The Love Connection
Pastor John Love's monthly pastoral letter to our church, printed in our monthly newsletter.
The Love Connection:
Pastor John Love’s Letter to the membership at Center Church.
Center Church, here we are . . . 2018 is officially behind us and 2019 is here to stay, for a year! Many of us look forward to the New Year with glad and expectant hearts while some of us have walked through the door into the New Year with sad and despondent hearts. Quite frankly, who knows what the New Year will unfold before us! But here’s the point, how does our faith in – and our relationship with – Jesus - make a difference in how we live, no matter what comes our way! What really defines our lives – our circumstances or our faith life?
What about Horatio? Horatio Spafford was a very wealthy lawyer and land owner in Chicago. One day a fire swept through Chicago and destroyed almost all he owned! Two years later he sent his wife and family on a vacation to England. On the way across the ocean the ship went down. He had no idea who survived until he received a telegram form England that said, “Saved alone.” He took the first ship he could find to England, so he could console and grieve with his wife. On the way over he had numerous hours to think and reflect on the tragedy that washed over him like a horrendous Tsunami! But you know what? He wrote the lyrics to one of our most cherished hymns: It Is Well with My Soul. Think about it, he lost his wealth and the lives of his four daughters! His wife was grieving terribly in England and his life was turned upside down! How could he write: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hath taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” Was Horatio suffering from PTSD? Was he so distraught that he was mentally unstable? Center Church, Horatio Spafford reflected in his lyrics the core stability of his faith-life in Christ! The foundational meaning and purpose of his life was grounded in that which lasts forever, his relationship with Jesus Christ! His reason for living wasn’t dependent on anything of this world!
Center Church, none of us knows what 2019 will unfold before us. It could be tremendous triumph, terrible tragedy or some of both! No matter what our circumstances dictate to us at any given time, we can always live “in Christ” with the assurance of His eternal life living IN us. We can REST in the finished work of Jesus Christ that will give us an eternal foundation no matter what comes our way! Listen to this: “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (Eph. 1:13-14, NLT). WOW! Not only are we identified as God’s own people, we have God’s life living in us! We have God’s guarantee living in us!! So, no matter what happens to us – it will NEVER change what God has done in us and for us! We can REST in His Grace and always be confident in God’s grand design.
Below is a beautiful prayer every one of us would love to hear! It is a prayer to us from Jesus written by Andrew Farley from his book “Heaven is Now.” Let it’s truth sink in and speak to your heart!
My heart’s desire is that you rest in me. The heavenly promises I have made to you are designed to give you peace, even in the most violent of storms. Sometimes you plead with me for a circumstance to change. You ask again and again that it be taken away. My heart longs for you to see more fully how my grace is sufficient for you, even in this. For my power is made perfect in the midst of your weakness. Through my finished work, I have made you clean and close to me, and you are invited to live in a spiritual seventh day, relaxing in me. But to rest in me takes work. It’s not the kind of work you’re used to but a very different kind of work. I’m asking you to dig deeper into all that I’ve done for you so that you can more fully celebrate it, even when outwardly there seems only cause for pain. I long for you to awaken to the goodness of my grace. As you discover the heights and depths of my love for you, you will experience relationship with Me like you never imagined possible. I Love You . . . and I long for you to know me as I truly am.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “metric?” Many of us think of the European way of measuring by meters and kilometers, etc. But “metric” is used many times to mean a way of defining outcomes of a project or a way of measuring production.
If you are a born again Christian what “metric” do you think Jesus uses to measure our lives? By what “metric” does He measure our production output? I believe it’s quite clear! Listen to Jesus when He says:
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father” (John 15:1-8, NLT).
Have you read in the Gospels what got Jesus upset the most? One of them was a fig tree that didn’t produce fruit. What was the benefit of having a massive grape vineyard with good looking vines but there wasn’t any fruit ready to be picked? We live in a day of the “mega-church.” Look at Elevation Church – thousands come every Sunday! Is that the measure of what we should be striving for at Center Church? What makes a “mega-church mega? Is it about how many people show up on Sunday? Does bigger = better? What attracts people to a church, the message or the messenger? Center Church, our efforts as a church are NOT to become an entity created by the power of our own programming ingenuity – by what we do FOR God! NO! The “metric” of success in any church is measured by what God is doing THROUGH its members! And think about this: Jesus’ “metric” - His way of measuring a successful disciple is oftentimes counter intuitive to our own thinking! What? Jesus doesn’t look at the farmer, that’s God! God is the Vine Dresser! Jesus looks at the fruit produced by God’s grace, the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit living IN US! Do you see? It’s not about the strength of our efforts—it’s about the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced by through us!
Center Church, Jesus wants to see a lot of HOLY SPIRIT FRUIT manifested in our lives! Why? When the Holy Spirit is changing our self-centered disposition and manifesting the Christ-Life in us and through us it brings God great joy! The measure of a disciple of Jesus Christ is NOT based on what we do for God – what we produce by our own effort! A farmer has nothing to do with producing fruit in an orchard or a vineyard. They till the ground, fertilize the soil and . . . WAIT! What proves we are fruit bearing disciples of Jesus? Is it our commitment to our local church? Is it our church attendance? Is it our giving record? Not according to Jesus. The measuring metric of a disciple of Jesus Christ is found in Galatians 5: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Gal. 5:22-23, NLT).
Whether there’s 50 or 500 in church on Sunday, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifested in the lives of those who call themselves Christian? In his book “I Am a Follower” Lenny Sweet has a profound statement: “It is quite possible to have a ‘successful life’ – and a ‘successful church’ – without God. But it is absolutely impossible to have a truly fruitful one.”
May the reputation of this church be one that lifts high the power of Jesus Christ that changes lives and produces His fruit in every disciple! Let’s be a church that has a LOT of Holy Spirit fruit to give away! AMEN!
Have you ever been on a camping trip with family or friends? One of the grand experiences at night is gathering together to build a big fire! We would sit around and share stories, sing songs like “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” and for many, make those delicious delicacies called “Smores!” Did you notice that someone in the group was in charge of “stoking the fire?” They had to scour the surrounding area and keep enough logs in a pile so when the fire slackened they would add more to keep the sparks flying and the steady flames flickering in the night!
When it comes to our spiritual lives, how does the fire keep burning bright for Christ? How does the love and passion for knowing Christ and making Him known burn steady and hot? Last week I mentioned in my sermon the waning of the fire of love for Christ in the church at Ephesus. Most biblical scholars agree the letter Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus was written in the middle of the first century. There wouldn’t be enough paper to write about the incredible life changing glory of God’s love and grace Paul revealed to them and us! Here’s just a glimpse: “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself” (Eph. 1:19-23, NLT). WOW! Paul wanted them and us to spiritually discern the overwhelming, fathomless, heavenly glory of God! Folks, that’s a lifetime of a heart on fire for God!
