Monday, April 24, 2017

What Do I Really Believe?

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

The term “Statement of Faith” came up three times last week prompting me to ask myself, “What is it I really believe?” So for fun and as a discipline, I wrote my own statement of faith.  I gave myself three guidelines:  1) I wanted to avoid the “I believe…, I believe…,” format, 2) as much as it was possible, I wanted to avoid churchy words and 3) I didn’t want to regurgitate the well-established creeds of the church. I wanted to write a truly personal statement of what I believe, why I believe it, and how it has affected who I am and what I do.

This exercise has turned out to be an important and necessary step in the renewing of my spiritual fervor which I feel I have been lacking in for a long time now. If you’ve never taken the time to write your own statement of faith or haven’t done so in a while, I highly recommend it. If nothing else, it reminded me of how magnificent God is and how blessed I am that he loves me. It’s reminded me why I am a follower of Jesus and why I want to be more intent on my faith journey and in my relationship with the Lord.

My Statement of Faith (April 24, 2017)
I know there is one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—because he has revealed himself to me in so many ways—through his inspired word the bible, in prayer, in fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters, in dreams, through worship and other disciplines of faith. 

God is the source of all that exist—the universe and all that is in it. In his own limitless power, God stepped out of his glorious existence and into humanity in the person of Jesus Christ to communicate his divinity, his nature and capacity of unending love for us in a way we could comprehend and then took upon himself the consequences of all sin, even mine, with Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s justice being satisfied, nothing, but our own free will granted to us by God himself, stands in the way of God’s love and mercy or his desire to be in relationship with every individual including me. Christ’s resurrection makes it possible and promises that we are able to enjoy that relationship forever. 

Before recognizing his supreme sovereignty and dedicating my life to his service, I was broken—a sinner, a hopeless, helpless human being apart from his mercy and grace. Yet he gently and relentlessly pursued me in love and softened my heart with his kindness. He healed the deep wounds of my past and gave my life value and purpose. He redeemed all the neglect, abuse, and grief of my past and transformed the brokenness of my life into a beacon of hope. He nurtured within me a deep compassion and empathy for those who are hurting. He’s developed in me the gift of creativity in its many facets to share the Good News of his grace and mercy with the world. I’m still a sinner but I’m made right with God by Christ’s sacrifice. As a child of God, I am no longer broken, hopeless or helpless. It is my great joy to share my life and my love for him with those around me. 

From the beginning, he had in mind for me to join with my brothers and sisters in the faith to worship him and with the Holy Spirit to work together as conduits of his love and grace both in word and deed. The Holy Spirit is our companion and guide, instilling in us the wisdom and power to accomplish God’s will. One day, Jesus will return to earth, eradicate sin and evil and establish his kingdom. God will once again live among us and we will enjoy his presence as he intended it to be in the beginning.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hope Is An Empty Tomb

Hope Is An Empty Tomb
Hope isn’t a wish.
It isn’t a goal to work towards 
or reward when I get there.
It’s more than a belief 
or philosophy of life. 
Hope is an empty tomb 
and it is the foundation 
of my relationship with Christ—
that His death and resurrection 
redeemed and renewed 
every one of us 
forever, you and me, 
those before and 
those who follow. 
Hope is the ground beneath my feet 
when the floor gives way. 
It’s the air I breathe 
when caught in the vacuum 
of human inability 
and indifference.
This kind of hope is 
being absolutely sure of 
what I cannot know or prove. 
My hope rest in the One 
who redeems me, 
who started the good work 
of grace within me and 
who will finish the job. 
My hope is in the One 
who rose from the dead, 
who brings me out of the grave of 
my spirit-dead living 
into a fresh Spirit-filled life. 
This hope comes from knowing 
the One who created me, 
who died for my sins, 
and rose from the dead to 
live and reign forever. 
As long as Christ lives, 
so does the hope which 
lives within me.

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Is this Holy Week All About?

Someone said to me the other day in reference to the coming week, “Well this is the week that we live at church.” Christian churches in our country are gearing up for multiple worship services at the end of the week with record attendance. Choirs and instrumentalists have been working on Tenebrae music and special anthems to celebrate this most important occasion. Sadly, many of those who will make an appearance in the pews this coming Sunday won’t really understand why they are there beyond obligation or familial tradition.

