Getting Rid of the Last Vestiges of Slavery

Today I read an article about a reporter who has very likely discovered the burnt remains of the last slave ship to America, the Clotilda.  When it set sail in 1860 for what is now Benin, West Africa, bringing slaves to America was already illegal.  But on a bet that they could do it without being caught, two men purchased the boat, sailed to Africa, and brought back 110 African men and women as slaves.  To evade the law, they sailed into Tensaw Delta on Alabama’s Gulf coast under cover of darkness and transferred the slaves to a riverboat on the Mobile River.  And then, to hide the evidence of their crime, they burned the ship and sank it there in the delta.

The story fascinates me on several levels:

  • One, the depravity of the men who did this is mind-bending. How could two men, already wealthy, capture 110 innocent men and women, take them from their homeland, shackle them for weeks as they crossed the Atlantic, and then sell them into slavery in America?
  • Two, the men were careful to destroy the evidence of their evil deed. But evil cannot be hidden forever.  And the recent storms along the east coast, called the “bomb cyclone” caused extremely low tides, exposing the remains.
  • Three, there are still vestiges of the ship that had been buried so long. The men who burned it probably thought they would never be discovered, but here we are, almost 160 years later, and experts are now discovering the details of this infamous journey through the artifacts on the ship.

The parallels to our spiritual life are striking:

  1. We all “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) I said that the slave traders were depraved, but so is each one of us, without Christ.
  2. Material slavery (men and women in shackles forced to do uncompensated labor) is deplorable. But spiritual slavery is no less so.
  3. We may try, in our own strength, to rid ourselves of whatever enslaves us in our sinful state. But unless we repent and return to the author of our freedom, we will never be able to remove the last vestiges of our slavery. In Christ alone are we freed from bondage. (Romans 6:6)

February in the U.S. is Black History Month.  As we remember the oppression of our black brothers and sisters and continue to advocate for their justice and freedom, let us also seek to be freed from whatever oppresses us, spiritually, through Jesus Christ!

A New Year’s Blessing for 2018!

I don’t know what kind of a year you had in 2017. Maybe it was a great one; or
maybe there were more challenges than you cared for. Maybe you have regrets;
maybe you are happy with yourself. Maybe there were defeats; maybe it was
filled with victories.

Most likely, though, there was a mixture of all of the above.

If you experienced loss, my prayer is that the peace and comfort of the Spirit of
God would envelope and embrace you as you enter this new year.
If you experienced the pain of separation
from loved ones, either through death or
difficult circumstances, my prayer is that
you will allow God’s healing grace to
flow in and through you and your
relationships.

If you sailed through the year with joy
and victory, my prayer is that you would
give the glory for this success to God and
God alone. He is the giver of every good
and perfect gift (James 1:17).

The wonderful thing about being a
Christian is that we are not defined by
what has happened to us. We are neither limited by our losses nor can we
rest on our laurels.

The Bible tells us that the life of the
Christian is completely new:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the
new creation has come: The old has
gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Even (especially) our attitudes are to be
new as believers in Jesus: “Do not
conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of
your mind.” (Rom. 12:2)

For those of you (including myself!)
who sometimes struggle with aging or
malfunctioning bodies, here is another
promise we can all embrace: “For we
know that if the earthly tent we live in
is destroyed, we have a building from
God, an eternal house in heaven, not
built by human hands.” (2 Cor 5:1)

So, no matter what you left behind in
2017, be confident that God can use it
for good in 2018. There is nothing too
hard for God! Aren’t you glad of that?!!
In all that we do and all that we are in
2018, let’s embrace God’s promise of
newness, empowered by the renewing
grace and love of God!

We Welcome You, Lord Jesus!

It’s Advent Season, and Jesus is coming!  Have you ever thought about what it must have been like to wait for the baby Jesus? I mean, if you’ve ever been expecting a child, you know the whole range of emotions will hit you during those 9 months.  But what if you are expecting the Son of God?! The second person of the Trinity?!

Probably, most of us have this image of Jesus as an adult, already having “wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.” (Luke 2:52). But we might, except for this time of year, forget that he was also a very small, dependent baby boy.  I’ll bet that each one of you who have raised little ones can well imagine what a handful he must have been, even if he was a “good” baby!  For while he was “God in the flesh, dwelling among us” (John 1:14) he was also just as human as you and I.  And forgive me for messing with the lyrics of “Away in a Manger”, but I believe that Jesus even cried in that manger!

