Picking up the Pieces

Toddlers love to help.  They super love to help.  Surprisingly, though, toddlers are not much help.  Our 22 month old son, Tobin, has begun pushing a chair up to the counter whenever we are working in the kitchen.  After removing knives and other sharp objects from his reach we then try to find ways to include him.  Most of the time he just helps us sample what we are making.  The results are hilarious, fun, and usually a great part of the day.  I love to have Tobin help because unless I include him in what I’m doing he will not learn how to do it himself.

When Tobin helps there is the aftermath.  Usually a good portion of what was on the counter is now on the floor.  There are various utensils to pick up, bits of flour are scattered about, and he always helps eat any spilled chocolate chips.  After a few times of Tobin ‘helping’ us I began to wonder if this is how God feels when we help Him build the Kingdom.  He sets out all the tools for us on a clean work space, gives us the chance to work, and then we end up spilling things everywhere, making a mess of the space, and eating all the sweet bits before anyone else could have them.  I’m sure that Tobin is a bit more helpful than we are sometimes with God.  At least Tobin helps clean up sometimes.

Picking up the pieces of our kitchen after a cooking session with Tobin can be an onerous task.  Life sometimes looks like our kitchen.  What we want to be orderly and thoughtful can become so messy, difficult, and crazy.  This is very similar to our living room on Christmas morning.  What begins as a beautiful tree with nicely wrapped gifts underneath turns into a sea of torn paper, toy packages, and other trash. 

Advent is when we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas.  We always want our Christmas to look and feel like that tree before the chaos of opening presents begins.  We want everything to be orderly, positive, and beautiful.  Does it ever actually happen that way?

So often we get to this point in the year as we prepare for Christmas that we look more like the chaos after the presents than the peaceful picture before.  We spend more of Christmas worried about details, trying to get the right present, and figure out how to work out the finances and the family.  When does the perfect family Christmas ever exist?

This Advent we are going to work out how to pick up the pieces of our family, homes, and lives to prepare for Christmas.  As a church we will read a daily devotion.  On the four Sundays of Advent we will look at how the pieces of our lives can fit together and how the birth of Jesus takes the chaos of life and gives us the gifts of hope, joy, peace, and love.

You do not need to be perfect, have the perfect present, or have the perfect family to have a perfect Christmas.  What makes a Christmas perfect is having the perfect God at the center of it.  We will learn how to give God the right place in Christmas and in our lives as we pick up the pieces and see God do something beautiful with them.

My close friends Jordan and Megan McFall have written a great devotional book called Picking Up the Pieces that we will use each day.  Jordan is the pastor of the Renew Campus of Adlersgate UMC in Wichita, KS. You can pick up a copy at the church.  The books are offered at no cost.  If you are able to help with the cost you are welcome to contribute a $5 donation.  Most importantly we want every person and family to be able to have a book. 

This Advent let us pick up the pieces of our lives as we see God do something amazing: bring God down to us so we may find the true gifts God wants to give us.

Pastor Brad Kirk

 

How to Be the Best This Thanksgiving!

“So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:27

   November is the beginning of Turkey Time!  I am always a sucker for a grand meal with all the fixings!  As we approach the time of year when we focus on big meals we need to remember that those meals do not magically appear on our tables.  Usually it is the work of many hours and collaborative effort.  As we consider Thanksgiving and its importance we would also do well to focus on how we can be the greatest person around this holiday season!

   Usually the holidays are not times when we focus on who is the greatest.  It is a time when we focus on giving, sharing, and putting others before ourselves.  Yet that is the real point here. Jesus came to serve.  He served his disciples, the poor, the rich, and even his enemies.  He is undoubtedly the greatest among humanity in the entire world.  Yet he served.  The greatest person in the culture of the New Testament times was the person at the table.  The servant was lowly.  If not a slave or indentured servant, those serving would be the youngest member of the family.  Serving others was something looked down upon, not heralded as the best.  Jesus once again turns our expectations and values upside down from the world by his example.