So, how did it fare for the people at the church at Ephesus? Were the fires burning bright in the church as the years progressed? Well, let’s look at the letter John wrote to the churches of “Asia” from the letter called Revelation. Most conservative biblical scholars agree it was written in the latter part of the first century. So, this is what John wrote to the church of Ephesus perhaps 25-30 years after Paul wrote his letter: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches’” (Rev. 1:1-5, NLT).
What happened? Sounds like they were doing all the right things! They were hard at work! They endured suffering and didn’t tolerate evil people.
Weren’t they “DOING” what churches are supposed to do? Aren’t we, at Center Church, supposed to do the same? Reach out to the community and do good things for people? Reach out to the world and go on mission trips to do good things for people? The church at Ephesus was strong – they didn’t put up with evil people or believe false teachers!
Center Church, we need to open the eyes of our hearts and hear what Jesus said to them and us! We can be engaged in all sorts of cool stuff. Think about it, we could write a long list of all the good things this church has done for our community and for people in Costa Rica and Cuba! But Jesus says: “You don’t love me like you did.” What’s He saying? In Luke chapter seven is a story of a “sinful” woman who knelt before Jesus as He was eating at a Pharisees house. She washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and she anointed his feet with perfume! The Pharisees freaked out because she was sinful. Jesus said, “The one who is forgiven little, loves little.”
How can we keep the fires of love for Jesus a roaring inferno in our hearts? Be filled with the Holy Spirit! Let the Holy Spirit inspire your heart and teach you God’s word! Every time we come to the Communion table remember Jesus! Remember His death on the cross that forgave ALL our sins and God forgets them! We were under the curse of sin and the sentence of ETERNAL death! Jesus took our place! Jesus died so we didn’t have to die the second death! Jesus paid it all! Just that should keep us lying prostrate before Him! Here’s the way to keep Jesus’ love on the “front burner.” “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Eph. 3:16-17, NLT). What’s going to keep the Love of Christ alive and fresh is Christ’s life in us being alive and fresh!! Being Religious doesn’t “cut the mustard.” Doing “good” things should be a response of love not an obligation to show God we are worthy of His love. The only way to keep the fires of God’s love burning hot is for His Spirit to be filled in us- always! Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “be being filled with the Holy Spirit” - keep on being filled! Are you empowered or are you powerless? Does the Holy Spirit live – has He taken up residence in your heart? Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, open the eyes of our hearts!
To my astonishment many people who attend church still wrestle with why a person must be “born again.” Hey, I attended church since I was a baby, why do I need to be born again? I’m a nice person – I don’t kill people – I don’t steal – I’m not a drug addict – why do you say God needs to do something in me when I have done everything I can to be a “good” person? Good question!
My Dad and Mom were classic “fixer-uppers.” All my life I watched them “fix” things. My Dad would take broken antique furniture and make pieces of out of antique wood like birds eye maple or tiger maple or walnut and make an antique dresser or table look like it never was broken. Dad made “cosmetic” changes to furniture that had structural integrity. Here’s the point: God needs to fix humans at the structural level! No matter how good we are at fixing the outside cosmetic problems – what we do, we can NEVER be a person who can enter into the kingdom of God until God makes a core structural change in a person’s heart!
Here’s the core problem in the human heart we can’t fix: sin. The first human, Adam, was created by God with free will and without sin. Eve was created from Adam and they both had a relationship with God that was pristine and perfect. Satan tempted and they both acted on the temptation by eating the fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil – they were infected with the entity of destruction and death: sin. Sin is so deadly and pervasive it killed their spiritual lives, broke their relationship with God and drove them out of God’s Presence. That infection still renders every human dead spiritually to this day! No one is immune! From birth every person has a broken relationship with God! Here’s the horror: religion won’t fix the problem! The problem is centered in who we are not what we do! Without being born again at the very core – our hearts - every person remains a slave to sin and will not inherit heaven! Paul tells us plainly: “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3, NLT).
Humans are dead at the core – in our “very nature” we are recipients of God’s wrath! Center Church, it’s at the core of our being where God can “fix” us - forever! Sin killed us spiritually; the only One who can resurrect us from the dead is God by the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus! Every human needs a TOTAL new beginning! That’s why Jesus said to Nickodemus, “you must be born again.” Nickodemus was freaked out! He said to Jesus, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus said, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (Jn. 3:5-6, NLT).
Before a baby is born by natural childbirth a woman’s water must “break.” Water precedes a human’s entry into this world! Only by FAITH in the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart can a person be born again into a brand new spiritual life! It’s the power of God that puts to death the old “self” and creates a new “self.” This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2Cor. 5:17, NLT)!
It’s the power of God that performs spiritual surgery in our hearts! Listen, “When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision - the cutting away of your sinful nature” (Colossians 2:11, NLT). Do you see? God cuts away our old sinful nature and gives us a brand new clean heart full of the Holy Spirit! We have a new spiritual nature at the core of our “being.” We are “born again!” And you know what? God changes our “want to!” Before we had our sinful nature removed we were predisposed to sin – we had what Wesley called a “bent” to sinning! Now we are free form the inclination to sin – instead of wanting to sin we want to live for Christ! “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Rom. 6:5-7,NLT). Can you digest what Paul said? We can be “raised to life as he [Jesus] was.” The spiritual life we receive is like Jesus’ life! We are free from the power of sin! We are children of God! And you know what? We really are BORN AGAIN!
Are you born again? If not, Jesus didn’t have a bunch of religious hoops to jump through before you can receive new life. Here’s what you have to do – BELIEVE! Believe from your heart in the death and resurrection of Jesus! Be real with Jesus! Ask Him to forgive you and ask Him to give you new life! God loved the world so much . . . He gave His only Son! Let Jesus make you into the person He wants you to be – His friend!
A couple years ago I bumped into the table in my office and knocked over the glass communion goblet. It broke in numerous places. That glass cup with the cross had a lot of meaning – I looked into the eyes of many people as I said, “the blood of Christ shed for you.” I was determined to salvage that sacred vessel, so I hunted down some “super glue” and went to work. After gluing my finger tips together a couple times, I was able to glue the pieces back together and – there you have it – you can see the scars and the cracks but it can be used for its sacred duty!
