today: I will listen for the still small voice of your Spirit saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

Just for today: I will place tomorrow in your hands and refuse to worry about it. Then when tomorrow comes, behold, it is another “today!”

Victory in Christ

I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory, How He gave His life on Calvary To save a wretch like me; I heard about His groaning, Of His precious blood’s atoning, Then I repented of my sins And won the victory. This is the beginning of a great old hymn of the church that I have sung many times growing up, but has taken me many years of spiritual growing up to come to an understanding of the truth in this song. Victory is something we can have in our lives but only through Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples, 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV) Jesus through his incarnation, life, death and resurrection defeated Satan and sin. It was through the Cross that sin’s full effect was laid upon our Lord. He took on man’s full disobedience and the penalty of said defiance, death. 1 Peter 3:18, “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God….” Jesus fought the battle we could not fight ourselves and secured for us what we were unable to do. With this knowledge then, we can know how to have victory in our lives.
Victory comes from our knowledge and faith in Jesus. I used to watch the GI Joe cartoons growing up and they would always say “knowing is half the battle.” When we read and learn about God, we gain understanding into the nature of who God is. As we dive into the scriptures, we see key attributes that can strengthen our trust in Him. God is all powerful, all present, gracious to us, caring, and all knowing, to name just a few. It is through coming to know Him that we can see God is the source of our victory. Jesus cares for our situation; gracious to pick us up if we fall, powerful to deliver us from our situation and faithful to be with us even in our deepest darkest moment in life (see Psalm 23). Knowledge of a God who cares and even shares in our afflictions (Jesus was tempted, mocked, despised, suffered pain) can help us gain the victory we need. With knowledge then, it becomes whether we have faith.
Paul tells the church in Ephesus to take up the shield of faith (Ephesians 6) to protect against the attacks of Satan in our lives. Knowing facts about God takes us only so far; it is living in and out the knowledge we gain from the bible that faith is built. You see salvation is more than just gaining a ticket to heaven, to remove the punishment of our sins. Salvation begins a relationship with us and God through Jesus. Just like any relationship, it is built on a mutual trust, us placing our trust in God and God working through our lives. As we place our trust in the Lord, we begin to see the difference He makes. This may not always be instantaneous or without pain, but as we walk with Jesus, we can see the victories as we grow in Him.
So, you might be asking, “what’s our part.” I think Jesus is the best example to use when it comes to this question. In Revelation 5, John gives us an imagery of Jesus that I think works well in our own lives. John is waiting for someone to be worthy of opening the scroll before God and it seems like no one can be found on, under and over the Earth, that is until an Angel tells him to take courage and look. John is told here comes the Lion of Judah, the majestic symbol of the King of Israel, One who has the power of God. As John looks however, he sees a lamb that is slain. In this symbolic picture of Christ, we can see how Jesus was victorious. The power of God working through the sacrifice of God himself.
For us then, true victory comes when we sacrifice our wills to God and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to work Christ’s grace in us. Paul knew this when he told the Corinthian church, “9 But he [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Paul had a thorn in the flesh that he wanted God to take from him but the Lord would not remove it because it was through it that God’s power was displayed. It is the same for us, it is not about us fighting some spiritual battle by our own will and determination, but through a will handed over to Christ so that the power of our Lord might strengthen us to His glory and praise.
What is your struggle today, where in your life are you needing victory? Have you prayed, have you searched the scriptures for God’s wisdom in your circumstance and have you fasted? Even more, have you laid it before the feet of Jesus where true victory has been won for us. Victory comes not through fighting, but through submitting to the one who fought for us.

Christmas Gifts of Love

We all can remember getting certain gifts for Christmas we really wanted. One year I wanted a top of the line skateboard. It was the coolest thing, yet I rode it like a dozen times and it got stolen. I remember the excitement of getting my first gaming system, a Nintendo, and then my second Super Nintendo which I played very often until I sold them at garage sales after getting the next latest and greatest system. I remember my train set that my pop pop set up in their basement which I played with often until my grandparents’ house caught on fire and it was destroyed. I even remember getting a bb gun (because of the Christmas Story) and though I didn’t shoot my eye out, after playing with it for a few years, disappeared most likely thrown out after I moved out for the Airforce. So many gifts that gave happiness for a while, but are now just a memory.

As Christmas approaches next week, what kind of gift can we give that won’t end up tossed to the side. What gift can we share that will make this holiday stand out? What gift can we give that will keep on giving all year long? I think looking at what God did for us at Christmas can give us the answer.

John 3:16 one of the most famous verses in the bible says, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God knew we (man/woman) were in a bind, sin had marred His creation (to include us) and now He had to take action in order that we might have eternal life, we might have a relationship with Him again. Jesus came to show us love through grace (the unmerited favor). Christmas is that reminder how God’s love came down to Earth for us and because of this fact God has shown the greatest gift we can give, love.

