Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hindsight is... by Greg York


Hindsight is… (A Little Meditation on Human Memory for the Week of Easter)

 

Hindsight is always in HD, isn’t it?  Memory filters out so much of the material— whether fact or opinion—which seemed important, so right at the time, but later is revealed to be utterly unimportant or simply wrong.  It’s as if our collective memory washes all of that out.  All that’s left is amazing clarity.

 

And once that forgetting has taken place, it’s easy to look back at the now sanitized version of the past and think it was not possible that it could have happened any other way.

 

We look back on World War II as a “good war.”  It’s completely clear to us (from our present vantage point) that it was always a foregone conclusion that the United States would enter the war.  It’s clear to us that it was a foregone conclusion that once we were in, victory was assured.  Shed of any pesky details, it’s an easy picture to remember and “know.”  It must have happened that way because that’s how we remember it.

 

This week, I heard an interview with the author of a new book about the political climate in the United States between 1939 and 1941.

 

Those are not arbitrary dates:  Germany invades Poland and the war is underway in September, 1939.  Then the United States enters the war after the events of December, 1941:  the attack on Pearl Harbor, our declaration of war on Japan in response, and then Germany’s declaration of war on the US in response to that.

 

Between 1939 and 1941, there was a huge internal debate in the United States between those who felt we should enter the war (the “Interventionists”) and those who felt we should stay out (the “Isolationists”).  The rhetorical and political battles involved such luminaries as President Roosevelt (sympathetic with the interventionist view) and Charles Lindbergh (who was an unofficial spokesman for the isolationists).  Both sides of the war in Europe had active espionage operations in this country trying to influence public opinion.  Isolationist leaders on campuses included two future presidents and a future Supreme Court justice.  Interventionist leaders included titans of industry and Hollywood figures.

 

One of the isolationists’ reasoned arguments was that in the wake of the Great Depression trying to fight a war would cause the nation’s economy to take another dive, if not collapse totally, leaving us unable to defend ourselves should we need to.

 

Another of the isolationist arguments (based on the experiences of trench warfare in the First World War) was that millions upon millions of American soldiers would be needed to effectively wage the war and that millions would die…and it wasn’t even “our” war.

 

In point of fact, neither of those arguments turned out to be “what actually happened.”  The economy actually benefited from the war production.  The casualties, reprehensible as any are, turned out to be far less than the “reasonable estimates” of the isolationists.

 

Here’s the point:  It’s very easy for us to sit on this side of that history and see that the isolationists’ arguments were wrong and that World War II is the dictionary definition of “the good war.”  Because we’ve scrubbed the history clean.  In our collective memory, the history of World War II goes straight from “Germany invades Poland” to “U.S. enters war and victory is assured.”

 

But absolutely no one could know that in 1939-1941.  No one.

 

Is there a point lurking somewhere in here, Greg?  (I know; wordy.)

 

Here goes:  As I listened to the interview, I went further back in history in my mind, to a spring weekend almost two thousand years ago when a young artisan-turned-preacher died on a Roman cross.

 

Some thought, “That’s the end of that…and good riddance!”

 

Some thought, “That’s the end of that…what’ll I do now?”

 

Some thought, “That’s the end of that…and it might as well be the end of the world, because this is the worst thing that could ever happen!”

 

Some thought, “That’s the end of that…and how can I ever trust God again?  If God won’t save this guy…”

 

Some thought, as they laid him in a tomb, “That’s the end of that…”

 

I wonder if we have scrubbed and sanctified our shared memory of that weekend to the point that there’s no Saturday left.  We jump straight from “died on the cross” to “raised from the dead.”

 

But maybe what makes Sunday so unbelievably sweet and joyous is that Saturday.  A Saturday in which there is no assured outcome, no sure next step, no future to anticipate.  A Saturday filled with numbness and fear and disorientation.  A Saturday seemingly emptied of any hope.

 

But now, in retrospect (and only in retrospect!), it’s all so clear.