   Serving requires humility.  I’m not really the best person to write about humility.  Honestly, I am a proud man.  It’s easy when you are secure in a lot of ways to be proud.  As well, whenever insecurities shine though, pride comes around and causes me to rely upon myself.  Weaknesses are not often something upon which someone is proud.  No matter if pride causes me to be secure in my own accomplishments, or to cover for my weaknesses; it has nothing to do with God.

   Pride has made me miss so much in my life.  When I’ve been too proud to speak to that person, or too proud to take an opportunity I may see as beneath me, I’ve missed out on something.  Pride eats away at anything I rely upon until I’m left with only myself.  It is caustic to relationships, creates divisions, and is innately selfish.  It leaves me with nothing but my own ambitions, purposes, and well being.  I’m left alone, selfish, and without anything greater than myself.  By myself, my value is limited to who I am and what I can do.  The value is earned.  It is fragile and momentary.  My value can be lost if others think less of me, or if I cannot live up to my own claims of greatness.  Pride divides me from any shared value with others, and hurts me as I tear myself down to find whatever I think is worthwhile.

   By contrast, all Christ can show is humility.  He demonstrates that greatness is not found in my own twisted values.  It is found in Him.  If I am to boast at all, as Paul says, may it be in Christ.  Christ shows me that there is another way.  I am not alone on this planet.  I’m not meant to be by myself.  I was created with a purpose.  I am meant for relationship with others, but especially for one relationship.  That relationship is Christ.  For all those accomplishments I’ve been proud of in the past, I look on them with thankfulness instead of scrutiny.  They are blessings for the opportunities that Christ has given me.  For my weaknesses, I now see them as opportunities to grow.  They are places for victory, to grow, to change for God, and to proclaim the Truth.

   Humility and thankfulness draws me to others.  When I realize I can’t do it alone, that I’m broken, and that I have nothing left to offer that is of worth, I am at that moment my weakest.  As well, in that moment, I am my strongest.  It is in those times that God draws close, that I must rely upon him, and I am left with no choice but to accept grace.  I cannot stand alone, so I lean on those around me.  I accept help instead of rejecting it.  Humility builds up relationships.  It puts me last and thinks of others.  Finally, my value is no longer my own.  Value is found as a sum of those who are with me.  It doesn’t mean that I’ve found really valuable people.  Instead, it is that I have found valuable relationships, people who care about me, and that together we are able to give God the glory and find our worth in Him, not ourselves.  That’s value.

   Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Today there are opportunities to serve others.  How can you help your neighbor?  Do not put this article down and just move on.  Actually think about how you can serve. There are ministries in our church and community that need your help.  There are families in need of help with their homes. There are lonely people that need the love of friendship. How can you reach out each day? 

   Happy Thanksgiving!  Get up from the table and serve others and show how thankful you are!

Pastor Brad

 

Church Doesn’t Make You a Better Christian

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ. Philippians 3:8

   There is no shortage of lists of good activities to improve your life.  There are fashion tips in magazines, health tips from fitness gurus, investing tips from successful investors, and the list goes on and on.  It is easy to think the same can be said of the Christian faith.  The temptation as a pastor is to do the same thing.  I could have titled this article, “5 Steps to a Better Walk with Jesus,”  but that would have been a lie.

  There is no secret sauce to the Christian life.  There is no magic prayer (even if Jabez did say it). You cannot name it and claim it.  There is no holiest cross to put on your neck.  There is no pilgrimage to a holy site. There are no shortcuts to the Christian life.  There is only one way to heaven, to holiness, and to God.  His name is Jesus.

   I’m tired of attempting to grow in my faith like I have a list of items to do in the hope I will grow.  For years I read the Bible, pray, talk to others about Jesus, be a genuinely nice person, and hope I become a better Christian. But that is, simply put, not the way to do it.