During these days after Easter, I realize the simple repair of a communion challis helped me understand a grand truth about the awesome love of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
- All of us have been bumped off the table
- All of us have been broken
- All of us need repair
- All of us need to be fixed by Someone other than ourselves.
The Easter message is a multi-faceted diamond – its shinning brilliance can be seen from many angles. This “angle” recognizes the overwhelming sacrificial love of God that is so tremendously tender. No one knows, except God, the devastating brokenness we harbor in our hearts. And you know what? God doesn’t sweep up the pieces of our lives and say, “That’s just too broken! Better throw it out.” No, God did the hard work of carefully putting all humanity back together again. And you know what? It wasn’t as easy as getting super glue on your fingers! God in Jesus Christ became the broken vessel Himself! God in Jesus Christ let broken humanity destroy His own body so that in His sacrificial offering of brokenness all the world could be put back together! In Christ God reconciled the world to Himself! What does being reconciled to God mean?
- In Christ our sin and rebellion was forgiven and forgotten forever!
- In Christ the debt for sin’s payment – death - was paid IN FULL!
- In Christ we can have the relationship God had with Adam and Eve!
- In Christ we can experience new life in a New Covenant God made with Jesus!
- In Christ we receive the power and presence of the Holy Spirit!
Wow! Here’s the truth – God can’t begin to fix us until we admit we need fixing! We can’t be the recipients of God’s grace and be filled with God’s Divine Nature until we surrender our lives to Him. Life-changing faith isn’t based on “intellectual assent” - believing there is a god somewhere out there. Those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Life-altering faith is a matter of the heart. It is the surrender of our life to Christ and trusting what Jesus did on the cross will change our lives.
You can tell my communion goblet broke – but even with mended pieces glued back together – it can still offer the “blood of Christ.” Center Church, I am a mended vessel – put back together by the tender touch of the Master’s Hand - Jesus Christ. His sacrificial blood reaches to the deepest depth of my sin and takes it all away! Join me in offering Christ our lives - broken and battered – but pieced back together by the incomprehensible love of God! Remember, Jesus the Divine Word of God who spoke the world into existence came as a human to completely identify with His creation and show us we are compatible with His Divine Nature! The Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus at His baptism is the same Holy Spirit that can live in us! May this Easter Season be a reaffirmation of the grace of God that mends our brokenness and fills us with His Holy Spirit so we can:
- Be His born again offspring – children of God!
- Be filled with His Life – the Holy Spirit!
- Be assured we will never die! We will fall asleep and wake up in Paradise!
- Be motivated to live the Christ-Life and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit!
He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Center Church, we are Easter People and “Saints” of God! Let us join together as the body of Christ and show one another and all those around us who we are by the way we live!
“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love; they will know we are Christians by our love.”
In one-way or another every one of us will have a life changing experience. And you know what? They’re experienced profoundly within a relationship! Remember when you stood before a Pastor and said, “I do?” Remember when you first held that little baby in your arms? Remember when you put your hands on the casket of your Grandfather and said goodbye? We’re intrinsically wired by God to experience what love can do when we give ourselves away to someone else. When we commit by the deepest intentions of our hearts to submit to the needs of another person who has wrapped their love around our love. Perhaps the meaning of the Unity Candle in a wedding ceremony becomes real – two become one!
As we journey together by the Christian calendar, we are traveling through the forty days of Lent to an eternal life-changing experience. The road ends at a place called “Golgotha,” a place of a skull, a place of unrelenting horror and suffering, a place where people die. Do you really want to end up there on that hill outside the city gates of Jerusalem? It’s there where the world in which we live and move and have our existence changed forever. But you know, it’s not the world “out there” – it’s in the world of our lives - in here; in our hearts, our minds, and our souls where God wants each and every one of us to experience a radical life-change! It’s in our hearts where God wants to perform Divine heart surgery. It’s in our hearts where God wants to seal us with His Spirit. It’s in our hearts where Jesus wants to live. It’s in our hearts where God wants us to experience the miracle of two becoming one!
The Cross of Christ happened in a moment in time that rippled through time – past, present and future! What happened on that day stands for all time! What happened on that day is God’s final statement of unconditional love to the whole world broken and blistered by sin. What happened on that day is God reconciling the world, past, present and future to Himself by the one time sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Isaac Watts penned these words in 1707:
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
In Paul’s letter to the Romans he blows the church away by sharing the effectual power of the Cross that can FOREVER change our lives! In chapter six he lays it down! By faith in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross:
- We can become a brand new person! We were spiritually buried with Him into His death and we were raised from the dead with Him by the power of the Father so we can have and live in a brand new life (vss. 4,5)!
- We aren’t tied to sinful living anymore! The old person we used to be with a sinful heart died at the Cross with Jesus! Sin’s grip on us is broken! We’re free from being slaves to sin (vss. 6,7)!
- Death’s power has been broken! Now we’re tied to Jesus with unbroken fellowship with God! Jesus died to sin once for all! There aren’t any more sacrifices for sin – EVER! By faith Jesus took us with Him when He died to sin! And we’re with Him in a forever fellowship with God (vss. 8,9)!
- We don’t have to let sin be our master anymore! Because Jesus died to sin it’s power (the Law) has no jurisdiction over us! Paul says, “Consider yourselves dead to sin.” Jesus’ life is our life (vss. 10-14)!
The Cross of Jesus Christ is the doorway between heaven and hell. We defined our chronological time - B.C and A.D. from the Cross. Now is the opportunity to grasp “Kairos time” - God’s time! The Cross of Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love and is the totality of God’s grace. Has the Cross of Jesus Christ changed your life? As Isaac Watts penned, have you “seen the light?” Has God opened the eyes of your heart so you can receive a brand new life in Christ? It’s all found on a hill called Calvary!
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Come on ring those bells and light the Christmas tree! The 2017 Christmas Season is here! A lot of water has flowed under the Center UMC bridge since last year!
- The Life Print at Center UMC has changed! We have welcomed new people into this Community of Faith! And . . . some very dear and special people who sat in their regular seats at home or their pew in church have changed their address to heaven!
- The Finger Print at Center has changed! The Kitchen and Fellowship Hall are going through a radical “make over!” Praise God to whom all blessings flow!
- The Heart Print of your lives has changed – some dramatically – some fantastically. It can be as simple as another grey hair you see in the mirror, singing Happy Birthday to those little girls and boys who are growing up so fast or as profound as the miraculous addition of little hands and precious eyes in your family.