Easter week affords us the opportunity enter into the Gospel story. We welcome our Savior with the waving of palms and the singing of his praises on Palm Sunday. We receive his mandate to love one another as he has loved us in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday. We deny we know him with Peter, shout “Crucify Him!” and see him beaten with the crowd. We watch him drag his cross and fall. We wail with Mary, John, and the others as Jesus is nailed to a cross, not for his sins for he is sinless, but for ours. We witness his agony and his death on Good Friday. We wait with the apostles and disciples on Saturday and celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning. We celebrate Easter week because it is the foundation of our faith.

“The death of Christ is the wisdom of God by which the love of God saves sinners from the wrath of God, and all the while upholds and demonstrates the righteousness of God.”  - John Piper

God of Love and Righteousness
Only You know why Lord
when You had no need of more
You took upon Yourself the crafting
of mankind – a largely thankless chore.
For we do not give the praises
that so rightfully belong to You.
Nor do we faithfully live in gratitude
for all the things You are or do.
You created us in Your own likeness
and breathed in us the Breath of Life
You called us sons and daughters
and talked and walked with us.
You shone Your light upon us
You provided our every need
Yet in our pride and arrogance
we renounced Your Divinity.
Sinful, we hid from Your holiness
when we should’ve fallen to our knees.
Now You, the Lord, had a quandary –
What’s a holy righteous God to do
when the object of Your affection
chooses sin and death
over Your perfection?
How can Your love allow us
to answer for our crimes – to die?
How can Your righteousness,
without our deaths, be satisfied?
Oh what a predicament You found Yourself in
and what were You to do?
You stayed Your hand of justice
just for a little while.
Long enough to arrange
for Your miraculous arrival.
In human flesh, yet sinless
You came into this world You made
and taught us to love and seek Your way,
to rely upon Your mercy.
You urged us all to repentance
to receive forgiveness in Your Name.
Then gallantly You took our place in death
to satisfy Your righteousness.
But death can’t hold the great I Am
and victoriously You rose to claim
those who rely upon Your sacrifice
to take away their sin and shame,
to restore in them Your holiness.
You’ve redeemed Your wayward children
O glorious God of love and righteousness.

God of Love and Righteousness is from Reflections, A Poetic Response to Psalm 119 by Maureen Profeta

Monday, April 3, 2017

Love Is... Part 4

Last week, I wrote about the implications of the first three words of verse 8:  Love never fails. This week I am looking at the remainder of the chapter. People in the Corinthian church were at odds with each other. Some people were prophesying and others were speaking in tongues. Still others were wise teachers. Then there were the majority of the people who were gifted with ordinary gifts of administration, generosity, carpentry, cooking, sewing, farming… The people of the church were arguing over whose gift was better, more distinguished, more holy. Paul calls their dispute and attitudes childish. In essence he is saying “You are behaving like children! What you’re really saying is Dad (God) likes me best because he gave me the cooler toy (spiritual gift). Like children, you’re boasting: My gift is bigger and better than your gift. Stop whining and grow up.”

Yes, we are children of the Most High God, and at some point we need to grow past the immaturity of a child. Children often covet the privileges older siblings or adults – staying up late, having their own phone, driving a car, etc. But privilege is the flip side of responsibility and you can’t have one without the other. In the spiritual sense, faith, hope and love are the responsibility. The way in which God chooses to implement that in each of us is the flip side. These things that the Corinthians were obsessing over are temporary in nature—like everything in this imperfect world, here today and gone tomorrow. When Jesus comes again, there will be no need for prophecy or speaking the Good News in tongues. We will have a full understanding and unveiled vision of Jesus as he leads us into the new heaven and new earth where faith, hope and love will continue to be the essence of our relationship with God and with others.