Maybe that’s why some people had a hard time accepting that this squalling baby boy was the Son of God, the Savior of the world.   Here he was, a helpless little baby, born under the poorest of conditions, placed in a cattle trough, not a royal crib.

There were various reactions to the news of Jesus’ birth:

  • King Herod saw Jesus as competition, a threat to his throne. So Joseph whisked his little family off to Egypt, so that Jesus might avoid the sword.
  • The shepherds, ah, so many real emotions that night! Fear, wonder, curiosity, and then excitement enough to want to tell everyone!
  • Mary sang a song of praise (how many of you do that when you are filled with joy and excited anticipation?)
  • Joseph, well, we don’t have much of his reaction, but I’ll bet he was so very proud and protective!
  • Simeon—what a testimony to faithfulness! Simeon had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel” all his life long.  When the Spirit showed him Jesus, he praised the Lord and died in peace!  Anna’s response was similar, with thanks and praise!
  • The Magi gave him their finest gifts!

How do we react to Jesus?  Are we, like Herod, threatened, afraid he might mess with us, inconveniencing us in some way?

Or do we welcome him with wonder, awe and worship?  Do we respond with praise and thanksgiving, showering him with the gift of our lives devoted to his service?

This Advent Season, we welcome you, Lord Jesus!

Breaking News: “Perfect Love” Over “Punishing Fear” by a 1st Round KO!

Hot off the press: The pundits get it wrong once again! In the latest bout between “Perfect Love” and “Punishing Fear,” two of the most ferocious boxers in the history of the world, heavy-weight “Punishing Fear,” weighing in at 359 lbs., proved no match for the invincible “Perfect Love” once again. “Perfect Love’s” record remains… well, perfect! “PL” has never had to go more than one round against any opponent. A fan was overheard exclaiming, “I’ve known “Perfect Love” most of my life, and he’s never let me down yet.” “PL” has never been a true heavyweight, preferring the gentle, but firm style of fighting. But his punch is so powerful that no one—yes, not even “Punishing Fear”—seems to be able to faze him, no matter how big and intimidating they seem to the everyday bystander. Today’s bout proved no exception. Perfect Love by a KO in the 1st round!

The apostle Paul wrote these words of reassuring comfort to those who were still learning about the steady, unswerving, love of God:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:16b-18)

Have you experienced God’s perfect love? God, whose defining characteristic is love, has invited us to participate in His love. That is the best invitation we could ever receive! When we enter into God’s love, as we accept, in faith, the gracious invitation to be a part of God’s family, fear cannot maintain his slimy grip on us!

The gift of God’s love is both a present boon to our lives and a future guarantee of the hope of eternal life with our loving God. When we live in God’s love, we confidently spread that love to everyone we meet, through the deeds we do and the words we say. We can bring others to the point at which they, too, want to “drive out fear” with the love of God. And when the time of reckoning comes, those who remain in God’s love will joyfully, expectantly enter into their eternal reward.

So let’s celebrate that KO by God’s Perfect Love, today and forever!

Harvest Fest, October 15!

No one would deny, this year’s been a tough one for farming and ranching.  We had one of the most severe, prolonged droughts in the history of this area.  You’d think our friends in the ag business would be discouraged and down.  And maybe there is some of that—you couldn’t blame them.

But when I talk with ranchers and farmers in the area, I’m impressed with their steady, long-term focus.  Yes, they are realistic about the reduced yields.  Some have had to sell off part of their herd.  Some have had to purchase hay from others.  Some have had to take out government subsidies and loans.  But the general attitude is good, in the face of dire circumstances.

I think our people embody the truth of the scripture found in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church: Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:18, NLT)

There is just so much to be thankful for, even in difficult circumstances, isn’t there!  We are thankful because we serve a God who has met every real need we’ve ever had!  God is faithful, always!

And so, we are going to celebrate!  We are going to worship and give thanks for the many blessings we have from the Father above.

Our annual Harvest Fest will be on Sunday, October 15 this year.  We will worship at 10:10 am, and then we will continue our celebration and recognition of God’s blessings with a special dinner in the Fellowship Hall following the worship service.

Our special musical worship guest this year is the father of one of our own!  Tracy Buer is Teran Doerr’s dad.  He will sing and play for us, and help us to focus on our harvest blessings as a gift from the Father above. So, come and celebrate God’s goodness to us, even when times are tough, God is with us.  Because we belong to Jesus, we want to do God’s will and “be thankful in all circumstances.”

