He’s Alive

Acts 1: 3

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of things regarding the kingdom of God.

I have been thinking about Easter, as, I am sure, many of you have as well. What new can be said about the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of our Lord? Nothing perhaps, but what I have been thinking is that he is alive. Now, we all know that, but I wonder if I act like it is true. We sometimes know things in our minds which aren’t quite realities in our hearts.

So, what is the message of Easter? There are so many important concepts which flow from the cross but the one I am wrapped up in is that Jesus is alive, and more to the point, his life is now in me. We are each renewed, not just from a theoretical or theological point of view but instead, renewed and reborn as new creations in his blood. Our hearts and spirits are washed and new. In the surrender to Jesus’ saving grace, is our forgiveness of ourselves and our remaking. We’ve seen how David failed, how Moses stumbled. Peter, one of the great apostles, denied Jesus three times and worse yet, he did so at Jesus’ hour of greatest torment.

I have been listening to the song, “He’s Alive.” It is an account of Peter’s reconciliation with Christ after his denial of Jesus. The songwriter, Don Francisco expressed this much better than I can. Peter is speaking:

When at last it came to choices
I denied I knew His name
Even if He was alive
It wouldn’t be the same

Suddenly the air was filled
With strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere
Drove shadows from the room

Jesus stood before me
With His arms held open wide
And I fell down on my knees
And just clung to Him and cried

He raised me to my feet
And as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him
Like sunlight from the skies

Guilt in my confusion
Disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had
Just melted into peace.

Peter’s story is our story. Each of us has doubted, feared and denied Jesus. We have all fallen short of our own aims, much less the worthiness of Christ’s sacrifice. None the less, Jesus reaches out and takes us into his arms. As we look in his eyes, we see none of the judgment or recrimination we deserve. He doesn’t even have to say a word; his eyes and his gentle smile tell us that he loves us and that we are accepted. “Enter into my grace,” he might say to us, “Enter and find peace.”

Jesus is alive and what that means to me this Easter is that we can all throw ourselves at his feet with our burdens of guilt and shame. Easter means that like Jesus, we arise. As he lifts us up, our burdens fall from us and we become holy because he is holy. He is alive and we are okay because he buried our sin and guilt.

Praise the Father of our Lord Jesus and bless Jesus’ name forever. Glory to Father, Son and Spirit! Cause your Spirit to rest upon us, dear Father, refreshing us in your glory and grace. And let us dwell in your presence and abide in your love today and evermore!

Click below to watch a video of David Phelps singing “He’s Alive!”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gGa1w_bnvM

Love Letter

1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.

How great is my God, how beautiful and loving? I will tell you how amazing and fabulous my Father is.

This morning I called a friend to check on him. Yesterday he received his second vaccination shot and he recently pulled his hamstring and pinched a nerve in his back. I know some folks do not feel great the day after their second shot, so I just called to check on him.

We must recognize that people have been under enormous stress, accumulating stress, over the last 12 months. Sometimes that stress bubbles over. It did today and I was the unfortunate recipient of that pent up worry and stress. No one wants to be in my position but better me than someone else. Why? Because you and I have something within us that is up to the challenge. It is the love of God. Jesus showed up in this conversation and loved the speaker. Love didn’t hang up on him, it was patient and kind. It did not consider its own benefit, or mine for that matter. Love cared about the hurting soul who was lashing out.

I was planning on writing on comfort today, but I realized that what is needed is love. Love is the comfort we need as well as that gracious balm that the whole world needs today. I say my Father is great because He showed up and spoke love even as my heart was hurting. I want to share another thing though. Here is an immediate response by God to love on me too.

I had just finished emailing my good friend, Rene, saying that I better write on love for today’s Word of the Day. I wasn’t sure what verse to use and was rolling a few through my mind. I went to Biblegateway.com to look for a verse. The landing page for Bible Gateway opened with a Verse of the Day. Guess what that verse was. You see it at the beginning of today’s Word of the Day. Look at how the Father provided for me. He knew all this was going to happen and that I was going to need a love verse, so, He provided one. It was a message from heaven, and it met my need as well as communicated the Father’s love and care for me. Take this back one more step. He had to nudge someone at Bible Gateway to select that verse for today’s verse. Thank God that person listened to the Father. They probably do not even know that God was doing something in the selection of that verse. God truly is great.