   Saul was a circumcised, educated Pharisee who was a citizen of Rome.  That is like saying he was a Harvard educated doctor with the right family name, a member of the right clubs, and knew all the right people.  He was young, energetic, and good at what he did.  What did he do?  He persecuted the church by imprisoning, pursuing, and harassing Christians.  He even held the coats of those who were stoning the first martyr, Stephen.  With his titles, positions, and power Saul likely thought he had it all.

   He did have it all until he was stopped cold.  On the road to Damascus he saw Jesus Christ.  He was made blind for 3 days until his sight was restored to him.  He quit his persecution of the church and joined it.  He spent 3 years training, learning, and gaining the confidence of the apostles before he began his missionary journeys.  Eventually Paul would write letters to those cities he visited.  Those letters today constitute the majority of the New Testament of the Bible.

   Paul thought he was doing the right stuff.  He thought that listening to those experts around him that told him to persecute the church was the right way for him to be successful in life.  He was blameless in following the law.  He had all the right credentials.  Paul was a quick study and a man on the rise.  This is the kind of man whose parents today would tell him he could become president.

   The road to success for Saul who became Paul was an odd one that demonstrates a very clear point.  We can try to do all the things the world, experts, and even well meaning friends tell us to do.  We can earn the money, education, and fame.  None of it will accomplish the ultimate goal.

   As Christians we can read our Bibles, attend every worship service, tithe our money, and even pray daily and totally miss the point.  None of those things in and of themselves will make us a better Christian.  None of them will make us a Christian at all.  You see, the answer is not a task or a thing.  It is a person. 

   Church does not make you a better Christian.  Jesus does.  All of the wonderful activities I recommend as your pastor will do nothing if not connected to a real relationship with a real God.  Saul needed to encounter Christ personally in a powerful way.  We all need a personal encounter with God.  That is why church is important.

   When we study God’s words in the Bible together we encounter Jesus.  When we worship together as the body of Christ we encounter Jesus.  When we faithfully sacrifice our gifts and service so others may know Christ we encounter Christ.  When we pray and truly pour out our hearts to the Spirit we encounter Christ.  All I can do as your pastor is provide opportunities and invitations for you to encounter Christ daily.  The real decision is up to you if you do.

   Have you really encountered Christ?  Do others, when they see or talk to you, see Christ in you?  What can you do with this day to share Jesus?  We cannot put it off until tomorrow to tell others the Good News.  There is no excuse you can use that God will accept.  How will you encounter Christ and help others do the same?

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

The Charlottesville Hate and the Christian Response

A documentary was released last week by Vice Media depicting the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who protested in Charlottesville, Virginia over the previous weekend. This documentary was viewed over 44 million times. In it one white supremacist Christopher Cantwell is recorded among his many incendiary statements stating, “I think that a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.”

The news coverage of the Charlottesville protests and counter-protests was upsetting and terrible. I was amazed at the hatred these people had for others based on race. More shocking, though, were some other observations.

First, the white supremacists claimed a Christian faith. There is nothing surprising about this historically. The KKK commonly burned crosses to further their cause. Yet the Christian faith is the most contrary position to the hatred and violence that they profess. As one pastor put it, “Nazis are going to be pretty uncomfortable in heaven when they see the variety of people there.” Another friend wondered how white supremacists could possibly find any reason in professing faith in a religion that is based upon following a middle-eastern Jew.

The Christian faith is ruled by 2 great commandments. Jesus himself stated in Matthew 22 that the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second greatest commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As simple as these commandments are we still can find many records in Christian history of groups of people hating others based on race. We humans are sinful. Satan loves nothing more than to twist our faith into lies. Sadly it continues into our present generations.

As Christians we should be denouncing hate. To say that racism is wrong is basic morality. Yet for us who are not in Charlottesville this is a passive statement. We are not the ones on the front line. For us to say that we should not hate others does not require action from us. While I am glad we dislike hate, I find this level of reaction to this news to be the minimum we as Christians can do. Christ calls us deeper.

