A Christian Response To The Election

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? We are still fighting. We are still finger pointing. We didn’t need candidates that threw public temper tantrums then and we don’t need Americans from all over engaging themselves in toddler-like meltdown now. Mud is still being slung, not that either side needs more mud. The truth is still being said, but no one is interested in hearing it.

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Growing Pains

I was awkward. I was insecure. I was out of my element. My body was in pain. That in part described my adolescence. It was said several times that these were “growing pains.” Growth can be painful, but is the offspring of life.  

Whenever there is growth it stretches out the norms. It expands into territories not previously inhabited. Sometimes the structure in place is not equipped or not used to handling the additional load. It’s painful. It’s awkward. It’s hard to manage. But growth is necessary, and for a Christian it is required.

Imagine going to a doctor because you are sick.  The doctor thoroughly examines you and determines that you are in fact sick. Chances are he would prescribe a remedy to cure what ails you. It would be strange to reject his treatment wouldn’t it? It would be even stranger if you became angry with his diagnosis and prescription. But if you want to get better, if you want to live, chances are you will need to submit to the doctor’s orders.

In our faith in Christ we have been given an accurate diagnosis. It is sin. It is that sin that we see over and over again in our day to day lives. We see sin in the headlines of news articles and news programs. We see sin in the lives of public figures. We see sin in the lives we come in contact with. We see sin in ourselves. Our diagnosis is clear, and it is serious. It is fatal. We have a sin problem.

But the Gospel declares that Christ has done more than given us this dire diagnosis. He has provided a remedy. He offers Himself. That is great news isn’t it? He offers life in the darkest moments in our lives. Do you feel like you have just escaped a death sentence? Do you feel like you have been given incredible life beyond what you have been able to imagine? That is what Christ offers and it is Good News!

So what does this mean? It means growth. It is a necessary component of life. After a life in death, Christ saves us so we can now have LIFE in Him. Christ does not look at His offer as an acquittal on a death sentence, and it is now up to us as newly released inmates to choose life or death. He gave us life so we can continue in life. Why would we choose death? Why would we reject our Remedy?

But what about love? Didn’t Jesus die for us knowing full well we would betray Him? Of course! But let’s go back to our doctor for a moment. If we go to the doctor and they successfully perform open heart surgery and save our life, wouldn’t they then give us a list of ways for us to grow and get stronger after the surgery? They might even tell us to cut out things that would certainly lead to death if we continued to do so. If we failed to obey the doctor’s orders, do you think the doctor would kindly dismiss those things because after all, they love us just as we are? No! They would admonish us for squandering this new life we have been given! They would be upset that we wouldn’t grow after being given such a gift. They would be mad that we chose death over life.

In this life we will be encouraged over and over again to participate in things that are bad for us, things that lead to death. But all the while Christ offers Himself. He offers life. Choosing Him once does not mean we get to choose death over and over again. It means that He is life and life cannot be found in anything else. It means that we are expected to grow. We are expected to grow because that is what live things do. It means we will have our awkward moments. We will have moments of pain. We will venture into uncharted territory where things are not known, comfortable, and secure. But we would be living. We would be growing. We would be in Christ.

So let me ask you, are you growing? Do you make excuses for your lack of growth? Do you say this is who you are, or Jesus loves me anyway? Would you consider for a moment that you are squandering the life that Jesus has given you? Would you consider for a moment that you have forgotten what it truly means to be a follower of Christ?

Another thing to consider: If we remember how awkward we were in adolescence, then maybe that can help direct us in our interactions with humanity. In our adolescence we were filled with emotion, short on intelligence, lacking in experience, uncertain of our role, and bipolar in our shifts between arrogance and self-hatred. We needed grace. We needed kindness. We knew what it was like when we didn’t receive those life giving things. So walk in grace, kindness, and love understanding that we all are still experiencing “growing pains.” But still encourage one another to grow.