We give the gift of love when we first understand what true love is. In the world today it seems that love comes with strings attached. It seems that most people are only willing to show/give love when there is a reciprocal love returned. Many people put limits or restrictions on their love: ie if you do this, this and this, then I can love you back. God’s love came with a cost, not to us but to Him. His love is given sacrificially for us, which means we must give love in the same way, a sacrificing love for others. Easier said then done but God wants us to be willing to be stretched in our faith to give love to others freely even if those we show love to do return it or even worse show us contempt.

Now that we have an idea about what type of love God wants us to give, how are we to go about showing/doing this type of love. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) Paul was writing to a church that was dealing with pride, sexual sin and inner church fighting to highlight a few issues. Paul clearly states how they should treat one another and helps us to see what a true Christ like love is to be like. A love devoid of selfish ambition.

Where do we start when giving the gift of love? Often starting small helps. You can begin by being more patient, kind, gentle and not self-seeking in the relationships we are already in. Show those around you the love given to you in Christ. From there show that same love to people you come in contact with during the day like a cashier at a local store, a customer rep you may be calling with a problem, a co-worker and so on. Finally, as we master that, we move on with those who have hurt/wronged us, who mistreat us, those who call us enemies, and so on. We reach out with an unmerited love and forgive even when forgiveness may not have been asked for. Here we truly need to call on God and rely on His grace to help us to give this love to those that have wronged us.

Love is truly a gift, especially when we love as Jesus loves us. This is a gift that brings joy, brings healing and brings restoration. It’s a costly one, but one that can’t be out given. This Christmas who can you share this much needed gift with. Pray for God to show you who you need to share more love with this year and beyond.

Advent: Anticipating the Christ of Christmas

There were many tough things as a kid that you would have to do like cleaning your room, finishing your plate with that one particular vegetable that your mom and dad would make you eat, going to school just to come home to do homework and the list goes on. Still there was one thing I think was the toughest and that was trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. In my family, we had to wait until Christmas morning to open our gifts and man, what a wait it was. In the excitement, the anticipation caused my eyelids not to function (close). I remember countless Christmas Eve hours staring at the ceiling hoping for one of two things, sleep to come or Christmas morning!

Here in a few weeks another Christmas will be upon us and I ask the question: what you anticipating for Christmas this year? Could it be receiving that one thing you desired under the tree? Could it be the smile on the face of a loved one as they open that gift you spent forever (and maybe a fortune) to get? Maybe it’s hosting that perfect party that everyone raves about throughout the next year. Still, it might be the opportunity just to see loved ones you haven’t seen in a very long time. These can be exciting things and happy moments, yet as Christmas comes and goes, these moments fade and the things we thought would bring joy leave us with momentary happiness. There is, however, a way we can come away with true joy this Christmas that can last long after the gifts are gone, parties are over and our distant loved ones leave to homes far away and that is through a word called Advent.

Advent is a season of time leading up to Christmas where a Christian can focus in on the real reason, we should celebrate Christmas, Jesus.  Advent focuses firstly on Jesus’ coming here, God coming in flesh. Matthew 1:23 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us)” (NIV). It is a time to reflect and celebrate the fact that Jesus came to dwell with us, die for us and now dwells within our hearts.

The second part of Advent is to remember that Jesus will return again. Just as God promised the Messiah (Jesus) would come and He did; Jesus promised He will return again. Revelation22:20 “20 He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’” Advent is a time to reflect and celebrate this fact as well; Jesus is coming again.

Right about now you’re thinking isn’t there some wreath and candle thing you need to set up. Well, yes one can use a wreath with four outer candles and an inner one lit, but the candles aren’t necessary. It’s what they symbolize that can help us celebrate Christmas this year. Each candle lit once a week in a sequence symbolizes ways that we can reflect and celebrate Jesus’ coming and His return. The candles represent hope, joy, peace and love. Each of these is something Jesus gave to us as He came to this earth fully man and fully divine.

Jesus gave us hope that we could find freedom from sin. The joy that comes as Christ comes into our lives. The peace Jesus mediated between us and God. Finally, the love Jesus showed by coming to Earth and dying on the cross for us. As we approach Christmas, we can spend time not only on the hope, joy, peace and love from Jesus’ coming, but the hope of Jesus’ return when we will have the fullness of His joy, peace and love.

So, this Christmas once again I ask, what are you anticipating for Christmas this year? Are you willing to take the time to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holiday to reflect and celebrate on the real meaning of the season? To seek and find the hope, joy, peace and love only Jesus can bring in your life. I believe if you do, this might truly be an unforgettable Christmas.