The second observation I made was the reactions I saw from the counter-protesters. They were yelling profanities at the white supremacists. There was violence from both sides. After the release of the documentary Christopher Cantwell has shared that he has received so many death threats that he cannot keep up with them.

Hating someone because they are a part of a hate group that hates other people is ironic and simply wrong. The reaction of so many people against haters is to hate them. The problem with hate is that we cannot stop the hate if we hate the hate. As Christians we cannot passively just say “Racism is wrong.” and shrug our shoulders.

Hatred and racism, among many other forms of pride, are everywhere in our communities. History reminds us that all communities have struggled with overcoming this sin. Christians must be active in working against it. We must be growing the Kingdom of God as light in dark places. How do we do this?

Paul writes in Philippians 2 to tell us about unity in the Church. “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” Paul tells us in the following verses that we should have the same in us that was in Christ. Jesus humbled himself to become a man and definitely to die on the cross. As is always true in the Christian faith, we follow Jesus’ example.

When it comes to facing racism and hate, Christians need to be proactive. We are called to go beyond seeing racism as morally wrong. We need to step out and love our neighbor. That is where faith becomes real and difficult. We do not get to choose who is our neighbor. The love of God can transform the heart of anyone. There is no one who is beyond the grace of God. All of us have the free will to choose salvation through the cross of Christ.

This the beauty of the Gospel.  The Gospel is transformative.  For all the failures of humanity our only hope can be Christ.  The only response to hate must be Christ: the real, living, incarnate Jesus Christ who loves them so much he died for them.  Jesus can transform the heart of any person, even someone who is a white supremacist.  With the hope of the world in our hearts our main purpose in this life is to share Christ with others that they might come to know Him as their own God!  We all come to the cross just as we are. No one accepting salvation through the cross of Christ is allowed to remain as they are.  We must be transformed, and that transformation gives us hope for entire world.

Today, right now, how can you go and love your neighbor? Start by answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Then find a way to actively personally go and love them. That is how hearts are changed and the Kingdom grows. If we do not grow weary in doing good we will see hatred decline and God’s reign and love grow around us!

 

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

Brake (Not Break) If You Love Jesus!

The heat, dry weather, and long days should be enough clues to remind us all that summer has come.  The bands of children roaming the streets is also a tell-tale sign that we are now in the season of “Summer Break.”  I remember the joy of the last day of school as a child!  I had waited for months just so I could sleep a little later, spend time at home, and go do all the things that summer brought: swimming, library trips, time with family and friends, and vacations.  What other time of the year was more fun?

As an adult I now better understand the looks of wonder parents feel when tasked with keeping their children busy for this season of the year.  One of the favorite ideas is a trip somewhere.  Some may go on longer vacations to far-off places.  Some may camp at a nearby park.  Whatever the destination, getting away can be a healthy and positive experience.

The challenge of summer for the church is that so often it seems we also like to take a break from church.  Our worship attendance numbers decline in this season.  Even I will be gone a weekend to be with family.  The challenge for us is not that people are traveling.  The challenge for us is that when we are not spending time in worship together, what else are we doing to encourage our faith for the week to come?

The idea of summer break is that we change our routine so we can be refreshed and renewed for the next season.  I invite you, instead of taking a summer “break” from church that we should take a summer “brake” for Jesus.  Braking is slowing down.  Braking means dwelling in our life.  Instead of breaking ourselves away from the community of the church and starving our spiritual life, we need to slow down and brake the speed we are traveling so we have time to dwell with our God who loves us so much He died for us.

As tempting as it is to just sleep in, treat this summer season as a chance to brake with Christ.  Slow down with him.  Find time to spend with Christ each day reading the Bible.  When you are traveling take time to pray with those around you, especially family.  Integrate your faith into your trip.  Do family devotions each morning or evening of the trip.

Dedicate yourself to coming to worship every Sunday, even when these long summer days leave you tired.  When you are unable to make it to worship then find a worship community where you are traveling.  If that cannot work then worship with your family.  Sing a song or two as a group.  Read a Scripture and a devotion and then talk about it. 