So, the rest of the story – I have to let God be the master of this situation going forward because when things like this happen there are seeds planted. Are they seeds of offense or forgiveness? Are they seeds of humility or embarrassment? For my part, God says, love “is not provoked,” and “does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.” That means I cannot carry negative seeds forward. During these very challenging times, we are going to have to give people space. We need to be understanding and forgiving. We must let love speak in our place. Is it easy? Not if you do it in your might but if you let Jesus show up and show his love, it’s okay. Jesus understands how stressed people are. He wants to help heal bruised and injured hearts. Bless the Lord for His kind mercies. Bless the Lord.

Father of Forgiveness

Psalm 130: 1 – 4

Out of the depths I have cried to You, Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleadings. If You, Lord, were to keep account of guilty deeds, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered.

I always like finding these Old Testament examples of forgiveness. Sometimes people paint God as vengeful and judgmental. Yet, He is casting our sin to His back and forgetting it. We need only to receive it.

The psalmist speaks true, who could stand if the Lord did keep an account of all our wrong doings. Oh My! I am very grateful that He has thrown out the ledger. So, what of “Judgement Day?” That is so easy! Some people have an image of standing before God as He recites every wrong thing they did in their life. To me, that is a silly image. For one, why wouldn’t he also recite all the good things done? But then, do some people think that the Day of Judgement is like a seesaw or a balance? Do they believe that if the balance tips in favor of good deeds they will go to heaven but if it tips the other way, they get a free one-way ticket to hell?

So here is why that cannot be right. Even putting aside the blood of Jesus for one moment, God was always a forgiving God. That is why He sent Jesus. He didn’t send Him to collect the list of our wrongs but rather to save us despite our repulsiveness. Besides that, recall Isaiah 38: 17, “You have hurled all my sins behind Your back.” God has cast our sin behind Him where He cannot see it. He does not keep it before His eyes.

There is forgiveness with God. He embodies mercy and forgiveness. He is love and loves each of us and withholds none of His good gifts.

Forgiven

Psalm 51: 1 – 4

Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithfulness; according to the greatness of Your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings. Wash me thoroughly from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my wrongdoings, and my sin is constantly before me.

Please consider the following passage: “Behold, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; But You have kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, For You have hurled all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38: 17). The reason I wanted you to consider these two passages together is so that we can get at the root of guilt and forgiveness. Notice from the Psalm that it was writer’s own guilt and remorse which plagued him. It was not God’s judgment which tormented him. His sin was constantly before his own eyes. He could not escape it. Contrast that with the passage from Isaiah. Here the speaker was well aware of God’s grace and lovingkindness. He recognized that we deserve the pit of nothingness, to be cast out into the darkness, but that God, despite our many faults and shortcomings has chosen to turn His back on our sins. He has forgiven us and not because we deserve it, for which I am grateful, but rather because of His magnanimity.

I am grateful it is unnecessary to earn the graciousness of God for surely, I would fail. Better that He is kind and generous with forgiveness. The struggle, then, is to let go of our own guilt. It is our guilt and sin consciousness which separates us from God. I chose this Old Testament example so as to frame the New Testament miracle of Christ and his sacrifice. I cannot find the right word to characterize what the Father and Jesus did for us at Calvary because it is so big and so wonderous. What is also worthy of comment, though, is that this great divine exchange of Jesus’ life for our sin began with a Father who, in the Old Testament, chose to cast our sins to His back. He chose not to put them before His eyes. Knowing how flawed we are, He chose, none the less, to put His only child on a crucificial cross.