 

My hunch is that most of us live a great deal of our lives in “Saturday.”  “Saturday” is a hard time to live, a hard time to trust God.  But in all of our “Saturdays,” those times of fear and hopelessness, we can remember that “Sunday” is coming, with its proof that God is faithful and that all of our “Fridays” and “Saturdays” are redeemed and vindicated.  In fact, “Sunday” with God turns out to be so amazing that “Saturday” with all its doubt and disorientation may be utterly forgotten.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Getting the Message" by Mike DeCamp


Last weekend, the elders and ministers gathered together to work on another project that we have derived from our congregational vision statement.

“Growing hearts toward God—
                Where people are…
                                devoted to God in love.
                                                trained by Christ for life.
                                                                and led by the Spirit to serve.”

And the project we were working on?  EVANGELISM.

We discussed our views, some of the congregational comments from our Vision class, and how to develop better tools and efforts toward that end.  During the discussion, two comments in particular struck a chord with me, and I’d like to share the thoughts that I’m contemplating as a result.  As I am thinking these things through, I really think the first comment will be greatly addressed as we get a better handle on the second one. 

Here goes:

COMMENT ONE:  Evangelism has a negative connotation in our society, so we should call it something else; something less offensive.

Really, this shouldn’t surprise any of us.  Persecution has tended to follow Christians across the centuries and Christ himself predicted it.  More than likely a good deal of it comes because Christians “share their faith” with those who don’t have a faith, or those whose faith is contrary to Christianity.  I have three primary responses:

A.      Evangelism is NOT optional to Christianity.  It is our mission given to us by our Lord.  We are called to “pay it forward” when it comes to the Grace we have received, and we do that by sharing it with others that are still “like sheep without a shepherd” in our lost world.  “Go into all the world,” Jesus said in Matthew 28, “and make disciples of all nations.” (See Matthew 28:18-20)  In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul said: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.”  (See 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

B.      Even in times when the message is not appreciated, Christians continue to share.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  Acts 8:1-4

As Christians, like it or not, evangelism is something we are supposed to do.  As a result, we may be disliked, insulted, and punished, but we must never scream “RETREAT!” and flee from our mission.  We can call it something else if we want.  “Community Outreach.”  “Sharing your faith.”  Whatever makes the effort not get in the way of the end result is fine with me, but we need to be about the business of making disciples. 

C.      Our message needs to have integrity.  No hidden agendas.  No mixed messages.  If our message comes from the heart and holds to the gospel, then folks will normally at least respect our effort.  For instance, we don’t feed the poor so that we can bring them to church.  We feed them because they need food, then we share the message because they need hope.  We don’t want to be guilty of hiding the message behind a fa├žade of service.  Whatever we do needs to be real.

And that leads me to…

COMMENT TWO:  We need to understand what The Message really is.

I’d like to open my response here with what it is NOT.  First, it is not our doctrine.  And, it isn’t our church affiliation, or even church attendance.  It isn’t our view of worship or our understanding of the purpose and point of baptism.  The message is not to "avoid Hell!”

All of those things are important.  They really are.  But, they are not at the core of the message.

So, what is our message to this dark world?

The Gospel = The Good News.  What is the “Good News” of our message?

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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

·         Despite all of our personal failures and weaknesses, God loves us!

·         He has taken the first step…a drastic step…and before we have shown any interest in Him…to provide for us hope in an eternal life!

·         God will not count our faults against us, but wants to be reconciled with us…brought together with us…bonded to us.  He wants a relationship with YOU, ME, and that guy that lives next to you.  You know.  The guy who sleeps around, gets drunk, shoots off his mouth, and makes fun of your dog.  Yep.  Even him.  And, you have the job of telling him.

The creator of the universe…the King of all kings…the Master among the stars…

He loves us...you, me, and that guy.

And, He is going all out to convince us to love Him back!

He is just looking for us to trust Him…have faith in Him…in that love.

The response of faith in the love of God will lead us to all of those other important details.  We can share those in our further studies.  However, it is the genuine trust (faith) in that gift of the love of God that will motivate us (and those folks we share the good news with) to take action.  That’s how God’s Grace has its effect on us.  It moves us to respond.

So, in my view, the message in a nutshell is:

God loves us and wants us with Him.  Jesus died to make that happen.  The Holy Spirit awaits our response.  We can find love, relationship, and an eternal hope in our trusting response to that loving sacrifice.