Remember that summer is also harvest time.  If we plan to have a spiritual harvest in our life then we need to devote the time to our faith so that we do not starve it for an entire season!  Enjoy your summer brake!

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

Politics and the Church

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  James 4:1-4 (NIV)

The old adage says, “Never talk about religion, politics, or money.”  As a matter of policy, I believe the Word of God speaks to our entire lives.  If I am to be honest about God and His Word, I must speak on these topics.  I will be breaking this rule in a big way.

Politics has become a dirty word.  We have come to use it to describe the very worst in our relationships.  Those who use underhanded, selfish, and dishonest methods in communication and influence are described as ‘politicians.’  Yet, as is true most times, this word did not begin with such baggage.  Politics began with a much more simple definition.

The Greek city-states of old were called “polis.”  The polis is the city (i.e. metropolis).  The polis is the community living together.  The affairs and business of the community were called politics.  The government created policy.  Enforcing the policy were the police.  We see where many words we use today all come from this same root word polis.

That means that to be engaged in the business of life together with others is, by basic definition, politics.  My former bishop once commented to me that everyone is engaged in politics.  Politics is how we live together.  The real question is do we live together in a way that serves God or ourselves?

Since we cannot, no matter how hard we try, avoid politics if we are going to live in community, we must then see what God can do to help us use politics, that business of life together, to share Christ and build the kingdom of God.  The reason the church gets caught up in politics all the time is because we, as Christians, are called by God to live in community with each other.  The avoidance of politics in the church is a foolish endeavor.  Instead, seeking to follow Scripture’s commands for us is how we can help make this business of the community as God honoring as possible.

James told us about the fights and quarrels that so often plague politics.  He points right to the cause of them: the desires of our hearts that battle within us.  We covet what we do not have and then war and battle to get it.  When we pray for it, we do not get it because our motives are selfish. 

I commend you to read the rest of James 4.   It is well worth the time.  James goes on to tell us that we cannot be friends with God and the world.  We must choose from the two.  They are wholly opposed to each other.  Instead we should, with all humility, submit ourselves to God, resist the devil, repent, cleanse ourselves, and humble ourselves.  Interestingly James points to the major problem in politics: slander.  Slander is false statements against someone else.  This happens each day in our small community.  We gossip about who is doing what, spent their money on this, do not care about that, or how we suspect they really want something else.  We make unsubstantiated claims against our neighbors and call it truth.  We assume we know the truth when we do not.  When we do have conflict, which is inevitable in community, we talk to someone else instead of following Christ’s clear commands to go directly to that person.  Gossip is sin.  There is no sugar coating it.

We can do life together and it can be all to God’s glory.  We can move past gossip but it will take some new habits.  Go directly to those with whom you have conflict, and do not let the day pass if you are angry.  Deal with your conflicts as mature Christians.  If you have problems, sort through them.  If you have burdens, give them to God and ask God to show you what he would have you do to sort through them. 

When we do all that God has asked us to do, we will find that we have a reliance upon God and a peace only he can give. Don’t get upset over evildoers; don’t be jealous of those who do wrong, because they will fade fast, like grass; they will wither like green vegetables. Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks. Psalm 37:1-4

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

You Cannot Do It Alone

     But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Hebrews 3:13-14

     There are a few words from the Bible we rarely use anymore.  Through new translations we have seen these old English words pass away to history.  Occasionally they can help us to better understand the original Greek word from the New Testament.  Exhort is one such word.

     We like the word encourage now.  Exhort has some extra meaning.  It means to strongly encourage, or thoroughly encourage.  To exhort someone is not to say “well done” and then go on your way.  To exhort someone is to invest in your encouragement.  It is to comfort, console, strengthen, and admonish.  When we have exhorted someone, they should no longer feel the way we did when we began.  They should know the fullness of our encouragement.  They should be strengthened for the journey ahead.  They should be lifted from their despair. 