See you in church!

What is Worship?

“Worship is when we sing songs to God.”

That would be an answer typically heard today. Worship is often thought of as the music part of the Sunday morning service. We have our worship time (meaning the songs) and then we get on with the rest of the morning service. But music is just a part of worship.

So just what is worship? Is it praying to God? Reading God’s Word? Serving God’s people? Yes, and more! Worship is an attitude of submission to God as our Lord. The Old Testament word most often used for worship is hishtavah, meaning to “bow down” reverently before God. When scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek so that the people in the Greco-Roman empire could read it, they used the Greek word proskeneo. We get our English word “prostrate” from that word. That word is found 26 times in the Gospels and 21 times in the book of the Revelation. In each case, it refers to bowing before the Lord.

But is our physical posture what is being referred to here? Certainly, most of the time, the bodily posture of bending down on knee or falling flat on our faces represents an attitude of honor or service to the object of our worship.

But consider the recent very public protests against policies of our country by certain professional athletes. At the singing of the national anthem in many NFL games, these athletes will “take a knee” as their expression of protest. In this case, the posture represents just the opposite of worship!

What does this suggest to us? Our external posture is not as important as our heart “posture.” Jesus called out the religious leaders, whose external posture may have been “correct,” but their heart “posture” belied an attitude of pride and hostility to Jesus. Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are mere human rules.” (Mat 15:8-9)

Jesus taught about true worship in a conversation with the woman at the well:  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jhn 4:24). Worship is not a place. It is not an external posture. It is an internal, Spirit-empowered, bowing before the one who deserves our worship!

Let us worship, in the Spirit and in truth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Dangerously

When I was in Papua New Guinea, I took up a few new sports. One was bike jumping. That was not so successful. I jumped onto one of my kid’s little bikes and raced down the dirt path as fast as I could. I hit the ramp we’d constructed of dirt, got some serious air, and them came crashing down in a not-so-pretty heap. I earned some cracked ribs from that one.

The next sport was paragliding. Now, THAT was some big-time fun! I perched at the edge of a tall mountain and strapped myself into a harness that was attached to the large fabric “wing” of the paraglider. Then I pulled on the wing to inflate it with the surging wind. When the cells of the wing were filled with air, it lifted into the air, taking me with it. Gliding high above the mountain ridge was exhilarating—just me, the wing, and the gentle sound of wind! The only mishap I had with this was when I misjudged my landing and ended up in the upper branches of a tree. It took me a while to extricate myself from that one!

The third was playing on a pebble strewn basketball court. The local Papua New Guineans went barefoot, and their broad, tough feet and strong toes gave them the needed traction for such a slippery surface. I was not blessed with such feet. I wore shoes, and they were not as grippy. Kicking a playground ball with the kids, my feet left the safety of the ground and went into orbit.  My feet sailed awkwardly skyward, for a brief moment of air time, and I completed the move as I crashed down to earth, breaking my left foot for the third time in my life.

The point is, a life lived fully can sometimes be less than “safe.” Did you know that it’s the same way with our faith? C.S. Lewis wrote a delightful tale called “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” in which Aslan the lion is the characterization of God. In one insightful passage, Susan asks a question about Aslan: “Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” To which Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

It reminds me of something my cross-country coach used to drum into our heads: “Run out of your comfort zone.” Running a race comfortably may feel better at the time, but it does not help us grow into better, faster runners.

The apostle Paul did not say at the end of his life, I have lived comfortably and safely, and now I’m ready to go lounge on the heavenly couch and eat potato chips. He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He could just as well have said, I have lived dangerously. I may have a few bumps and bruises, experienced some pain and regrets. But by the grace of our “dangerous God,” I have lived by faith. Can you say that, too?

“Fouled out, but still in the game!”

Image result for flagrant foulI’ll have to admit, I am loving watching the NBA playoffs!  It’s not only the smashing dunks and the swooshing 3-pointers and the tenacious defensive plays that thrill me.  It is the “never-say-die” spirit of these competitors that has me hooked.  That’s why some of these contests went the full 7 games.