Advent: the four weeks of anticipation and expectation that “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and tell the stories of regular people being used by God. They remind us of timeless Truth in the steady flow of constant change. Christmas: the ultimate day of days that beckons us to stand in awe as we hear again the life-shattering and universe splitting glory-story of God – the Creator of everything that exists-setting aside infinite power and glory and coming to:
- Live amongst us. Talk about getting excited – good gracious folks – God didn’t stay far away and tell us we were too dirty and sinful to hang out with. God set aside everything but love and came to earth to live where we live. He talked how we talk – He saw what we see and felt how we feel! He struggled with every temptation we wrestle with – without sinning! This is our God who knows more about you than you know about yourself and He loves us enough to die for us! Jesus really is Emmanuel – God with us!
- Labor amongst us. Think about it – Jesus didn’t come to sit on a throne. He wiped away the tears of a mother who saw her daughter rise from the dead. He saved a bridegroom from disastrous disgrace when he turned many gallons of water into wine. He showed compassion and grace to a woman beaten, bruised and thrown on the ground ready to be stoned. And remember? He washed the dirty feet of his disciples before they betrayed Him and was sentenced to death. Jesus didn’t come to be waited on – He waited on us! Jesus didn’t come to condemn us or tell us how bad we are – I know that well enough. Jesus came to serve and to save!
- Love amongst us. Eternity is not long enough to fathom the love of Jesus on our behalf. While we denied him, defied him and despised him Jesus died for us! Walk through a crowded mall for Christmas gifts and look at all the people – “all the lonely people, where do they all come from, all the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Find the most disheveled and despicable – God loves them as much as He loves me or you! God’s unconditional love wrapped around the world and saved us from ourselves by his death on a cruel cross.
The Christmas season should get us exuberant as we hear “an old old story, how a Savior came from glory, how He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me.” In the ever-changing world in which we live, it is there, in the never changing love and grace of God where you can hang your hopes and fears and all your years. Center UMC – get overly enthralled – Advent and Christmas is here! Remind yourself again that God came to us, Emmanuel, in the form of a little baby who grew up to be the sacrifice for the sins of all humanity! And the Christmas miracle continues! He still lives amongst us and in us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Let Christmas 2017 change your now and prepare you for . . . forever!
Every Sunday we share prayer requests and concerns in our worship service. One of the most profound and awesome blessings that resulted from Jesus’ death and resurrection was opening the way for all Christians to have intimate access to God! “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” Hebrews 4:16, NLT).
This foundational truth is so important because many times we pray for one of the most difficult paths to travel on this side of heaven - the death of a loved one. Many of us at Center Church have “been down that road” and understand the many feelings that wrap around your heart and soul; love, regret, pain, sorrow and loneliness are but a few. We know some day death must command center stage – but not in my life play – not now – not my loved one. But it comes . . . and plays its somber tune. So, how do we manage after the devastating crash of a soul tsunami that gushes many tears – after the memorials – after all the cards are read - after the relatives have gone - when you’re left with an empty chair and a grieving heart?
One of the songs woven into the power point picture presentation at my dad’s memorial was a Beatles tune – The Long and Winding Road. As music does, it haunted me when I heard, “The long and winding road that leads to your door, you left me standing here a long, long time ago . . .” In the aftermath of death’s cold grip on your heart – when words mean nothing and cards lose their comfort and when all you have is you and the memories – there stands someone who knows exactly where you are and what you’re feeling . . . and He’s at your door. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus comes calling – He knocks – it’s the door at the center of who you are, deep down in your heart – and it’s the only door where the knob is on the inside – it’s the one only you can open! He speaks softly, tenderly and compassionately. There are no hidden agendas and there isn’t a disingenuous tone when he says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door; I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.” (NRSV) No matter how difficult the situation – how horrendous the experience or how hurt you are . . . do you hear His voice? Jesus wants to come in and sit at your table. He’ll share a cup of coffee or tea, reach over and take your hand, and look you in the eye and say, “Don’t let your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1) My friends, at the end of the long and winding road whose hand are you going to take? Where will you put your trust when there is no other choice to make or path to take? Jesus isn’t pointing the way to a solution to your problems – Jesus isn’t laying down a list of things to do so you can find life – Jesus said “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28, NLT). Jesus Christ isn’t pointing a way to life - He IS Life! Listen to His voice – He is standing at your heart knocking – let Him in. He can turn pain into promise – hopelessness into hopefulness and tears into triumph. One of the most popular bands of the past decade was “Coldplay.” On the album X&Y they play a tune called Fix Me. The lyrics say:
Lights will guide you home,
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you…
How often do we think we can “fix” someone by our thoughtful feelings or good intentions? I have been involved in pastoral counseling for years and the most profound understanding I have learned is this: I can’t fix anyone! Jesus created the world and He is the Only One who can fix us! If you don’t know Him He is knocking at the door of your heart – right now! If you’ve been introduced to Him and you’re resting on religion to make you ok – open the eyes of your heart and let Jesus in! He is there . . . are you listening?
Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless!
The Love Connection: Pastor John Love’s Letter for the Center Church Monthly Newsletter
The Fall months bring noticeable change - the foliage on trees turn from green to a vivid palette of color - the wind brings a crisp chill to air – and it seems people begin to wind up their lives like an old clock, ready to start preparations for all the “things” and activities Thanksgiving and Christmas usher in. Without a doubt we can get so caught up in all the festivities that it makes us wonder why we are doing what we’re doing in the first place!
As we begin to count the days til Thanksgiving and Christmas, may we all take a deep breath and as we are called to do on Communion Sundays – Remember! Let’s remember our unique place in God’s kingdom: we are loved and gifted by the God who created the universe! Let’s remember Center Church is called to be a beacon of God’s amazing grace. Let’s remember our reason to be – God has called us out of “the world” and brought us into His kingdom to manifest the life of Christ in all we do and to be AMBASSADORS!! Yes! We are the Ambassadors of God! We are purveyors of God’s reconciling grace!
My friends, in or remembering let’s promise to one another the one unifying and empowering gift we can all give. In these fall months let us join our hearts together in PRAYER! I like what Dr. Sweet said in his book Jesus: A Theography: “Jesus modeled for us the highest form of prayer of all: fellowship. Jesus was in constant fellowship with His Father throughout all His waking moments – a fellowship into which He has called us as well. Listen to this: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.” This isn’t some spiritual mumbo jumbo Jesus is saying to us. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a real person living in the human heart! As Christians we are recipients of God’s divine work – when He died our sins were forgiven and our hearts were cleansed. Do you realize the same Holy Spirit Jesus had we have! It’s the Holy Spirit that brings power to prayer, fellowship with God and unity of heart. “God’s reign is no longer found in a legal code etched in stone [The Ten Commandments] but in a love code of living etched in a new heart. It’s a change from within that moves outward.” That, my friend, is how God changes lives and how His church makes a difference in the world of Catawba County! In our fellowship with God through prayer the life of Christ becomes real in our lives and in the church. Jesus lived by the indwelling life of His Father, and Jesus has come into every believer through the Holy Spirit to live out His indwelling life in us.