     Christians are commanded to exhort!  We are not to just encourage.  The world encourages all the time.  Hallmark has been sending out small snippets of encouragements for over a century.  It is fine to share an encouraging quote on Instagram or Facebook.  Yet that is never exhortation.  There is nothing thorough about one sentence.  As Christians we need to do more.

     Hebrews tells us that we need to exhort one another so that we are not hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  This world has many voices.  It is easy to listen to them.  We begin, over time, to believe those voices we hear.  We believe we are weak.  We doubt whether God is able.  We wonder if we are really forgiven.  We lose hope in the future.  We question how valuable we are.  These voices are dangerous because they are deceitful.  What are we to do?

     We need to exhort one another!  Encourage each other in the faith so we might remain steadfast in the faith.  How to do that?  There are limitless ways.  We can call on one another.  We can visit each other.  We can pray for and with each other.  This is why attending worship is so important.  I cannot exhort you if I do not see you. 

     Our church is beginning a new and important ministry for exhorting one another.  The Leoti UMC Card Ministry is a ministry to reach out to those in need.  We need your help in two possible ways.

  1. You can give us the names of your loved ones who could use exhortation, to be thoroughly encouraged. Do you know someone who has lost a loved one?  Celebrating a birth, marriage, or anniversary?  Whether someone is going through a time of challenge, celebration, or mourning, we can exhort them.  Even those who are homebound and need to have their spirits lifted, please share their name, address, and reason for the card with us.
  2. You can send cards. Our church is supplying the cards for you.  We also can supply stamps if desired.  We are asking you to send one or two cards each week.  We will share with you the information for them.  It does not take much time to send a card.  A few moments out of your week may become a huge blessing for someone else.

     Will you join our card ministry?  Can you spare a few moments to exhort someone?  Will you answer the call of Christ to exhort one another?  This is a low expense/high impact opportunity.  To use a few moments of our time can change the life of someone else and show them the love of Christ. 

     If you are interested in the Card Ministry, please contact Pastor Brad or Tabitha to be added to the list.  We will begin sending cards very soon and need you!

 

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

How Much Are You Willing To Pay?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

 My father taught me an important principle when I was growing up.  He told me, “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”  This has guided me well in my life.  I have been told the value of certain items and wondered, in reality, would anyone be willing to pay such a price for that?

We count the cost of so many things by money.  We have a personal budget for gas, food, insurance, and so much more.  We see the stock markets that tell us the value of companies.  We can reduce most things down to money.  It has seemingly become the common denominator for everything, even human life.e19c54d9b2db7cc7846679113a1bb6a3

If you look online you can find a “Human Life Value Calculator” that bases the value of your life on your economic data.  Apparently my life is worth around $4,000,000.  I like money, but money is not the end point of life.  It is a tool.  My life cannot be valued according to the numbers in my bank account, the number of hours I have to share, or what assets I hold.  I think my life has a different value based on an entirely different calculation.

Wednesday, March 1, will be Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Lent is the season when we prepare ourselves for Easter.  At our service that evening at 6:00 pm I will offer to put ashes on the forehead of every person in the church and tell them, “Remember, from dust you came and to dust you will return.”  This is not a message you give someone to offer an ego boost.  Everything in life can be reduced to dust and ashes.  I can burn my belongings.  Our church building can be burned to the ground.  Moses, after finding God’s people had made a golden calf while he was on Mount Sinai, had the golden calf ground into dust and made the people drink it.

Every single thing can be reduced to dust or ash.  Whatever value we put on objects, there is nothing that cannot be reduced, including each of us.  I’ve done enough memorial services that I know our bodies are reduced to dust, whether before or after we are put in the ground.  We put so much value on caring for our bodies, and we should.  Yet we should remember that at the end, it will all be returned to dust.  The value of it is not in the physique or the power we hold.  I would suggest that, from a Lenten perspective, we are not worth much as dust.  So what are you willing to pay for dust?