Step into the Fog

I stared out the window one very foggy morning and it looked like my world ended about 100 yards away. One could only see shadows and silhouettes. Going forward I discovered life beyond the fog that I saw.

Our lives can get foggy at times. Pain, loss, grief and heartache cloud over our lives. We could feel like life ends “just out there.”

What do we do? Some freeze in place. Others curse the fog. There are those who withdraw and wait to die. Yet, life is lived only when one has the courage to take the next step INTO the fog.

Where do we find the courage to do so? Several turn to the bottle or a drug. Some others become hard and tough believing that “nothing will hurt me again.” Yet, all these do is numb the fear and increase the fog.

I have learned that my faith in God gives me his strength to take that next step into the fog. God living in our hearts gives us the courage of the Lion of Judah—Jesus. Keeping our eyes on him and off the fog we discover the SON of God burns off the fog of our hearts and that there is an awesome life to be lived beyond what we could see. We really only see “through a fog dimly…” until we walk out our faith in Jesus.

Ignore the scary shadows and silhouettes. Trust in his Sonshine. Take the next step. The fog will clear.

Give Thanks

Psalms 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

​I love Thanksgiving, I really do. As a kid it was because we were going to go to grandma’s house and eat some delicious Thanksgiving dishes. Today I still love the big Thanksgiving dinner and the possibility that multiple extended family members may gather with us to share a meal. These are wonderful moments that become cherished memories, but as I get older, I really begin to look at Thanksgiving for its true purpose to give thanks, to give thanks to the Lord.

​Why do we thank God? You probably think this is a simple question and in some ways it is simple. Of course, we give thanks for God wants us to and because it is good to thank God for the things we have been given.  Giving thanks, however, has a deep psychological benefit for us. God knows that as we thank him, we begin to see how much we need Him in our lives. We break that sinful habit of making ourselves god of our life and of course making a mess of it. We see the brokenness of our life and how the Lord mends those pieces into something beautiful.

​We also learn to detox ourselves from the dangerous sins of pride and greed. In a nation of excess (which is a blessing in some ways), we can sometimes find ourselves competing for the next best expensive thing, anything from a phone to a house. We are bombarded with ads looking for our money. We look across the street to see (covet) the latest and greatest thing that we just can’t live without. Thanking God can put into perspective what blessings we truly have. When we take stock of what God has given us, we begin to appreciate the things we have and are enabled to move towards contentment. Also, as we give thanks to God for the things we have, we realize it’s not truly our stuff, but God’s which allows us to be generous with the things we have. Thanking God is truly good for the soul.

​What ways can we thank God? There are two terms that come to mind when talking about being thankful; thanks (of course) and adoration. Giving thanks is simply the act of seeing what God has done in our lives, to recognize the grace given by Christ and taking in account how much God has given. I will caution against thinking that we are deserving of these things, we must remember it’s not because of who we are or what we have done that God has given us these things, but rather because God is good, and loves us and He gives these things out of His goodness.

​In any relationship, there is always the danger of taking the one we love for granted and with our relationship with God, it is no different. Often if we are not careful in the good times, we may neglect our relationship with Him only to go running back when troubles arrive. Adoration is a way of thanking God for who He is and thus reminding us how important God is in our lives. It helps us remember that God is all powerful, all present, Holy, all knowing, all loving, etc. Adoration is the act of adoring God for all that He is. As we give adoration, this helps us to remember that God is the one in charge of this world, that He cares, and that God is not to be taken lightly in our lives. Adoration helps us to keep our eyes on God through the bad and the good of life.

​How and where in our lives can we start being thankful? We can begin in our prayer lives, instead of jumping into the wants we have, we start by giving God adoration and thanks. This prioritizes our prayers and lives to think of God first not self. Second, we give testimonies. Find places in your day to share with someone how God has been active in your life; give Him the credit for things you have, or things that you are doing by God’s strength, love, etc. Thirdly write a list, journal the things you have because of God and give Him praise. Finally, live for Him, allow your life to be a living sacrifice of thanksgiving. Through your life be grateful, humble and giving God thanks for everything good in your life.

When should we be thankful? All the time. Thanksgiving is a great time to remember that we should be thankful, but it should not end after the meal and before the fighting over Black Friday deals. This Thanksgiving can be the start of a month, year and hopefully a lifetime that is always thanking God. It will lead to a joyous and content life, so why not start today!