When this happens, the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control become visible in a local community of believers – the community of the King.
Our prayer in fellowship with the Infinite Personal God let’s us experience what we sing! “O what fellowship O what joy divine leaning on the everlasting arms.” In prayer we really do lean on the arms of God! Center Church, please pray for one another. Let us be bound together by the only lasting and infinite power of love – the real presence of God living in us!
Have you ever thought about where the word “University” came from? Andy Lee says: It is a compound word that might translate as ‘seeking truth together.’ Those who went to an institution of higher learning might agree that at the college/university they attended people from all over the country and world gathered together to seek truth in the discipline they were studying. But you know what . . . things sure have changed since I went to college/university. Years ago there was a general affirmation by the general consensus of “Modern” Philosophers that there was ultimate “truth” that all disciplines could embrace. These days the consensus of “Post Modern” Philosophers has jettisoned the idea that there is ultimate truth to grasp. Most would ague that truth is found within the culture a person lives. If you’re an American Indian from Oklahoma you’re understanding of ultimate truth may be different from mine. If you’re a white American male from Catawba Co. you’re ultimate truth will be or may be different from a Latin American female from Miami. No wonder the violent protests and death that happened in Virginia a couple weeks ago shook our country! Even though they’re white people from the Midwest, the cultural “truth” of a neo-Nazi may be very different from yours or mine! What would one of our Country’s founding “Fathers” or “Mothers” say to all this violence? Why is there such a disparity between what is right or wrong, good or evil or truth and error?
I believe the main reason is this: what used to be isn’t anymore! Many who signed the Declaration of Independence believed ultimate truth is found in the Word of God – the Bible. Whether you were from Europe or America, Irish or Scottish, German or Italian, black or white or slave or free – ultimate truth wasn’t something your “group” decided was right or wrong, it was found in God’s word! Have you seen the statue of “Lady Justice?” She’s blindfolded (to show impartiality) standing on the world with a double-edged sword (the power of reason to uncover truth and enforce justice) in one hand and scales (representing the legal cases presented to her to determine truth) in the other. I believe there’s a better rendition of truth and justice found in Lausanne, Switzerland. This is a mural painted by Paul Robert (1851-1923) entitled, Justice Lifts the Nations. It was placed on the stairway in the Supreme Court building in Lausanne where the judges had to pass each time before going up to try a case. Robert wanted them to be reminded that the Bible provided the basis for truth and law. In the picture you’ll notice Lady Justice is not blindfolded! Truth is not impartial. Truth (where the sword is pointing) is open to human understanding as revealed in the Bible! True Truth, knowing Jesus Christ (not knowing about Jesus Christ), is the basis for weighing the cases presented in the court of law.
Center Church, nations, governments and yes, even churches, can start to implode and fall apart when truth is relegated to the “unknown,” found in our own reason and understanding or placed in the hands of the powerful. I believe the only way there will be unity in the midst of diversity and peace in the midst of chaos is through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior! Jesus turned the disciples and the world upside down when He said to Thomas, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).
Many think Jesus is being exclusive to all religions and philosophies. No, Jesus is welcoming everyone to understand and believe He is ultimate truth! Truth isn’t a concept or a metaphysical abstract to be mulled over and dissected. Truth, True Truth, is a person who is alive and living IN those who have repented and believed in Him from their heart! In the book of Acts chapters 1 and 2 people from many tribes, cultures, races and nationalities in the Roman world were hanging out in Jerusalem celebrating the festival of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came in power people from all over came to know Christ as Lord. They still remained connected to their tribe and place but the unifying core that brought peace instead of enmity, love instead of hate, grace instead of selfishness, kindness instead of cruelty, understanding instead of misunderstanding and unity instead of discord was the person and work of Jesus Christ in their lives! What happened can be experienced now! In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he said, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10-12). May the power of the Holy Spirit empower every Christian at Center Church to be united and of the same mind! Lord, work in us powerfully so we can be a beacon of grace, peace, unity and love to a world in chaos! Amen!
As many of us know, Balls Creek is one of the oldest camp meetings in the country. For over one hundred years people have been blessed and souls saved as they walked the “sawdust trail” to the altar. Revivals in America began in force in the early 1800’s. Some say between 1800 and the Civil War, revivals became in America a distinct national ritual. American Christians championed revivalism as the primary means for our young nation to maintain its Christian heritage. The success of the revivals and camp meetings was astounding. By 1840 the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted that “no country in the whole world existed in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.” And you know what? Church roles proved the point. Membership in Methodist churches swelled by ten times in fifty years! In those days Perry Miller held high the “revival technique” as a means to bring people to Christ and increase the number of churches.
So, what’s happened? What would de Tocqueville say now? Our denomination is declining at a scary pace! Often times while I sit on the swing at someone’s tent there is a flood of people walking around the ‘BIG” circle – but when preaching time comes hardly anyone is under the Arbor! Where are they? People need the Lord!
Times have changed but the need for people to experience the life changing grace of God in Jesus Christ has remained the same. I believe Balls Creek Camp can still be a means by which God can bless the Catawba community! It’s all about:
· Shouting – camp meetings have always been a great place to hear inspirational preaching and sing to you get hoarse. This year you can listen to inspirational singing by the Cockman Family, the Carolina Quartet, The Wilmington Celebration Choir and much more! Camp meetings are a place where singing is sensational and everyone can be free to “shout” to the Lord and not worry about the rafters falling. And as a preacher, it offers an outside tabernacle to really preach your heart out. I’m sure many of you have heard very inspirational sermons under the Arbor – Remember Dr. Lenny Stadler?
· Sharing – last year I sat on the swings and chairs in many tents watching the world go by. I witnessed many families getting together to greet, eat and meet. Camp meeting is a wonderful time to reconnect with old friends, share stories, and just sit – and you know, sometimes you need to just sit and think about so many memories of camp meetings gone by and the sacred stories of relatives and friends who are in the church triumphant.
· Shining – the glory of God can be experienced when passionate gospel sermons are preached and we witness people being saved. A well-known clergyman “back in the day” said, “”God, in a remarkable manner, was pouring out his Spirit on the churches.” To shine the light of Jesus is to reflect His radiance as we are filled with His Spirit and touched by His word.