Our value is not based in how much we can do or give.  Our value is based, just like my father taught me, in how much someone is willing to pay for us.  I’m glad to report that someone is willing to pay a price for us.  He already did.  This is a price paid for relationship.  Someone values you so much that he is willing to pay to be close to you.  He desires your relationship and your love so much, he wanted to pay for it. 

But why would we need to pay for us?  Does someone own me?  In a sense, yes.  Before I was purchased, I was at the bidding of sin.  It caused me grief, trouble, stumbling, and many problems.  It separated me from the one who paid for me.  He wanted me to be free.  He wanted me to be free to choose Him.  So he paid the price for my sin, which was more than I could ever pay, and then told me, giving me free will, that I could freely choose who to follow.  I am not my own but His.

How did he pay?  Unlike most places, MasterCard was not accepted here.  The cross stands as the pay station.  His life is the price.  Somehow we go from worthless dust to priceless love.  That is exactly what grace is.  We cannot earn it.  It is a gift.  Yet we must choose it.

This Lent remember we are but ash.  We were made from the dust of the earth and we will return to it.  Thanks be to God that we have eternity set in our hearts!  We have a way to heaven, so live like it.  You are marked for heaven if you believe Jesus died and was raised from the grave.  Let us be valued not by our bank account, assets, or influence.  Let us be valued by our God, who gives us every good thing, including life.

 

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

Practicing the Means of Grace

Grace is such a wonderful word.  It is the name of so many women.  It is a word that describes the very best God has for us.  It is the free gift that lifts our spirits and the hope that can overcome any obstacles because Christ has offered us grace.

The common challenge for us is getting it.  Look around the world.  Judgment, punishment, rules, and regulations are standard in every society.  While we would highly appreciate it, how would it look if every police officer or judge gave every offender mercy each time they could have been punished?  How much more than do we benefit from grace, that gift that gives us eternal life through Jesus?  Instead of the punishment for sin, which is death, we end up not only forgiven but then given the gift of eternity.  How awesome and wonderful is our God?

Perhaps you think getting grace is easy.  All we need to do is accept it.  Yes, you would be right.  Yet so often in my daily life I find myself graceless.  I judge others for how they treat me.  I am short-tempered with those I love the most.  So how can I receive the gift of grace in such a way that my life, my attitude, my relationships, my actions, and my soul all abound in the same grace that God so bountifully gives me?

When I have been offered real grace I find it fills me up.  When I encounter someone who shows me grace and love, I then go and share that with others.  Grace has this wonderful multiplication to it.  What begins with one act of love on the cross has been multiplied out for two millennia.  Yet with all this grace around the world we still struggle with living in grace.  We still struggle not to judge someone for small and big actions.  We are still far too quick to speak instead of listening.  We are still more adept to hold onto anger and resentment than release and forgive.  How can we live in the sort of grace that makes the Christian life so wonderful?

John Wesley had an answer.  He had many people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  They needed a place to be nurtured in their faith that they might grow and learn.  He wanted give them instructions on how to live.  To help them grow, he gave them 3 general rules.

First, do no harm by avoiding evil of every kind.  Second, by doing good as often as one can.  Third, “by attending upon all the ordinances of God.”  These first two rules are very important.  Doing no harm is not easy.  We easily harm other and ourselves.  Fleeing from sin and temptation are key.  The second rule is difficult as well.  Doing good means we must be intentional about seeking the good of ourselves, our family, our community, and even those we may count as enemies.

Yet the third rule is the most simple.  It is what helps us stay in love with God.  It is what helps us to remain full of God’s grace.  Wesley had another term for those ordinances: means of grace.  Means of grace are those actions or activities that help us encounter God’s grace in a very real way.  They are diverthree-simple-rulesse.  They are both individual and communal.  

Wesley encouraged those in these small groups to attend to 6 specific activities.  They are public worship (such as our Sunday morning worship service), ministry of the Word (such as listening to biblical preaching), the Supper of the Lord (communion), family and private prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting (that is abstaining from something to focus on God). 