The Secular vs. Sacred

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen. St Patrick
God stopped me the other day as I was reading a book on the church by Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways). He was talking about the idea of sacred vs secular, in that the way church is set up today it can foster an idea in the individual church goer that church is for entering the sacred space with God and the rest of the week is living in the secular world apart from God. This, of course, made me think about wether we as Christians living dual lives. On Sunday we enter the scared putting on a façade of holiness (intentional or not) while living the week as if God is unaware or absent in our daily life, temptations and even sins. The question becomes then is this the way God wants us as believers to live, a dual life with one foot in the pool of sacred and the rest in the dry land of the world. I would hope your answer is no.
Paul wrote to a church in crisis; the Corinthian church had been plagued with many sorts of sins and divisions. While talking to the church about one sin in particular (sexual sin), he informs the church on how they are to view themselves in light of what Christ has done for them and with whom is now inside of them. Paul states, “19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” Here Paul clearly states that they are no longer their, own but God’s and God (the Holy Spirit) is dwelling in them. In the Old Testament time, the temple was a fixed place in Jerusalem which was a sacred, set apart place for God to come and dwell with His people. Now the temple was/is those who have received Christ.
Logically thinking, if we are now the temple in which God indwells in us, shouldn’t our lives reflect the same. As temple’s of God’s indwelling, we should strive to live our lives in a manner of holiness. The sacred is not separate from the secular because with God’s presence in us the sacred is always around. This means that though we live in the fallen world around us, the scared is in us and God’s grace is transforming the ways and things that used to be in and of the secular world.
In St. Patrick’s prayer quoted at the beginning of this blog entry, we can see the desire of St. Patrick in his life. He prays for Christ to surround his life and to be shown through his life. For St. Patrick. Christ is the key to living a life pleasing to God. Jesus is the key needed to live in the secular world without being a part of that world, to make life not just church on Sunday a sacred thing. Thus, we must know Christ, to have a relationship with Christ and to live out that knowledge every day. It is up to us with the Holy Spirit’s help to turn every aspect of our lives sacred to Christ. Start this week by honestly and sincerely praying St Patrick’s prayer and see where God will lead you this week from the secular to the sacred in your life.

Love

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
This verse is one of the most recited verses at weddings and why shouldn’t it be; Paul really breaks down for us what love looks like. All newlyweds, and us not so newlyweds, should lean upon these verses as we encounter the daily struggles of married life. Still, these verses were not intended to be an instructional guide for how to show love to your spouse but rather how we as Christians should be with others, especially with our brothers and sisters in the church.
Paul was dealing with a lot of issues in the church at Corinth. These issues included but not limited to sexual immorality (to include incest), abuses of the Lord’s Supper, jockeying for power in the church, misuses and over emphasizing spiritual gifts, just to name a few. Still one of the biggest problems was how in all this the church members were treating each other. Throughout Paul’s letter is addressing the issue of the lack of compassion shown for each other by those in the church (more like churches; for Corinth seemed to have a network of house churches) but comes to his fullest argument against the Corinthians in his explanation of love. Let’s take a moment and look at Paul’s call for love when responding to others.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) 4 Love is patient, love is kind… We live in a fast-paced society, our daily schedules jammed pack with work, kids’ school activities, errands to run and much more. This, of course, makes us edgy, overstressed and overwhelmed. No wonder why this part of love is so hard to do. We don’t have time or the mindset to be kind and/or patient. Yet it is in our kindness that we show Christ and in our patience that we show those around us their importance and value. If we want to lead people to Christ today, I think showing these two aspects of love will show others something different in us and open the door for us to build a relationship of mutual respect that will lead to us having the ability to share who Christ is to others.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV). This section of the passage deals with putting ourselves over others. Love is about the other person, not what I can get from them (manipulation). When Christ came and died for us, He wasn’t thinking about himself. Jesus knew our need and put it first. To be Christ like, we must put others and their needs first so that we show the love that was given to us to those who need it.
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 At the heart of love is forgiveness. God is a forgiving God. From the very start when Adam and Eve fell in the garden God has been reaching out with his grace to restore us and our relationship. Anger, resentment and unforgiveness is toxic for the soul. They keep us lock down in misery whereas forgiveness out of love frees us and allows for joy to enter in our lives. If you are holding on to a grudge right now, let go, forgive and move on in the love of your Lord.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. There is nothing evil about authentic love. When love is authentic, it does not try to hide or deceive. Love when authentic will support, will believe and will keep those who are in it from the ways of the flesh. If we truly love, it will build up those around us and seek to do nothing that harms others.
Finally, Paul tells us that love never fails. In church we tend to forget or ignore this fact. Yes, love should be accompanied by truth (no one would ever know about sin and it’s effect in their lives if not told the truth) yet with no love, our truth looks more like us being judgmental versus caring. Paul wants the church to understand that no spiritual gift, no position in the church, nothing in the church is more important than love. Love never fails and it won’t fail us if we act out of love with everyone we meet. Pastor Mart.