God paid the ultimate price for us to have our conscience cleansed. He removed the guilt which separates us from Him by giving us a way to purge ourselves of the sin consciousness. This is the great miracle, that we can be guilty and yet clean; that we can boldly draw close to Him. Paul said it this way, “Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need,” (Hebrews 4: 16). We have the right to approach the throne of grace and we can do so confidently because the Father has forgiven our sin and washed us clean. There is nothing we can do to earn this favor. There is no 7-step forgiveness plan. It is done. Yahweh has already done what was needed. Now, we must accept His great sacrifice and receive the miracle of forgiveness, allowing our consciousness to be renewed in Christ.

The Test

Matthew 7: 16

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?

Jesus gave us the method by which we can know whom we can trust. We can know people by their fruit. We saw last week Paul’s elucidation of this principle. Colossians 3 shows the fruit of the chosen of God and also the habits and traits of those not reformed by Christ. Some of the traits Paul identified for Christians are: “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,” (Colossians 3: 12 – 13). In this list he also included the pursuit of unity (See the Word of the Day for 11/13/20).

Jesus’ teachings give us the principles. Paul’s teachings explain Jesus’ principles. He expounded on them to give further understanding. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul further described what the life of a Christian looks like. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5: 22 – 24).

When I was practicing law I came to despise when a client offered that they were Christian. Why? Ask many business owners and you will get the same response. It is code language for, “I’m not going to pay you.” It is as though they offered that bit of information in order to cover a defect in their character. As I said last week, pretend I am from the Show Me state. Let your actions identify you as a Christian. As my friend, Robin, said yesterday, “Actions speak louder than words.” Anyone can say, “I am a Christian.” It is an entirely different matter to walk it out. Most people who wish to deceive and take advantage of others will not identify their motives. Instead, they will use some covering ploy and claiming to be a Christian is one of the best. So, how are we to know who is the real deal?

That is the purpose of this series of devotionals which began last week. I know who you are and how you strive to live in the light of Christ. I also know that you are the most vulnerable because you are attracted to people who self-identify as Christian. Now, you don’t have to take their word for it. Look at their lives. Are they givers? If no, then you needn’t ask any more questions. They are done because Yahweh and Jesus are mega-givers. You can’t be in them and be stingy. Beyond that run the test of Galatians 5 and Colossians 3. Here it is synthesized for you.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a heart of compassion, humility, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.

You might want to cut and paste this bit into your own document or print it. We are not asking people to be perfect, but we are looking for a pattern of behavior. I hope you identify with people who are patient and kind, gentle of speech and generous. We can encourage and expect these traits of people. We should, in fact, expect these kinds of behaviors. More than ever, we need to be considerate. We need to concern ourselves with the best interests of all people. We need to think of others instead of ourselves. That is the Christian mandate. It’s the Word. Let the Word prevail over the lives of us all.

Missouri

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

We can keep this simple today. Earlier in the week we saw what Paul said we should not do as children of the King. We are being called to put off the old dead self and to take up the garment of a new life in Christ Jesus. That new life, well, it looks like this. We are going to loop back around to this idea next week, but I think it is obvious. Don’t tell me you are a Christian. Just pretend I am from Missouri, the “Show me” state. Show me.

These are the characteristics or behavior traits of a child of God. Do we show and act out of a heart of compassion? Are we kind? Where is humility in our words and actions? Am I gentle? Patient? Can I show tolerance to another and forgive anyone? It all boils down to love. If we are not those who act in accordance with and motivated by love, then we ought not be so bold in declaring ourselves Christians because this is how Christians behave. Unity isn’t just a cool idea. It is a mandate. We do not have a choice. But then, unity is simply a byproduct of love. If love is our motivator, then all of the traits in today’s verses are ours and increasing.

Require this of others. Require it of the church! Without love, we are not the beautiful church. Without laying down the old man and picking up the new life in Christ, we cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps. It is time we looked to ourselves and strengthened ourselves as a body in Christ. This is the path that Paul laid out for us. This is the way.

