Friday, August 18, 2017

Restoring Relationships With God

Recently, at the beginning of the new church year, we re-defined the mission and purpose of Celebration Place. It was a decision based on the direction we felt God was leading in and it spoke to the greatest needs of our modern age.

It is apparent, from even a cursory observation that human beings are hard-wired to be relational. Probably all of us can think of relationships that comfort, encourage, and provide support. At the same time we can all think of relationships that are definitely TOXIC! Relationships that we avoid like a plague! But, nonetheless, we have and are in, relationships from the day we’re born. And they are important.

I remember reading that the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, told his lawyer he preferred the death penalty to the chance of life imprisonment in the federal lock-up known as “Super-Max.” What was it about Super-Max that made death preferable? This is the newest facility in the US penal system and is generally considered to be the most inhumane ever built. Why? Are the prisoners regularly abused? Are the inmates forced to do hard labor? Are the cells lacking in any creature comforts? Well, no. The factor that makes this prison so tough is that every prisoner there is essentially in solitary confinement for the duration of their sentence.

They never see another human being. For twenty three hours a day they are restricted to their cell. No TV, no radio, no conversation. For one hour a day they are allowed out of the cell into a yard with high walls and no windows where they can only look up to the sky. No one is there, no one speaks to them. They are totally alone. No relationships. Even bad ones!

In the beginning, the Bible tells us, we were made in the “image” of God. No other part of God’s creation could claim that distinction. It is uniquely human characteristic. And why did God create humans that way? So He could have a relationship with us! In fact, the relationship with God is the basis for all other relationships. Unfortunately, that initial relationship was destroyed by the first couple’s disobedience. The first sin was simple rebellion. Unfortunately, that rebellious streak now runs through the entire human race.

The Bible tells us that, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Because of that rebellion, all our relationships have been affected negatively. They are the cause of much joy and happiness and grief and sorrow in life. All of us can probably testify to the fact that the best and worst part of our lives have usually been the result of a relationship.

So, how do we repair that relationship with God? Is there any hope for us? Is the gulf to wide to span, the guilt too deep to fill? Well, there is good news, indeed! God had a plan to utterly redeem all His creation and mankind in particular. The sacrifice for our rebellion, in fact, for the rebellion of the entire race, was Jesus of Nazareth. The punishment for our sins was laid on Him. The prophet Isaiah said it like this, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6)

So, Jesus restores us to the relationship with God the Father we were created to enjoy. There is no other way, He is the final answer to the problem of sin separating humans from their Creator. The Apostle Paul made it clear in Romans 10:9 when he said, “… if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” And just like that, your relationship with God has been healed! You are now adopted into His family. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

God has spared no expense to bring you back to Him. The decision now is yours. Will you accept His offer of grace or will you choose to reject the sacrifice that has been paid for you and continue in rebellion, without a relationship with the One who created you?

Pastor Ray

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Fragmented Life

There is a political movement that seeks to foment race and class divisions, envy, and aggression intended, I believe, to destroy the unity and fabric of American society. For some time now I have been disturbed by what I perceive are efforts to splinter American society. In a country such as ours, (viz. "E Pluribis Unum"), there should be no afro-, Hispanic-, IrishAsian-Americans but just Americans.

In the absence of unity a vacuum is created in which the power of politicians and bureaucrats may be asserted. Unfortunately, this effort is no longer confined to one political party but has become a broad appeal by politicians of both conservative and liberal persuasions. As troubling as this may be, it is the same movement in our personal lives that is even more dangerous.

Never before in the history of America have the lives of her citizenry been more fragmented and hectic than they are now. We are on the run constantly and never seem to have enough time to accomplish all the tasks set before us. As we accumulate more "labor-saving" devices we are then forced to spend more and more time paying for them.