Is that something you can share?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Would the Police Find? by Craig Hill


What Would the Police Find Out about Us?


If you were killed and the police investigated your murder, what would they find out about you? Would they think you were a good person devoted to God, or not?

First they’d interview the people that knew you well - the people closest to you.  They’d ask, “Did he have any enemies?”  Who would want to kill you?  Have you wronged someone and you haven’t made it right?  Mathew 5:22-25 says:

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court.  And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.  26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

What does God think of the relationships in your life?  If someone hates you it may indicate that you did something wrong that needs fixing.  Don’t wait.  Go fix it.  Treat people right so they don’t hate you.

Next the police would say, “What vices did she have?  Was he dealing drugs?  Did she steal money?  Did he cheat on his wife?”  Why do they investigate these things?  Because if you play with fire you are likely to get burned.  Proverbs 6 says:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap

without his clothes being burned?

Can a man walk on hot coals

without his feet being scorched?

So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife;

no one who touches her will go unpunished.

People do not despise a thief if he steals

to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.

Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold,

though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

But a man who commits adultery has no sense;

whoever does so destroys himself.

Blows and disgrace are his lot,

and his shame will never be wiped away.

For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury,

and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.

He will not accept any compensation;

he will refuse a bribe, however great it is.

What does God see when he looks at what you do when no one is looking?  If you are doing something really sinful, it’s going to catch up to you.  Stop it now.  Repent!

Next the police would say, “Let’s check out her financials affairs?”  They’d look at your bank statements and check book.  They’d look at your credit card statements.  They’d look at what you spent your money on?  Did you spend money or receive money doing righteous things or sinful things?  What would they find?  Matthew 6 says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

What does God see when he looks at how you manage your money?  If you spend it on earthly foolish things, and you don’t give to build up treasures in heaven, then you may need to take a Dave Ramsey course (go to www.daveramsey.com). 

Next the police would say, “Let’s check out his calendar.”  They’d want to know who you spent your time with and what you did all day.  Did you visit someone in the hospital, or did you go someplace nasty?

Proverbs 2 says:

Surely her house leads down to death

and her paths to the spirits of the dead.

None who go to her return

or attain the paths of life.

Thus you will walk in the ways of the good

and keep to the paths of the righteous.

Where does God see you going and what does He see you doing?  Okay, you get the point.  The police investigating your life is sort of like God’s all seeing eyes.  God knows all and sees all.  Our behaviors indicate the pattern of our heart, what we love, what we value, and ultimately what we worship.  Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind?  

And what can we do to improve the answers to all these questions?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Am What I Am by John Wright


            So many people have had much to say about grace, what it is, what it does and so on.  I don’t have anything new to add and I sure can’t say it better than what has been said in God’s word.  The great thing about the truths in the Bible is that they are always relevant, and the Bible can shine light into ones heart whenever one is ready to receive its truth.  The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 reminds his readers that it is the gospel, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that has the power to save sinners.  Paul in verse 10 gets very personal, “I do not even deserve to be called an Apostle because I persecuted the Church of God.  But By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”

            I am what I am!  What does that mean to you?  If you have been washed in the blood as Paul was, and like I was, then it has to strike you to the core of your being.  I am what I am by God’s grace and only God’s grace.  It does not matter what I was, because I am in Jesus.  You see we are all the same; Paul’s experience with grace is the same as ours.  We do not deserve it, and how can we possibly live up to it?  God made a way for us because of his infinite goodness and mercy.  Through our faith and obedience in his Son Jesus we have been reconciled!  “Reconcile” means “to make friends again.”  Jesus said in Jn. 15: “You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his masters business; instead I have called you friends."

            God’s Friend!  It is what God’s grace has done in me.  What a blessing it is to be included in God’s family.  How has this grace affected you?  God’s presence in our lives has to affect us in powerful ways that should be transforming our lives into the image of our Lord.  Jesus paid a dear price for this grace that God freely bestows on us.  We must take care as to how we live our lives, and out of love and reverence for our friend and God proclaim that “this GRACE was not without effect.”