Sometimes I am awkward. Sometimes I am insecure. Sometimes I am in pain. Sometimes I am out of my element. But that is okay. I am growing. I am alive. I am in Christ.

 

-Pastor Jeff

 

Stop Playing in the Puddles

Stop playing in the puddles!
Storms come. They are inevitable. There isn’t a choice. Sometimes it can get pretty bad. Sometimes you wonder about the probabilities of survival. Sometimes there is a lot of damage. But storms eventually cease. Eventually there will be sunshine again. The sunshine was unfathomable before, but it quickly becomes a welcome change. That is what Gospel change is about! Jesus brings life where there was once death.
How many of us are guilty of remaining in destruction? How many of us wallow in a puddle of self-destructive tendencies? The storm has passed. The sun is out. All that remains of the storm is the puddles that it has left behind. How many of us choose to sit in the puddle instead of rejoicing that the storm is over and move confidently to our sunny destination? How many of us choose to remain in filth, unhealth, and depression after Jesus has calmed the storm in your life? How many of us have memories of our storms that are bigger in our heart and minds than the present goodness of Jesus Christ?
Stop playing in the puddles!
Pastor Doug closed out our Storm Stories series this past Sunday, and he encouraged us to MOVE ON! It is hard to move on sometimes. There are real damages and real injuries that occur during life's storms. However, we serve a God who heals, strengthens, and equips. It is clearly the will of God for us to move on and He has made it possible for us to do so. So why do we choose to play in a puddle when God has called us to sunny, dry grass? Why are we so distracted by past hurt that we ignore present healing? Is it possible that we at that moment don’t believe the Gospel?
Stop playing in the puddles!
Pastor Doug’s last point is clear, our mess becomes His message. Jesus came to bring order to chaos. He came to healing to the sick. He came to give comfort to the hurting. He came to give life to the dead. Our mess in our hands only becomes a more manipulated mess. Our mess in Christ’s hands becomes a testimony of His goodness and grace. So what is in your hands?
My life is best lived when I remove my hands from the things that God does best. So when I am in the storm, I trust in God to be my anchor and shelter. When the storm has passed, I trust in God to bring healing and lead me to safe pasture. In all of these things my heart and mind remain on His goodness and grace. We believe in Good News! We believe in Jesus Christ!
Stay out of the puddles!
Enjoy the sunshine!

-Pastor Jeff

Happy Fathers Day

God created the heavens and the Earth. He created man and woman in His image. It was by design that He made them, and it was by design He made them for each other. It was by design that they were to multiply. It was by design that their offspring had a mother and a father. We have this design because of the goodness of our Heavenly Father!
This Father’s day is another day of celebration of God’s plan. Fathers offer their representation of the image of God that, in conjunction with the mother, give their children a complete view of the image of God. It is because of fathers that a child has the well rounded arsenal that can equip and instruct. It is because of fathers that a child can see what it looks like to be a man. Fathers show what it means to lay everything down for his family. Fathers show selflessness. Fathers point to the goodness of God. Fathers are a blessing to their family. Father’s day is a day of celebration! We celebrate this Sunday because of the goodness of our Heavenly Father!
Father’s day is so much more. It is also a day of repentance. Some males have turned from their God-given responsibilities, and while they have contributed to the conception of a life, they have shirked fatherhood. Some males have not shown a clear picture of fatherhood, they have shown chauvinistic conquest. They conquered sexually and they continue their quest for dominance by their unwillingness to serve their family. Selfishness rules a male, but that dies with Christ and has no place for fathers. Some males serve as well as they are able, but they refuse to serve Christ. It is only by Christ that they are capable of dying to self, and serving their family in the way God has designed. Some males give their offspring a distorted view of God by their unwillingness to be connected to their Heavenly Father. At some point, all fail because of the one flaw that we cannot fix; humans are imperfect. It is not too late! Jesus has offered a way of escape. Jesus has offered to change us. Jesus has offered us a new life. Father’s day is a day of repentance! We repent because of the goodness of our Heavenly Father!
I am lucky to have a father who has been a good example to me. He has demonstrated over and over what a father looks like. He served and sacrificed for His family. He showed me what being a man is about. He has sought after God. He has given a fine representation of his half of the image of God. This Father’s Day, I acknowledge and honor that my father was more than a male who impregnated my mother; he was a father to me. This Father’s day I celebrate him! This Father’s day I worship my Heavenly Father who has demonstrated love, sacrifice, and servanthood to me. It is because of Him that I have life and a good life to come. It is because of Him that I have my earthly father. It is because of Him, that many who don't have a earthly father still have a Father. This Father’s day, I celebrate Him!
So let’s lift up God’s design! Let’s lift up fatherhood! Let’s lift up our Heavenly Father! Join us at Grace Assembly this Sunday as Pastor Doug tackles what it means to be a father.
Whether you are celebrating, repenting, or worshiping (hopefully all three), have a Happy Father’s Day!
-Pastor Jeff

