Thursday, June 30, 2016

American Independence and Freedom in Christ

On Monday, folks all over Aloha will celebrate American Independence. We’ll light firecrackers, spend time with friends and family and grill really great food. We do those things to celebrate our independence as a people.

In the Declaration of Independence, our country’s framers recognized that independence is God given. Their exact words: “…They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” God gives human liberty and freedom to people.

Christians understand that God given freedom (the freedom Jesus gives) comes with responsibility. Jesus not only frees us from sin and death. Jesus also frees us for the abundant life. Jesus sets us free so that we can minister, evangelize, work for justice, promote freedom for others and prepare for the arrival of the Lord’s second coming.

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” In other words, Jesus freed us from sin and death so that we can sin no more. Jesus freed us for righteous living and the life abundant.

As you celebrate independence, remember what our Lord freed you for. Live in God honoring ways because of the freedom He has given you. As you do, you’ll experience the blessings of freedom in Christ. You’ll also better enjoy fireworks, food, family and fun of the 4th.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Fire of God and God's Holy Spirit

Years ago, a non-Christian friend of mine accompanied me to a youth event where I played a concert. Before I went on, an opening band sang a song about the fire of God. I remember the lead singer yelling, “He’s got fire in His eyes!” over and over again. I didn’t think much of it, but my friend did.

In the middle of that song, my friend leaned over and whispered, “This is freaking me out!” I asked, “What do you mean?” My friend said, “This is the stuff that freaks me out about Christians.” Evidentially, the idea of the fire of God and the way that band of Christians sang about it made him uncomfortable.

To this day, I wonder what it was about the mention of God's fire that gave my friend the creeps. Maybe he associated the fire of God with God’s judgment and the fires of hell. I don’t know. I don’t understand because I find a lot of comfort in the fire of God and I am not alone.

Many Christians hear of the fire of God and think of Pentecost, where fire burned above the heads of God’s people as they filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, fire signifies the arrival of God’s spirit, the comforter, the healer, the unifier and our sanctifier. Rather than symbolizing condemnation, the fire of God symbolizes the presence of God that makes God’s people more like Jesus. That is a good thing.

As you go through this coming week, ask the Lord to reveal His fire to you. Open your life to the refining, comforting, healing presence of the Holy Spirit. As you do, you will experience more of the God who poured the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. You will also find victory in the one who has fire in His eyes.           

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cowboys, Lassos and Old Fashioned Christian Practices

I heard a great story this past week. In rural Southern Oregon, a man stole a woman’s bike at a local Wal-Mart. He rode the stolen property across the store’s large parking lot in hopes of getting away. A local cowboy heard the woman yell, “He stole my bike!” The cowboy chased the two-wheeled thief down and retrieved the property.

The cowboy chased the thief down in an old fashioned way. The cowboy got on his horse, road the bicyclist down and lassoed him. He tied the thief up, returned the bike to the woman and waited for the police. True story.

That cowboy’s story illustrates how seemingly old practices can come in very handy. When chasing a bicyclist on foot won’t work, a horse and lasso will. Old practices have very practical uses today.

The same is true in the Christian life. Very old Christian practices help in navigating very real problems today. Prayer helps us stay calm when under fire. The study of scripture readies us with answers to life’s potential questions. Worship gives us perspective when faced with distractions. Old practices have practical uses today.

In his letter to the church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” In other words, internalize the time tested message of Jesus through teachings and instructions and even music. That old message will influence how you live your day-to-day life today.

As you go through the coming week, participate in the activities Christians have done since the beginning. Pray, study, love, serve, worship and minister. As you do, you will find that very old practices have very practical applications today. The traditions of the faith can be even more helpful than a horse and lasso!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Belief and Unbelief

I heard an inspiring story about Christian faith in the midst of obstacles.  A woman had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness.  Friends, family and loved ones offered their pity, expressing their sympathies about the difficult circumstances.  Time and time again, the woman responded the same way.  She said, “Well, I know what I believe.  Now it is time for me to believe what I know.”  In other words, the woman understood her Christian belief in theory, but real life hardship would give her an opportunity to mature in her belief.

Many times, we think of belief as something we have or we don’t.   But, that woman seemed to think that belief matures over time, as the Lord leads us through the ups and downs of life.  Practicing trust/faith/belief in Christ, especially during hard times deepens our trust/faith/belief in Christ.

That makes sense.  Jesus Himself helped people grow in their belief.  In Mark 9, Jesus heals a boy possessed by an impure spirit, stressing the importance of belief.  The boy’s father insists, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Though the father believes Jesus can heal, he asks for help to grow in belief.  Jesus deepens and enlivens belief  in those who believe, but also earnestly want to believe more.

As you go through the coming week, pray and ask Jesus to deepen your faith.  Ask the Lord, “Help me in my unbelief.”  As you do, the Lord will meet you right where you are.  And, the Lord will empower you in believing what you know.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Heimlich Maneuver & Holy Living

Last month, a senior citizen’s center in the Cincinnati, Ohio avoided a serious accident. An 87-year-old resident began choking on a piece of hamburger during mealtime. She began waving in distress, catching the attention of another 96-year-old resident. The 96-year-old performed a first aid procedure known as the "Heimlich Maneuver," dislodging the beef from the 87-year-old’s airway. Life saved. Accident averted.

Come to find out, the 96-year-old deliverer of first aid was Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the maneuver that saved that woman's life. In fact, that hamburger incident was the first time Dr. Henry Heimlich performed the first aid maneuver he created. Though he is the namesake of a life saving practice, he didn’t use it until the very end of His life.

I wonder if Dr. Heimlich’s funny story illustrates our participation many Christian practices. Though Christians are associated with worshiping Jesus, loving our enemies, caring for the poor, evangelizing, we don’t necessarily put it into practice. We grow older and find opportunity to do the things associated with Christians and realize, “Wow! That works!”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12). So, believing in Jesus as a Christian involves following Jesus’ example of behavior. In other words, Christianity is built to be put into practice.

As you go through the coming week, put the activities associated with Christianity into practice. Pray, study, worship, witness, love and serve. No need to wait until a crises arises in your nursing home. Jesus has given us a faith to be lived today.