Recently a study was published that said Americans have more leisure time now than ever before in history. I am sorry to report to you that isn't true in my life! It seems the harder I try the busier I become. Maybe you have the same problem. When I think about it I remember what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Perhaps it is time all of us re-examine the yoke we are laboring under and if it is not the yoke of Jesus, change it! It is not right for God's holy people to be under a burden they can't carry. It is a sorry testimony and a denial of the promise by Jesus to give us rest. I resolve to surrender my fragmented life to Him whose life was given for me and allow His peace to pervade my life. 

Pastor Ray

Disaster! Now what?

And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't get discouraged and give up. Galatians 6:9 TLB

Recently, among some of the members of our church, there has been an unusual amount of setbacks and troubles. And while it has been accurately observed that "into each life some rain must fall", the ironic thing about these events are they all occurred when the individuals affected by them were engaged in the most altruistic of endeavors. As they were busy tending to the things of God the cruelest vicissitudes of life intruded upon them.

When hardships occur in the lives of non-believers and those devoted to narcissistic pursuits, we sagely nod our heads, cluck our tongues and exclaim we are not surprised. But if we are honest, most of us will have to confess to a notion that in the undertaking of God’s work we expect to be protected from life’s turbulence. Doubtless the above mentioned individuals, at some point, cried out to God, "Why!" "Why now, why in the middle of my service to you?"

I believe that God, in all His grace and love understands those cries and I believe He cries with us. John 11:35 is one of the clearest examples of the grief of humans affecting Jesus. But we must understand that God is always more concerned with the state of our eternal soul rather than the disposition of our temporal body! In the these situations He is at work, perfecting, shaping, and molding us to be able to fit into His heaven.

An old preacher, who has since gone on to his reward, once told me that God cannot have anyone in His heaven that Satan can point at and say, "He’s only there because I never got a shot at him!" Likewise, I can be sure that God will not allow anyone in hell to lift up their head and accuse Him of not giving them the chance to be in heaven. The problem is one of justice. Here on earth it, justice is not now, nor ever has been, fair and equitable. We, as Christians, understand that our God is a God of justice. And His justice, my beloved, is not denied, merely delayed. We live with the hope that there is coming a day when the scales when be evened for eternity. It is this hope that gives us the strength to persist in "doing what is right." 

Uncertain Times, Unclear Paths

But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. Exodus 14:13(NAS)

The children of Israel were in a real predicament! They were runaway slaves who had made matters worse by  plundering their masters before leaving. They had defied the preeminent world power of that day. The "America" of the ancient world. Egypt had the most powerful army, the strongest economy, an aggressive trade policy, and influence that stretched far beyond it’s natural boundaries. 

The whole world stood in awe of the Egyptian society. And now these Hebrews, these slaves, had the temerity to rebel and leave openly. Now they were trapped! With the Red Sea at their backs they faced the onrushing might of Pharaoh’s forces. Hundreds of chariots racing to destroy them. Quite naturally the were terrified. The Bible says they began to cry out to Moses: "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"

Sound familiar? Well of course it does. It is us! Today we often have "Egyptians" pressing down on us with our backs to the wall and no way out. We too cry out for relief but just like those Israelites we call on the wrong person. Notice how they cried out to Moses. But it wasn’t Moses that had brought them out to the desert, it was the Lord God! He would be the one who would save them. And save them He did. The entire world quaked in fear of the God of the Israelites that could defend His people so powerfully. If they had not been threatened by Pharaoh, if their backs had not been to the wall, God wouldn’t have been able to exhibit His power on their behalf.

In our lives today, the same is true. Without those fearsome trials that come unbidden into our lives God would not be afforded the opportunity to show His favor and love for you as He defeats your "Egyptians." So, do not fear! Cry out to Him and refrain from seeking human aid for spiritual victories. Allow God to work His power. There is no need to be afraid. 

Toward a Better Government

"If both of you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well." I Samuel 12.14

The children of Israel, in this passage, were embarking on the greatest adventure they had attempted since their escape from slavery in Egypt. They had crowned a king and were in the process of accepting the responsibilities of organized government. The responsibilities which rest upon citizens, especially in a democracy, are equal in every respect to those which rest upon the head of state, by whatever title he or she may be known.