Historically camp meetings have been a time of revival – God changing lives and stirring up the embers in an old fire to start something new. Center Church – pray for God to move this year in the hearts of people who are listening to a sermon or singing up a storm or just rocking some time away. Ask God to revive us! Ask God to start something new in our hearts as we watch something new rise before our eyes!
Many of us have gone through major life transitions. Remember when you had your first kiss? Remember when you had your first job? Remember (this is for the guys) when you said, “I love you. Will you marry me?” Remember (this is for the women) when you said, “I will!” The list could go on and on . . . All of us have significant life memories that define our lives. But do you still remember the advice your Father, Mother, family member or best friend gave you when you took that leap of faith and you may have looked like a deer caught in the headlights! We all have listened to the sage advice of many who had our best interests in mind.
The disciples sure needed some advice when they were groping in the dark after Jesus told them He was going to die on the cross. Their lives were turned upside down because they thought Jesus was going to usher in a new earthly kingdom. They thought they were going to have positions of power and authority. Instead, Jesus popped their selfish bubbles and they became discouraged and despondent. But Jesus didn’t leave them there! He said, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe” (John 14:23-29, NLT).
Jesus NEVER leaves us without His presence! Then as now, even when our lives seem out of sorts, we can count on His presence living in us and His word always there for us! But you know, as the Church, we are the presence of Jesus in the world! We can be the “good friend” as brothers and sisters in Christ. We can and must depend on one another for encouragement, advice, a shoulder to cry on and a friend to laugh with as we all journey through life. Sometimes life in the “middle” – in between the time of our joyous conversion and our transition to Paradise – life can be very difficult. Here’s some tidbits of advice I wish someone had told me as I began my journey of faith. I found these in Frank Viola’s book Jesus Now.
· Christians will break your heart. The greatest pain you will receive will be at the hands of fellow and professing believers.
· Not everyone who professes Christ knows Him. The fruit of real faith is love. Treating others the same way you want to be treated.
· God will not meet all your expectations and will sometimes appear not to fulfill His promises.
· You will experience dry spells where there is no sense of God’s presence. Learn to live by faith not by feelings.
· Build a library and read the best Christian books in print! Don’t waste your time on “pop” Christian books. Go for depth.
· Write your goals down (goals = dreams = prayer requests). Document when a prayer or goal is answered or fulfilled.
· Never judge other Christians unless you’ve walked in their shoes. Always think the best of others (Matt. 7:12).
· Choose a mentor, but never choose one who is insecure, speaks negatively about others, or has an inflated ego.
· Some of the things you struggle with now you will struggle with when you are old. Resist condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
· Many of the answers you have now will prove inadequate later in life. Always be a student and a child of the kingdom. Learn to develop a teachable heart!
· Discover who you are in Christ and learn what it means to live by His indwelling life.
During my tenure as a United Methodist Pastor I have witnessed the turmoil and pain when people hear they have a terminal illness or a family member is diagnosed with a life-threatening problem or involved in a terrible accident. I am thankful for the members of Center Church who quickly reach out with prayerful compassion, food and monetary help. When global catastrophes rain ruin our country provides food, clothing, medical assistance, and peacekeeping “boots on the ground” to give order and control in many countries. No matter what anyone says, Americans are very generous, compassionate and magnanimous.
These catastrophic events always provoke people to ask profoundly difficult theological questions like: Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Why me or why them? What did they do to deserve such a calamity? The answers are not easy to comprehend.
I believe Ed Young wrote a profound response in his book called The Shack. Mack asks God (Papa) the same question: Why did his daughter have to die by a ruthless kidnapper? Why do the innocent deserve such horror? Or in other words, why do bad things happen to good people? Young writes: “Papa [God] looked down, scars visible and indelibly written into his wrists. ‘I knew that my Creation would rebel, would choose independence and death, and I knew what it would cost me to open a path of reconciliation. Your independence has unleashed, what seems to you, a world of chaos; random and frightening. Could I have prevented what happened to Missy (his murdered daughter)? The answer is yes.’”
“ . . . First, by not creating at all, these questions would be moot. Or, secondly, I could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance. The first was never a consideration and the latter was not an option for purposes that you cannot possibly understand now. At this point all I have to offer you as an answer is my love and goodness, and my relationship with you.”
In the heat of the “cold war” of the early 60’s I remember being hurried down into the root cellar every so often or stepping lively down into the basement of Elmwood Elementary School to sit on the floor with my head between my knees and back against the wall. It was real scary to hear talk of a possible full-scale nuclear war. But you know, even though I didn’t know why or have it all figured out, I was with mom and dad sitting in the cellar and it was all right - I trusted them no matter what happened.
It all comes down to whom you trust!
There aren’t tidy answers wrapped up in complex mathematical equations or lofty philosophical fragments as to why “bad things” are allowed to happen. Here are a couple things I’ve learned over the years: I am contingent and not ultimately in control; I will never figure it all out, so I have to rely on something or someone. I believe God created everything that exists for a reason. I have experienced God’s love from the testimony of Jesus Christ and God’s revelation through the Bible. I trust God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, whatever the conditions or circumstances of life. So no matter what happens God wants me to love without an agenda and reach out with compassion to those who are hurting – just like He did to me.
On this side of heaven we will never know the mystery of “why,” though I believe when Jesus said:
"I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 18:3, NLT) can give us a firm foundation in the midst of life’s twists and turns. A little child is TOTALLY dependent on Mom and Dad for EVERYTHING! At that time in their development the Parents provide all things for their existence. I believe God wants us to be in such a close, intimate and loving relationship with Him whereby we are TOTALLY dependent on Him for all things! No matter how joyous or sad, weird or wacky, hilarious or horrible God is our Father and “Dad.” In those times when we have no clue as to why our world has turned upside down remember: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1, NRSV).
Spring has sprung in Catawba County! Isn’t it a marvel to witness? The transformation from leafless trees and chilly rain to the brightly colored spring palette of flowers that make our homes and church a canvass of incredible beauty! God’s creative handiwork is a statement to ponder and experience. God created this cycle of life in which we live, move and hopefully, experience His transforming power in our lives. Did you know the changes we see every spring, summer, fall and winter can be experienced in our relationship with God? God reconciled and made alive that which was lifeless, cold and dark. We are the recipients of grace and love beyond our wildest imaginations! But it doesn’t end there.
Summer comes and things grow and grow and grow!