Thoughts About Haiti

Thoughts about Haiti:
One of the things that struck me about the people of Haiti is the strong representation of humanity. I saw the good and the bad. I saw adorable generosity. I saw abhorrent greed and manipulation. I saw intense need, and yet I saw incredible contentment. I saw a full picture of humanity.
One of the things I saw that illustrated the need of Haitians was during VBS time. One of the things that was done during that time was the children were given food and water. They gave the children these bags of water. It was like a strange Capri-Sun without a straw and if Capri-Sun came in a sandwich bag. When those bags of water came out the place went crazy. “Hey you! You!” was there urgent cry as they tried to grab a bag of water. These children reacted so strongly to these bags of water, and I couldn’t help but wonder how children in America would react if we tried to give them baggies of water. Clearly there is an urgent need. This is what it means to be human. There is always need. There are always moments when we are found wanting. Sometimes our need is demonstrated in our lack. Sometimes our need is revealed in our abundance. Either way we find ourselves in need of something greater than what we can provide.
As the children begged for water, I witnessed some of them try to hide their bag of water only to try to obtain yet another bag of water. We would ask them if they already received their bag, and they would boldly proclaim that they were indeed bagless. We would point to their bag and they would smile as if to say, “Well, I tried!” There was clear lying and manipulation. Sin was on full display. I saw humanity. But I would witness something else during those moments. I would see some give their bags of water to another peer who seemed to need it. I would watch one save half a bag, and as their group would move on to the next station of VBS they would quickly give that bag to a younger person, perhaps a family member or maybe a friend, as another group passed by. They clearly were looking out for one another. I saw generosity. I saw love. I saw humanity.
Humans are capable of so many things. They are capable of extraordinary love, and yet they are capable of extraordinary hate. They can accomplish so much for the greater good yet they have lived with such immense self-centeredness. This is what it is to be human. We are made in the image of God so we often display His characteristics that are always good. We show kindness, generosity, and love. We start humanitarian organizations. We help our fellow human. We are moved when tragedy strikes. We accomplish much good. This is what humanity was supposed to be. Yet we are full of sin, so we show our corruption of God’s design. We kill. We go to war. We rape. We enslave. We live in order to solely enrich ourselves. We discard humanity’s intended design and we corrupt it to fit our immediate and depraved urges. This is what it is to be human. This is what we have corrupted humanity to be.
All these years of depravity. All these years of dysfunction. All these years of corruption. Why is there still war? Why is slavery still existent? Why is racism still in the hearts of humans? Why is there still so much self-centeredness? Why can a human being be so good and so bad, even in the same day? Why? This is what it means to be human. Though we are capable of much, we are in far more need than what we can actually accomplish on our own. We are in a hole. We need help. This is not a cop-out. It is reality. If humanity could fix itself, it would have. This is what it means to be human. We are in need!
What is tempting for me as a spoiled American, is to come back from the poorest country in our hemisphere and say that the people of Haiti need more than me. In reality our need is the same. It just manifests differently. They need water. I have so much access to water that I take it for granted and need to be constantly reminded of how blessed I am in having life-giving and life-sustaining water at my convenience. My need is to be reminded that I cannot supply all needs. The people of Haiti are human. So am I. We both are in need. We both need Jesus!
Faith is trusting in Jesus even when every support system in your life has failed. Faith is trusting in Jesus and therefore acknowledging that your ideas for self-sustainment and self-gratification are woefully inadequate and even evil. Faith acknowledges your need. Faith admits and proclaims that Jesus is the ONLY fulfillment of that need. Faith eliminates the temporary from our focus so that all that remains is our eternal King, Jesus Christ!
This is what it means to be human! We were intended to be with Jesus for all of eternity. We corrupted ourselves by choosing to live according to our design and thereby rejecting His. But Jesus once again showed that He intends to spend eternity with us by offering us salvation and giving us a remedy for our corruption. He offers to show us again what it means to be human, the way He intended for us to be. He satisfies our need. What glorious news! It is good to be a human! So what do we do? We must acknowledge our need, and we must turn solely to Jesus to satisfy that need. You may find that your temporary situation will remain. The people of Haiti still need water. But they now have eternal peace knowing that Jesus offers spiritual water that will quench their souls for all of eternity. The brokenness they feel now, will be made whole once again! Praise the Lord that my God supplies all my needs!