Eventually, though, in those contests, one team must lose the series. That’s life. But did you know that even those who “lose” in the world’s way of thinking, can win in God’s world?  It’s because of God’s grace.  Amazing grace!  The idea of grace is a strange one in the common way of thinking.  Why should people get what they have not earned?  Why should the Houston Rockets and the Washington Wizards advance to the conference finals?  They shouldn’t, of course!  And so also, why should God accept me and welcome me and love me?  I have let Him down so many times!

If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that most, if not all, of our days include “poor shots”, even “flagrant fouls”.  The truth, of course, is that there is something wrong with each one of us.  But God’s grace tells us these things do not make us “failures.”  The only “failure” is the person who thinks he or she has it all together.  (Take a look at Mark 2:13-17)

Yes, we were made in the very image of God, who is the essence of goodness and holiness.  But in the game of life, the Referee has blown his whistle on each one of us.  We have all fouled out, and even our loudest protests won’t help.  Only the love of God, shown in his gift of the Son, has the power to take us off the bench and put us back in the game.

It’s purely a gift – the amazing gift of grace!  And then, one of the most remarkable truths about God is, through His grace, He can take those failures and use them to bring about something wonderful in our lives and in the lives of those we touch.

But we’ve got skin in this game, too.  The player who has fouled out but is still in the game is incredibly thankful!  So, too, should we live grateful lives in response to God’s gift.  It is then that God can use these restored lives, renewing our strength to live purposefully for Him alone!

Our high school seniors are about to move their “game” to college or work.  Graduates… and all the rest of us, too:  If we live full lives, we WILL fail at something.  But my prayer is that we would allow God to use us well, even in those things we might consider utter failures.  That’s because we serve a gracious God who “in all things… works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). We’ve fouled out, but we’re still in the game.  Let’s play hard for God!

Making Faith “Our Own”

I really love this time of year!  There are signs of new life all over the place!  Our daffodils splash bright yellow smiles of color along the south side of our church; our chives just explode in an array of fresh green spears; even the dandelions are happily popping up in the midst of our new green grass 😉!

In the church, too, there are signs of new life!  It is visible in the new members who come to our Bible studies and our Youth Group.  It is visible in the decisions our young people are making.

Last night at Youth Group, one of our youth excitedly invited her friends to church on Sunday, May 14.  What is the occasion?  She will be confirmed in the faith!  As she said in her own words, “I’m making my faith my own.

You see, in our tradition, we often baptize our babies before they know what is happening.   It is a practice born out of the belief that God’s grace comes to us before anything we can ever do.  And that grace, which theologians call “prevenient grace,” is God’s way of wooing us to a vital relationship with Himself.

And so, when our children come to the point that they understand God’s desire to be in relationship with them and are ready to say “yes” to that relationship, we have a ceremony called “confirmation” in which these young persons will confess their unworthiness outside of a faith relationship with God and then declare their willingness to trust God with their lives—their decisions, their desires, their destinies.

Have you come to that point in your life yet? Are you also ready to say “yes” to God—in a public, visible way?  Membership is open to all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and desire to relate to Him, through their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  What a wonderful thing it is to make faith “our own”!


“He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”

As long as I can remember, this was the greeting on Easter Sunday morning.  What a great, great affirmation of our faith, in such simple, yet powerful terms!  “He is risen, indeed!”  There can be no doubt about it.

Oh, I know that the skeptics will say, “Prove it!”  Science says, the dead stay dead.  And the skeptics will pull out their biology notes that prove that death cannot be reversed.  They’ll go into a thoroughly scientific description of molecular or cell biology. Faith is for the ignorant.

Some skeptics will accuse the faithful believer of holding on to this archaic belief as a crutch.  Faith is for the weak.

Others will say that the resurrection was staged by the close friends and disciples of Jesus, or that it was actually orchestrated by the members of the Roman guard to keep from beingkilled for not performing their tomb-guarding duties well.

There are so many ways the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus has been attacked over the last 2,000 years.

And yet, the Church of Jesus Christ has survived it all?  How could that be?  How could a made-up story be able to withstand the onslaught of so much scrutiny and skepticism?

The answer:  The resurrection of Jesus the Christ was a miracle from God!  It was God’s greatest gift to the world!  It was God’s way of saying, “Nothing can keep me from loving you, my children.  Not even the stench of death itself!”

The next time someone tries to put a wet rag on your faith, smile at them and say, “He is risen!  I believe and receive it in faith.  Won’t you come to Him and receive His gift, too?”

HE IS RISEN, INDEED!