It is not the form of government under which a people lives which makes the nation great; it is rather the character of the people which determines the dignity and stature of the state. A truly great people can have a great life under any one of several forms of government. But no political philosophy or form of government can save a people whose hearts are corrupt.

At the moment when the little Hebrew state was ready to take its first timid step along the path of history, the prophet Samuel enunciated this first principle of stable government: "If you and your king will follow the Lord your God, you will succeed." The responsibility for the new venture was evenly divided between the king and the people. Neither could make a great state without the help and dedication of the other. 

Last November we prepared for one of the most critical presidential elections ever in the history of our country. The success of our new President may very well determine the fate of our country and our way of life! Therefore, it becomes even more imperative that we, as Christians and with no regard to our political stand, begin to behave as partners in government according to the Biblical model of obedience to the laws and precepts of the Lord God. 

Finally, we must pray for those now in positions of authority that they will do the same. In a political system like ours, we get the kind of government we deserve! If you continually refuse to exercise the rights guaranteed you under the constitution, eventually you will forfeit those rights.

Pastor Ray

Our Chronic Lack Of Resources

"We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. Matthew 14.17

One of the enemy’s most successful attacks on a Christian’s call to service is to point out the lack of resources on their part. It seems that every need, every task, every act of service is far bigger than we are. Certainly this was true with the disciples of Jesus here in this account by Matthew. There are five thousand men present who have followed Jesus to this remote, lonely place. He has healed their sick but now it is supper time and the disciples advise Him to "send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food (v.15)."

This is a logical human position. It makes sense, right? It is probably what any of us would have recommended. But Jesus had other plans. He said to the disciples, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat (v.16)." Understandably, they point out their stunning lack of ability to provide for such a large crowd.

What they had to offer towards meeting that need was ludicrous. But that never stymied or puzzled the Lord. He took what they had and it was enough to meet the need! They could have kept those few measly fish and loaves thinking, "Why bother mentioning these to Him. They aren’t even close to enough!" But they brought what they had to Jesus. Without their obedience nothing would have been available for the Lord to use to meet the great needs of the crowd that evening.

How many times has He needed you and what you think are meager, sparse resources to meet needs around you? How many times have you held back? Maybe out of embarrassment. There are so many others with more ability more money more talent so you think, "They don’t need me!" Never, never, my beloved, should we think that what we have to offer is not enough. In His hands anything you have can make a difference and meet needs more immense than you could ever imagine. 

Finally! Some Good News!

So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit -and this power is mine through Christ Jesus - has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.                                                                              Rom 8:1-2 (TLB)

In the gospel account of John, Jesus informs His disciples about the ministry of the coming Holy Spirit in convicting humanity of sin and unrighteousness. We agree, I think, this is the least attractive of His activities but it is a vital one nonetheless. The good news, the "gospel," is that we no longer have to struggle under that sentence. We have been pardoned. The weight of sin can be removed from our life. Everyone can live a life of freedom from condemnation.

This is the message we must make sure the world knows about. It has been said that Christians are called to be witnesses, not lawyers! In other words, it is not our job to convict people, our job is to minister to those who are under the Holy Spirit’s convicting influence. Of course, He will often use our lives to demonstrate the change that comes when one is free from the onus of sin. Are you ready for that?

It is easier to preach ten sermons than to live just one! We must be careful to avoid getting too wrapped up in the convicting part of Christianity without experiencing the forgiving part. Whenever we attempt to convict someone of their sin we often succeed in driving them further away from God. Make no mistake, we are not to endorse or enable someone’s sin. On the contrary, we should always stand for the truth and righteousness. But as we take what is rapidly becoming an unpopular position, we will hold out that hope of forgiveness and the ability of Jesus Christ to change one’s life.

Pastor Ray

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