I Love Worship

I love to worship! It comes naturally for me. Many of you know that I am a religious man. It may not surprise you that I say that I love to worship. I am a minister. It should be natural, right? But there is a problem. It is not with my heart’s proclivity to worship. It is that my heart is so adept to worship that the standards for WHAT is worshipped is often not that high and it therefore fails to make distinctions between what is worthy and what is not.
I often drift in my worship. I say that Jesus is Lord, but I often grab that title when it suits me. Lately I have taken the title so that I can make claims to God about what is fair and just. Perhaps you have said those things yourself? This is so unfair! How is that justice? It is something that I believe most people have said from time to time. It assumes that we know better. It assumes that someone has gotten it wrong. Many times this points to the heart longing to worship and often times it finds the wrong thing to worship.
I have seen people that I care about suffering from things and my heart did what it so often does, it began to worship. I began to place priority on what I thought is right and important. I thought that if these were holy and righteous people, then they deserve better. They are owed health. They are owed wealth. They deserve the good life. It is that thought that places us as ones who can earn salvation. It is that thought that places ourselves as savior and lord. It is that thought that assumes that there is some good in us that merits something, that obligates God to give us what we want. It is a delusion that sneaks in. It is a result of our fallen nature. It is in part what makes us human. It is a fact of which I need constant reminding.
Where does that leave injustice and unfairness? Sometimes we can stand up to injustice in this world especially if it is perpetrated by fellow humans. We can fight for fairness. We fight against the forces of darkness that wages against God and His creation. We fight as we are enabled by His Spirit. But our accusations are leveled appropriately. We recognize our own failure, weakness, and sin. We certainly do not level these accusations against God. If we want to talk to Him about injustice and unfairness, then all He has to do is point to the cross of Christ. All He has to do is point to an entire human history of crime against all of creation and crime against the Creator. All He has to do is point to our depravity. We are not owed anything by God. He has not gotten it wrong. Humanity has itself to blame.
These are big truths. These are hard truths. Thankfully I am not left alone to my own thoughts. My heart isn’t left to itself and its own fickle inclinations. I was invited by Jesus Christ to receive life from Him even when I deserved otherwise. Talk about unfair! When I said yes to Christ He sent the Holy Spirit to make residence in my life. He leads and guides me. He lets me know when my heart strays from rightful worship of Jesus Christ. It is this wonderful truth that counters my weakness, and it is this truth that gives me hope of victory from my selfish imprisonment. I am released to serve God and to serve others without any restrictions, because I do not need to justify whether they deserve it or if I deserve better than what I am doing. I serve because Jesus gave me life when there was not a speck of undefiled goodness in me. I serve because I choose to worship Christ.
This Good News is not something that is restricted just for me. I did nothing to earn it, and it was not luck that I came by it. It was because the Creator of the universe reached out to me. He is reaching out to you. You might not know it. You might not hear Him yet, but He is there. You may consider yourself religious. You may even consider yourself a follower of Christ. You may have tried to stay far away from all of this. Would you consider for a moment what you worship? Would you consider for a moment that Jesus offers you life despite what you have earned? Can you say that you have released from your imprisonment of selfishness so that you can freely love the way Jesus loved, and to proclaim His Kingdom with His power and might?
This is all Good News. We all need to be reminded from time to time. Not because the news has gotten smaller, but because our hearts are so weak. Our strength comes from our reliance on Jesus Christ. So stand with boldness and love knowing that Jesus has already and continues to stand with you. Turn from you worship of small things, and turn to the only one who has demonstrated that He is worthy. Worship Jesus!
-Pastor Jeff