Over the past three years there’s been significant transitions in the life of Center UMC. As we look back at all the “changes” we must also look to the future and latch on to the many possibilities for ministry and mission in the name of Jesus Christ! I believe God wants to use us to manifest His life right here on the corner of Sherrills Ford Rd. and Buffalo Shoals Rd. I believe it is imperative we:
Worship Together – Almost every Sunday I shout out: “God inhabits the praises of His people” (Psalm 22:3). Center Church, the power of the risen Christ lives in us and moves amongst us as we open our hearts in worship TOGETHER! The author of the letter called Hebrews was concerned with some of the Jewish Christians who were not participating in worship. He said, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25, NLT). Our worship service is the venue to be fueled, fed and freaked!
1. We are fueled by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we lift them in awe struck worship! Jesus really did die for us, Jesus really did rise from the dead and Jesus really did give us everything we need to live as He lived! WOW! Let’s give it up for God every Sunday!
2. We are fed by hearing the Word of God. Jesus is the bread of life! We must come together and feed on His Word! The strength and unity of Center UMC is as strong as our Christian maturity! 3. We are freaked by God changing lives – that’s the miracle of miracles! We need to gather together and share how God is really working in us and changing how we live! Dr. Lenny Sweet said if you could bottle the dull lifeless worship in many United Methodist churches we could cure insomnia. Maybe so, but not at Center Church! These days people will travel miles to go to church. A church alive is worth the drive!
Wonder Together – If church is something we do on Sunday morning for an hour, I wonder how long the doors will remain open? Church, we are the living “Body of Christ” in our part of the world. Let’s wonder together how God can use us individually and corporately to spread the Gospel. John Wesley said, “give me ten men who love Christ with all their hearts and we can change the world!” If you are participating in a Committee of the church, be an active participant! If God is for us who will stand against us? We can dream BIG for Christ Center Church! I wonder – has the death and resurrection of Jesus really given us EVERYTHING we need to live in the freedom he has given us? I wonder – can we as the church of the Living God personify Jesus here and now? I wonder – can the love of God living in us unite us as bothers and sisters in Christ? I wonder . . . can we wonder together how much GOD CAN DO THROUGH US?
Walk Together – Now that the walking trail has been re-paved, I’ve seen many people enjoy walking together around the circle. Whether husband and wife or just friends, when you walk together you usually talk together. Remember the conversation Jesus had with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Center Church let’s be intentional to build Christian relationships with one another. I know there are people who have sat in the pews for years but don’t really know the person who sits across the isle! As your Pastor, please join a bible study or Sunday school class – try it for a month. I have witnessed people growing in their relationship with God and one another! God’s word always opens our hearts!
Walking together as disciples of Christ means we’re MATURING together. Please make every effort to set aside one hour and let God’s word mess with your heart. You’ll be amazed when you find out you really didn’t know that person you thought you knew!
A new chapter is being written in the history of Center UMC. T.B. Matson said, “The Christians who have turned the world upside down for God have been men and women with a vision in their hearts and the Bible in their hands.” God has provided an opportunity for this church to be His witness and to watch the wonders of Holy Spirit power. Let’s worship together, prayer together, study together, laugh together, cry together and see what God will do!
A couple years ago I bumped into the table in my office and knocked over the glass communion goblet. It broke in numerous places. The cup with the cross sure meant a lot to me – I looked into the eyes of many people while saying, “the blood of Christ shed for you.” So, I was determined to salvage the sacred vessel! I hunted down some “super glue” and went to work. After gluing my finger tips together a couple times, I was able to glue the pieces back together and – there you have it – you can see the scars and the cracks but it can be used for its sacred duty!
As the celebration of Easter approaches, the simple repair of a communion cup helped me understand a grand truth about the awesome love of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
All of us have been bumped off the table
All of us have been broken
All of us need repair
All of us need to be fixed by someone or something other than ourselves.
The Easter message is a multi-faceted diamond – its shinning brilliance can be seen from many angles. This “angle” recognizes the overwhelming sacrificial love of God that is so tremendously tender. No one knows except God the devastating brokenness we harbor in our hearts. And you know what? God doesn’t sweep up the pieces of our lives and say, “That’s just too broken! Better throw it out.” No, God did the hard work of carefully putting us and humanity back together again. And you know what? It wasn’t as easy as getting super glue on your fingers! God in Jesus Christ became the broken vessel Himself! God in Jesus Christ let broken humanity destroy His own body so that in His offering of ultimate brokenness which is death, all the world could be put back together!
And here’s another glimmer of God’s brilliant grace – the resurrection, life from death, is what gives us life in our mended bodies! “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:18-20, NIV). Jesus is the “first born” from the resurrection, and you know what, He’s going to have many follow after Him! Jesus is the complete manifestation of God the Father! Jesus is the only One who can and did reconcile the world to God! By faith in what He did on the cross we have His life – His resurrection life – His eternal Life! That’s Good News!
Here’s the truth – God can’t begin to fix us until we admit we need fixing! You can tell that communion goblet broke – but even with mended cracks – it can still offer the “blood of Christ.” Center Church, I am a mended vessel – put back together by the tender touch of Jesus Christ by His sacrificial love that reaches to eternity. Join me in offering Christ - broken and battered – but pieced back together by the love of God! Join Jesus in His resurrection life, that’s the Divine glue that keeps every Christian held together!
Reflect the glory - by very graphic depictions of war, Spielberg and Hanks want you to relive and rethink about what happened in WWII. The retelling of the crucifixion of God in Jesus Christ should make us think again of God’s extreme sacrifice and full measure of love lavished on us! Born again Christians have been made alive by faith in the full forgiveness of our sins and we are the recipients of the “Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Do we reflect the glory of salvation? Do people see Christ by the way we live!
Resonate the passion - by understanding and reliving what Jesus did for us, we should shout it from the rooftops! We have been immersed in God’s salvation history so we can share God’s redemptive story through our life story by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit! Jesus isn’t a part of our life – He is our life!
Hollywood gives awards for movies that do well at the box office. We have a story to tell that tops any chart and it is produced by God and has eternal consequences! To be a part of that production is reward enough. Members of Center Church – live the story of God changing your life one day at a time.
Remember the Home Box Office (HBO) movie called Pacific? It’s a Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks production similar to the highly acclaimed Band of Brothers series that embedded you with the 82nd Airborne from the evening they were dropped behind German lines before D-Day (1944) to the end of WWII in Europe (1945). Pacific entrenches you with the Marines (Semper Fi) from the malaria filled jungles of Guadalcanal (1942) Peleliu to the last island of death called Okinawa (1945). I must say, for anyone interested in understanding the harrowing horror of battle, these miniseries do a fine job. They endeavor to put you in the middle of the excruciating experiences soldiers had to live through and live with as they island hopped up the Solomons and Marianas to the last bastions of island defenses on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Why did Hollywood spend millions making these heart-wrenching WWII miniseries? Spielberg and Hanks spoke in the opening commentary of Pacific saying they wanted people to “remember and never forget the sacrifice American soldiers gave to their country.”
