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?”


Confused by “Fake” News?

We are living in a time when it’s pretty hard to know what’s “real” news and what’s “fake” news.  On the face of it, without investigating and digging around a bit, we can easily be fed “stories.”

It’s not just the sophomoric National Enquirer anymore!  Amazingly, it’s the “sophisticated” adults who are doing it!  With impunity!  The lack of negative consequences only encourages them!

We saw, and are seeing these “fake news” stories a lot these days, with the contentious political climate.  To be fair, it happens on both sides of the aisle.

We have all grown up, I think it’s right to say, with the ideal that when we turn on the news, we’ll get the real story.  After all, journalists are supposed to present their news without bias.  Opinions are supposed to be reserved for the op-ed pages.

And with the growing popularity of social media, it’s even harder to sift out truth from fiction. And the problem isn’t limited to secular news, either.

There are those who make a living exploiting the throngs of people who are hungry for God’s truth.  How do we know what’s true and what’s “fake”?

  1. Other sources will confirm it. Since all truth is God’s truth, God’s works (all God’s created world) will support God’s Word. (Psalm 19)
  2. Go beneath the surface. It will take some digging, both figuratively and spiritually! But if it’s true, there will be often be something to corroborate it, such as archaeological evidence.  (There’s even an Archaeological Study Bible that points out hundreds of places where this has happened.)
  3. Hold onto the teaching of Jesus. It will set you free!  Oh, it won’t be the kind of freedom that says “anything goes,” but the kind that unshackles you from all that would keep you from experiencing the fullness of God’s joy! (John 8:31-32)
  4. The spiritual connection: God’s Spirit will affirm in our spirits that we belong to Him!  (Romans 8:16)

Staying in Love with God

A friend of mine once told me that when she first decided to follow Jesus, she was “just so in love with God!” Have you experienced that? For most people, it’s not too unlike that first experience of falling in love with someone. You can’t stop thinking about them. You want to be with them all the time. You want to know everything about them.

Many of us have enjoyed those warm, exhilarating experiences in our human relationships… those feelings that lift you right off the ground and send you into orbit. And who of us wouldn’t welcome that kind of feeling?!

But we all know that it doesn’t last forever. Gradually, for many, at least, that first intense feeling of “being in love” begins to fade. It’s only natural that the highly emotional part of love relationships “cool down” a bit. After all, maturing love is never a love that is based all on feelings.

And that’s okay. Heaven forbid that our love experience with God be like the 1960s pop song laments: “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. Now it’s gone, gone, gone, oh, oh, oh…”

So once we’ve re-entered earth’s atmosphere—where the trials of living our daily lives act as gravity in our emotional world—how can we “stay in love” with God?

First, never confuse feelings with facts. Love is the potatoes, and the feeling is just gravy.

Second, do those things that you did when you first “fell in love”: spend time with God in the Word, in worship, and in prayer.

Third, don’t just keep it to yourself. Love is an “action verb.” So be the hands and feet of Jesus.

When you’ve done these three simple things, you may not feel the intense “heat” of that first experience of God’s love. But the “slow and steady fire” of your maturing relationship with God, the joy of being a part of God’s work today, and the hope of eternity, will keep you in love with God!

Getting a Fresh Start

He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new! Rev. 21:5a

Of course, the setting for this remarkable statement is one we’ll have to wait for, because it refers to that wonderful moment at the close of this present age in which Jesus wipes out all sin and sadness and renews the entire heavens and the earth.  It seems clear that this is not a heavens and earth that has never been before, but a new quality.  Just as the resurrection body of Jesus was recognizable to some degree even though it was very different in quality (he could walk through walls, but he ate and drank as before)—so the new heavens and the new earth will be radically “reconditioned”—perfect recreations of the “old” heavens and the earth.

Okay, that’s interesting, but what is the application to us today, right here and now, in our present lives, where we go to work and raise families?

We, too, can live our lives, renewed, not that we will lose our identities, but that the very way we think and act will be utterly transformed.  How?  By allowing the Spirit of God to transform our minds.  It is then that we learn to discern God’s will for us, what is “good, pleasing, and perfect.”

It’s what we might call getting a fresh start.  It’s something very appropriate ALL the time.  But there’s something about the new calendar year that motivates a lot of us.  Why don’t we make a new kind of resolution this year?  That we will allow God’s Spirit to make us new so that we will live our lives with an entirely new quality!  Let’s journey along this fresh, new road together in 2017!

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