I Hate Death

I hate death. I feel sad. I feel lonely. I feel scared. I don’t like it. You probably feel the same way. Sometimes I wonder how God can allow something like that to happen to someone. Why did they have to go so young!? For whatever reason I think that something bad has happened to the one who has died. I feel hopeless. I feel hopeless because I cannot change things. I cannot bring the person back. I cannot take the grief away. I cannot eliminate the sorrow of others. There is nothing I can do. It’s almost like death has won. I hate death.
We had communion this morning, and it reminded me of something very important. Communion reminds us that in the midst of death, there is life! Christ died for us! He experienced death. His Heavenly Father had to let His Son die. At that moment, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, and He paid the debt that all people owe. For the first time, our Heavenly Father knew separation from His Eternal Son. It was unfair. It was wrong. At that moment death had won.
But that is not all that communion reminds us. It reminds us that in the midst of the darkest time of all of human history, there was life. Christ did rise from the grave. He did walk amongst His loved ones once again. He did go to sit once again next to His Father. Death did not win.
Finally, there is Good News for you and me. It is one thing for the Son of God to have this victory. In this world, earthly rewards are often obtained by who you are or who you know. The fallen state of this Earth guarantees disappointment. Success cannot be promised. We will experience failure, disappointment, and pain. But Jesus did all that He did so that we could have victory. Communion tells us that in the midst of death, there is life. Because of Jesus’ death and because of His victory over it, we now have access to that same victory. We have the hope of life even in the midst of death. We can know that death will not have the ultimate blow on our existence and it will not be the defining moment for us. No. For us, death is something that will merely be a momentary experience that transitions us to eternal life. No, death does not win. Jesus already did and life was His reward, a reward He graciously shares with us.
We might not understand tragedy. We might miss those who are gone seemingly too soon. But one thing we know: God is good, God is just, and God is gracious. We are given something greater than what the darkest thing that this fallen Earth dishes out. We are given life even though we have earned death. We are treated far better than what we deserve. When we see someone taken from us early, we don’t have to feel sorry for them if they have followed Jesus. They are now experiencing the reward that was secured for them by Jesus Christ. The promise of their faith has been realized. They are experiencing life like never before! So what do we do? We celebrate them, their faith, and our Savior! We rejoice that Christ’s reward is theirs! We take comfort in our Hope, Jesus Christ.
Where is mourning? It is still there. We still have to wait for the full realization of our faith. We have to wait to be united with all of those who have gone before us. So we do what everyone does. We mourn. We miss them. We remember them. We are sad. But that is not all that defines us. We mourn as those who have hope. We mourn knowing this is not the end. This isn’t it. Not only have they won but we have too, and not because of our own merits, but because of Christ’s victory and gracious towards us. In the midst of death…there is life!
This is what communion reminds us every time we participate. This is the message of the Gospel. This is Good News!
-Pastor Jeff