How are you doing with these means of grace?  There are other ways in which we encounter God’s grace.  These 6 activities happen to be some of the most effective.   How are you doing in these activities?  Are you attending worship whenever you possibly can?  Are you paying attention to the preaching of the Word?  Are you receiving communion so as to encounter Christ in it?  Are you praying often alone and with others, including family?  Are you reading your Bible?  Are you fasting regularly? 

Seriously consider all of those questions.  Consider how filled you are with grace.  Consider what actions you can do to grow in God’s grace.  If you need help, ask.  We Christians are here to encourage one another.  If you need accountability, assistance, or guidance than I am here to help you along with our congregation. 

Let us grow in God’s grace in very profound ways as we grow together in love!

For His Kingdom,

Pastor Brad

 

Be Holy

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

 If you have seen the movie UP you may remember the dog Doug who can talk.  He has a problem.  He cannot focus for very long without being distracted by saying “Squirrel!”  He is easily swayed to go wherever the animals take him.  This lovable quirk of Doug is fun in the film.  Sadly this is also how so many of us act in real life.

I struggle with focus.  I have vowed in 2017 to become more physically healthy.  I will follow the habits and diet that I know will help me achieve that goal.  Whether I can do it is not my concern.  Whether I will keep it up is the more difficult problem.

I get distracted in life.  I may conquer a problem for a time, but then it creeps back.  I lost weight and then gained it back.  I stopped using poor language and then it came back.  I began exercising and then stopped.  Why do I have such a challenge keeping myself focused?do-more-of-what

It may be that it is simply more fun to do the easy thing.  It may be that change is not easy for most of us.  It may be that an object at rest tends to stay at rest.  More likely, it is because we humans are often not a very focused bunch.  There are exceptions, but most of us tend to be challenged when it comes to steadfastly enduring and accomplishing long-term goals.

What goals do you have for 2017?  There are always the common ones: lose weight, eat healthier, read more, spend more time with family, run a marathon, etc.  What are your spiritual goals for 2017?  What is it that you want to require of yourself so you can grow in your faith?

What can you do in your routine to produce more Fruit of the Spirit?  What can you do with more discipline?  Do you daily read the Bible?  Do you pray throughout the day?  Do you bless others?  Do you attend worship whenever you aren’t sick or out of town?  Do you spend at least one hour serving others each week, and possibly much more than that?  If you cannot answer all of those questions and many more with total satisfaction then you know what goals you need to make for the coming year.

We begin 2017 with a clean slate.  After all, when Christ forgives our sins we have a new life in him.  God forgives and forgets our sin and our past.  That is a very clean slate!  With a chance to start over again, what do you want to do in the new year that will grow your relationship with God?

Unlike losing weight or a workout regimen, growing your faith is about a relationship.  We cannot schedule a relationship.  It requires spending time with God.  Investing in that relationship will pay off in every other part of life. 

Can I invite us all to have a theme for 2017?  Be holy.  Peter is quoting Jesus who is quoting the Father.  We are commanded to be holy by God.  God is holy.  If we want to be holy we need to be more like God, to be Christ-like.  How do we live this out?  There are two common methods.  One is to try your hardest to be a good Christian, to work hard, and try to earn your way into heaven.  Sadly, no one has ever accomplished this method but far too many have tried to be a “good person” and have failed. 

The only way I know is the other method: live in relationship with the God who loves you.  Let Christ forgive your sins.  Let God renew your life.  Let God give you a purpose.  Let the Spirit abide in you.  Let God’s commands and example in Scripture guide your life.  It is in this living relationship that we find we are able to really live as Christ commands us. 

2017 is a clean slate.  Don’t bring into the New Year all the old sins and habits.  Don’t lose your attention. Instead, be holy as God is holy.  Give God the time, attention, and focus he needs to change your life and just see how holy you can be!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Pastor Brad