Motto

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

As you may have noticed, I am reading Colossians, the third chapter, and if you look at the digital Bible I am reading from, you will see that almost every verse is highlighted and the only reason it isn’t all highlighted is because I restrained myself. This chapter is a primer for the what the Christian life is to be. Today’s passage really spoke to me and I want to suggest that it is the seminal passage for this time in our history. However, we are so far from this paradigm right now, that I hesitate to speak what alit on my heart as I read it. Then again, many writers of truth have been shouted down throughout history and berated for speaking the truth. Just look at Paul, John and Peter for starters.

In trying times, and these certainly are, the kindness of God and His love are needed above all things. The language of love is what will resonate and it will resound above all else. Love is a hard thing, though, because it does not, under any circumstances, lie. Sometimes the truth is the hardest thing you will ever have to tell someone.

In trying to navigate the stress and to come to grips with a changing world, this advice from Paul resonates loudly. We must approach the changing dynamics from God’s perspective of compassion and love. Life is a challenged right now, I know, and that is why I want to offer this passage. I know some people feel trapped by the rhetoric. The political left has its message but on a different subject we are assailed by the right. Most people in the country can identify with some “ism”. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and every other identifiable race, excluding whites, has felt the sting of racism. Women have been abused, neglected, marginalized and discriminated against the world over. Even white males get old and are no longer viewed as valuable. It seems most are either the wrong race, gender or age. Then there is the gay and transgendered community. Many people would not think twice about making derogatory comments about this group. Not long ago people were saying that God created AIDS to eliminate them. Wow!

The only real answer for any of this is the love and compassion of God. If we don’t take our stressors to God in prayer and wield the love and patience of God, I fear we will never make any meaningful change. God changes hearts. I want to bring this discussion to a broad market. In response to the corona virus challenge, we all need to apply the love, patience, compassion and gentleness of God. I am not advocating passivity or a lack in your conviction. In fact, I advocate just the opposite. I want people of passion. I just wonder if we are taking our troubles to the Lord or just ranting on Facebook. We are the answer to the problem. If the Christians will adopt today’s passage and marry it with a strong dose, and a continuing practice of prayer, we can effect real change. God can soften hearts and change the course of human history. Whether right or left, the answer is the same – God! Faith only works by love which is why today’s passage is so important.

Paul had to deal with a changing environment too. He lived in very tumultuous times. For goodness sake, the Messiah had just been crucified. Followers of Jesus were facing the same fate. Those are dire circumstances. Yet, he understood that the real power in the community was love, compassion and prayer. Love moves mountains.

There are lots of stressors in our lives right now. Some of you are on furlough and worried about feeding your families. The number of cases of Covid 19 is still rising in some areas. The economy is fragile. People want the economy open; others see that as a risk. We have racial tension, police brutality and in some cases, lawlessness. It is a fine balancing act at this time. And in the wings is a Presidential election with all the turmoil that interjects. We need help.

Please hear me clearly, I am not criticizing anyone’s reactions to the situations or stress in their lives. I am recognizing that people are under enormous stress. The purpose of this writing is to suggest that God is the way and that we need Him like never before. Regardless of our beliefs, there is one constant and one ultimate truth: our God. This, then, is an appeal to adopt this language from Paul as our refrain and further, to passionately and resolutely take our problems to God. As we meditate upon these ideals, what will God speak to our hearts?

There is no one on the planet who has not been affected by the circumstances of 2020. God cares what is going on in your heart. He cares about your pains and worries. He cares that you feel stressed to the point of breaking or that you have been isolated from friends and family for months. He knows of your anxiety and is compassionate. He wants to aid you.

Let’s just look at this one more time – “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Though I have not written, specifically, on them, let us not overlook the words kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and unity.

No matter where we stand politically or on any given issue, we are all those “who have been chosen of God.” We are the people God has in the earth. We have an awesome ability to take everything to Him in compassioned prayer. Let us not miss our calling oh chosen ones of God. Let us recommit ourselves to prayer and remember, that person across the aisle may not think like you, but they are, none the less, a child of God and valued in His sight.