The church has presented its version of a miniseries for years! On Wednesday March 1 we begin the season of Lent that flows into Holy Week and Easter. Some say all our special services are redundant rituals that don’t mean much. For some they can be! My question is, “Where’s Christ?” If celebrating the seasons of the Christian Year are all about going through the same old same old because that’s what we’ve done since I was knee high to a grasshopper then I can understand why they are meaningless. But . . . if you can understand Charles Wesley’s words: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoner free” on Ash Wednesday – if you recognize and embrace the life-changing power of love as Jesus begins to clothe Himself with the sin of humanity as He journeys to the cross in Lent – if you get lost in the infinite glory of the Resurrection at Easter and stand amazed at the universe changing power of the Incarnation [God becoming a human] at Christmas, these “holy days” can come alive!
As we journey through the season of Lent we don’t spend millions on casting, production and scenes, but we do bring the timeless truth of God’s grace - by the forty days of hearing the stories of the passion of Jesus Christ - into our lives and into our time! To experience the wonder of such awesome Love the church must:
Remember the stories - allow the Holy Spirit to make alive the stories that define who we are and why we believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our history is not based on fractured fairy tales! Special services remind us again who we are and what God has done for the whole world. How soon do we forget that we have been bought with a price – Jesus is the crucified God! Jesus is our “righteousness” [our relationship with God]! Jesus is our life!
Last week I started a sermon series from John 15 called “Keeping Connected.” The disciples were despondent and discouraged because their hopes and dreams for positions of power and control in this “new kingdom” they thought Jesus was ushering in were dashed to pieces. Their minds were clouded with the same things that create discord and dissension in families, institutions and churches – the desire for power and control. Jesus knew they had heavy hearts and he knew they were counting on him overthrowing the Roman occupation so Israel would shine again among the nations. Little did they know, until the Holy Spirit was living in their hearts, that Jesus was going to overthrow the bastion of sin’s power and influence in the human heart. The cross of Christ was going to reconcile the world to God! The blood of Christ frees us from the power of sin so we are no longer chained to fear and condemnation! Question? How does this lofty spiritual truth become something I experience? Connect to the VINE! Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches. There isn’t one without the other. When a person believes from the heart Jesus Christ died for their sins God does a rebirthing! God forgives us and gives us His Spirit to “abide” or live in our heart [spirit]. His life becomes our life and can really change the way we think by what Paul calls “the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1,2).
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Some are filled with anticipation, apprehension, and sometimes a little asphyxiation. We have seen tremendous changes and shifts in our world:
- The world forecast seems to be explosive! We’ve been fortunate to keep the powder keg of terrorism pretty much at bay. But day after day the news outlets paint a very disturbing picture. Are we safe? Are we secure? Are we in control? What are the answers?
- The executive seat of our government has changed – yet people are marching in the streets thinking all is lost! It seems faith in a political party to substantively change or fix the problems that face our country is all but lost.
- The spiritual environment – once colored predominantly Christian is now a pallet of colors – some believe in God or gods - some publicly display that those who have faith and believe are mentally deficient. Some don’t know what the inside of a church looks like!
As re-born Christians, how are we to cope with changes that stir our faith and whip up our sensibilities? Remember the Michael J. Fox movie trilogy called Back to the Future ? As we look to the horizon of our lives, I believe we need to go back to manage the future! We must remain connected to the Vine! We must find our self worth in the person and message of Jesus Christ. We must hang on tight to that which will be real for 2017 and all time:
- Our God created all things and desires an intimate personal relationship with us!
- Our God is loving, compassionate and long suffering. God hates sin – but loves the sinner! Instead of throwing humanity “under the bus” God came in our skin and paid the penalty for our disease – sin. In Christ we are Saints!
- Our God in Jesus Christ offers us a relationship to hang our forever on – a living relationship with Jesus! In Christ we have everything we need to be loving and kind, generous and patient, joyful and gracious – we have the Holy Spirit living in our hearts!
2017 may bring changes and experiences we never thought would happen. In and through it all we can be confident and continuous in our faith that God will never leave us or forsake us – even when we don’t understand or get overwhelmed. Define your life by God’s life in you – for change will be a constant until we see the face of God.
Center Church, our 2016 Christmas celebration has been relegated to the past. Hearing the sacred story of God leaving heaven's glory to become a human servant to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world and experiencing the joy of watching our kids or grandchildren opening Christmas presents is a precious memory. Now it's time to gather our most treasured relationships and look to a New Year. Think about it . . . 2017 is a door to the future. We have hopes and dreams but none of us knows what will happen tomorrow, next week or next month. One of my favorite hymns speaks to our sure foundation in Christ even when we face an uncertain future: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." As we walk through the door of a New Year, each one of us has the awesome opportunity to re-assess our own relationship with Jesus - re-evaluate our call to be dedicated disciples of the One who knew no sin but became sin so we can be forgiven and restored to a living relationship with God and re-member the One who was, and Is, and is alive forever will NEVER leave us or forsake us! In our journey of faith that leads us into a New Year, we are reminded to do what Paul encouraged Timothy: "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control" (2 Timothy 1:6,7). As the New Year unfolds and we "fan the flames" of our faith, re-affirm who we are as a child of God and remember what an incredible God we serve, ponder the list of ten things God can't do. Read the list slowly, carefully and prayerfully.
1. God can't get tired. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. —Isaiah 40:28
2. God can't take on a job he can't handle. Ah, Lord God! Behold, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for you. —Jeremiah 32:17
3. God can't be unholy. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" —Isaiah 6:3
4. God can't be prejudiced. In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him. —Acts 10:34-35
5. God can't break a promise. My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of my lips. —Psalm 89:34
6. God can't remember sins he's chosen to forget. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins. —Isaiah 43:25
7. God can't make a loser. Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ. —2 Corinthians 2:14
8. God can't abandon you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, he is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
9. God can't stop thinking about you. How precious also are your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with you. —Psalm 139:17-18
10. God can't stop loving you. Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. —Jeremiah 31:3
Wow!! What an incredible God we serve! In the New Year we can: Have confidence when we face difficulties. Have faith when it's hard to see where your next step leads. Have peace when others are in turmoil. Have hope when circumstances seem hopeless. And, have love . . . "Because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1John 4:4).
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