So why is love the greatest of these three excellent gifts and responsibilities bestowed upon us by our Father in heaven? My guess is that faith may be able to move mountains, hope is confidence in the promise, but love is the power by which forgiveness, redemption, faith, and hope are born from.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Love Is... Part 3

Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8a)

Most people these days are under the erroneous assumption that love is transient. It comes and goes with the boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses who are in our lives one moment and gone the next. Google “falling out of love” and you will get an endless list of links to articles, quizzes and warning signs:

3 signs you are falling out of love with your partner
8 reasons women fall out of love
Are you falling out of love? A quiz on 10 warning signs
5 signs your partner is falling out of love

Even children believe this which may be why so many doubt or fear losing their parents’ love. Yet 1 Corinthians 13:8 says that love never fails.

Love as God is and created it to be between us never ceases, diminishes, or disappears. Love in its purest form is constant, steady, and foundational. Love isn’t an emotion though emotion may be part of love. Love isn’t the product of hard work but labor may play a part in love. Love is a choice made over and over and over again—a choice I can’t be counted on making every time because of my sinful nature but God will absolutely make each and every moment because of who he is. God is love and must be true to his own nature which is where my confidence in his love for me comes from. God must be God so God will love me always.

God is the source of the unconditional love our hearts long for. His love fills the need we have to be loved, accepted, protected and cherished. Every great expression of love is only truly fulfilled in him.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Love Is...Part 2

This foray into 1 Corinthians 13 started a couple of weeks ago when I made the assertion that my duty and joy as a disciple of Jesus is to love. It seems simple enough. But what is love? What does it mean to love? If I can’t define it, how can I do it? I opened up my dictionary app and looked up the word love. There were nine different definitions listed, a few with multiple sub-meanings, each highlighting a different facet of the word, none of which helped me put into words an adequate definition to help me move forward with actually “loving” God and my neighbor. That’s when I turned to 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

So to love God and my neighbor, I must be patient and kind, never envious or act out of self-importance. My words and actions must never dishonor or come from anger. I can never hold a grudge and or be driven by self-interest. To love God and my fellow man, I must not seek out or celebrate evil—but search for and revel in truth. I will need to safeguard those who are precious to God and never give up in my zeal for the Lord. Because of who God is, I will believe the unbelievable and count on what I can’t yet prove.

1 John 4:16 says “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  So not only does 1 Corinthians teach me about how I am supposed to interact with God and others but it teaches me something about God himself:  God is patient and kind, never envious or acts out of self-importance. He never dishonor, acts out in anger, holds a grudge, and is never driven by self-interest. He does not seek out or celebrate evil, but revels in truth. He safeguards those who are precious to him and never give ups. Because of who God is, He makes the unbelievable believable and gives that which has yet to be credibility.

It seems love is hard work and a skill I will need a lifetime to master. It’s a good thing I have such a perfect example to follow in Jesus.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Love Is...Part 1

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Social media is filled with too many resounding gongs and clanging cymbals these days—So many people voicing their opinions about what is right and wrong. People arguing in the comment sections like it is their duty to explain to the “moron” who commented last how foolish and flawed they are in their thinking. I’ve seen it happen not just on controversial posts but in the comment section of completely unrelated, harmless items like a cute video of puppies or a condolence to a family suffering hardship and the celebration of a group’s achievement. It’s almost like we believe our condescending, harsh comments will make a difference, change a mind. But even if I am right and can prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, blindsiding others with my righteous indignation only serves to push people further from the truth. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Yet it’s so easy to get caught up in one of those kinds of useless debates before I know it is happening. A few years ago, I got into a heated discussion with someone because I made the mistake of assuming that if I just explained my position, the other person would understand. To my surprise, she didn’t and having made the same assumption, she answered by explaining her position. The discussion quickly became an argument with neither of us listening and both of us desperately trying to “enlighten” the other. We ended up hurting each other in a way that led to the eventual end of our friendship.

Being a Christian isn’t about being right! Being a Christian is about recognizing how wrong we are without God as the center of our lives. It’s about loving God in response to the love he has for us and the grace his love for us has fostered. It’s about reaching out to others in that love with the skills and gifts God has provided and encouraged us to develop. God is and provides the love that is the glue that binds us together in our differences and it is the propellant that pushes us beyond our limitations to extraordinary actions of faith that can and do make a difference.