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I am not the type to say that the end of the world is coming.  Yet I can’t help to think of a story I heard that reminds me of where we are today as a nation, as a world…and mostly as the church. 

A priest and pastor and rabbi are standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that reads, “The End is Near! Turn yourself around now before it’s too late!” They planned to hold up the sign to each passing car.”Leave us alone you religious nuts!” yelled the first driver as he sped by. From around the curve they heard screeching tires and a big splash.”Do you think,” said one clergy to the other, “we should just put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

I don’t know how close we are to the end, but I really believe that there are a lot of bridges out today.  Whether we put our trust in the economy, the government, our jobs, our portfolios, our education, our families or even those things that have always worked for us in the past…we are headed on a road that is going to end up coming to a dead end.  My big concern is for those of us in the church that are not much different from those who don’t claim to follow Christ.  As Francis Chan recently said in a quote I heard, “those of us with the Holy Spirit, ought to think and behave differently than those without the Holy Spirit.”  Do we?  Really?

When I hear Christians talking about the upcoming presidential election as the answer to our issues, (if only we get the right man or woman in office then things will turn around)…I am more concerned than where we are today.  Politics are not going to save us, they’ve never changed a human heart, it’s just ups and downs much like the history of the kings of Israel.

I’m not fearful though.  I’m not discouraged.  I’m not preaching gloom and doom.  But I do feel like we need to get our house in order spiritually and practically.  If we are not doing what we know to do, we’ve got to change that.  If we are walking in ways that are selfish, we must get out of ourselves.  If we are not in true community, then we need to ask the Holy Spirit to change our independent hearts.  You see, it’s not really about those who don’t know Jesus…but about those of us who do.  Like Scripture says, we are to pray for blessings in our cities, for the people around us and for the nation that we live in, for their peace (Jer 29:7).  But we are to be the peacemakers that are living out the truth of the gospel in such a way that they will “see our good works and glorify God.”  We aren’t to curse and be angry and join in the rage against the machine…but blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

The other day I received a very sobering email from another pastor.  At first I wasn’t inclined to read it because it came as a mass distribution list email.  I don’t like those and I really don’t like it when I’m not blind-copied, which I wasn’t.  But something (namely the Holy Spirit) pressed me to read and ponder.  I want to just quote a small section of this email, which I read as a prophecy to the church today, the body of Christ here and now:

One of the greatest areas where we American Christians fail is our firm belief that America is such a blessed nation that we will never suffer judgment at the hand of God.  Throughout our history, we have known blessing upon blessing– even through our country was severely tested in a great civil war.  Today we think that we are being carried forward on the strength of all those past victories.  What slavery, greed, racism, Nazism, and communism failed to do, we are accomplishing all by ourselves by ignoring the warnings contained in God’s Word.  We desperately need to listen to what God is saying and respond to Him, personally and not politically. (Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr., First Baptist Church of Pocasset, MA)

It’s not gloom and doom…it’s warning lights, opportunities for mercy, chances to be the very light in the darkness that Jesus says we are.  But we must get right…get our houses in order.  We must do things like simplify, stop living for self, stop complaining and becoming depressed when things don’t go our way, stop comparing and building our own personal kingdom come.

The end my not be near, but the bridge is out…let’s slow down and find out His will for our lives, our church, and then the nation will follow.

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The difference between what I want and what God wants is one of the hardest things to discern.  I’m not talking about the obvious things that are clearly against God’s will- the “sin” things or the “self” things.  But it’s the good thing that often gets in the way of the best thing that God wants for us.

I was having this conversation with a friend of mine recently and we both realized how often opportunity comes our way.  This can be flattering and fulfilling, but that should never be our reason for deciding on it.  We are tempted to validate the opportunity when it validates us.  In other words, if it’s something that we truly feel “fits us” we can easily make adjustments in our lives to make it work.  This is especially true when it’s something that I am passionate about.  But I’ve learned through the years that my passion for something doesn’t always mean that this is what God is up to.

Certainly the apostle Peter was passionate about keeping Jesus from going to the cross, but that wasn’t God’s will. And Judas seemed to be passionate about helping the poor instead of wasting precious resources, but we all know how that turned out.

What are you passionate about?  Is it your passion or God’s?  Could it be that in order to get God’s best, we must let go of our good and noble desires?  I believe that this is the starting place, and that regardless of how long we have been serving God, we have to keep coming back here.  So, let’s take an inventory of our passions of the good things we are pursuing and lay them on the altar, right beside the things we already know are not good, and ask God to burn away the chaff and return something pure, something that He wants for us.

-Peter

I did it again.  I got everyone’s lips smacking last Sunday as I described my fantastic Eggplant Parmigiana recipe.  Not everyone likes Eggplant, but somehow I can make it sound so delicious and flavorful that even the skeptics wanted the recipe.  It helps that we’re in a 21 day fast as a church, a time when anything sounds luscious.

When I think of the body of Christ, I think about Eggplant Parmigaina.  It’s probably because of all the time and effort and the various ingredients that go into the dish, and the layers upon layers that become one meal that I truly love.  Let me explain:

After finding that perfectly ripe eggplant, you slice it into thin 1/4 inch round slices.  (This has to be perfect or else you get rubbery or tough eggplant- and that stinks.)  Then you dip it into egg and coat them with Italian bread crumbs.  Get the olive oil nice and hot in a large skillet and begin frying each eggplant piece so that it is golden brown.  This is where I get carried away sometimes, because the smell is out of this world and I am tempted just to nibble the food right now.   Anyway, so you fry it up, dry it on paper towels and prepare the baking dish.  Here you create layers of tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese- over and over again until you are up to the top of the dish.  Now you put it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until it’s piping hot!

So there’s the recipe…now here’s the point:  We are like divine Eggplant Parmigiana because when we work together as the body of Christ we become one.  When we worship together, serve together, give together, love together, join together- all of our individuality remains intact, but all of our togetherness is so much better.  It’s such a good mix and very appealing to those around us.  We are fragrant and appetizing!

Whether or not you are a fan of Eggplant, if you are a member of Christ’s church, your involvement with the local church ought to resemble something like this Italian recipe.

Feel free to try the recipe, but even more than that, be the part of the body that God has created you to be!

-Peter

I can’t help but to think how helpless I am.  Even with all the willpower I muster up I still know that unless the Lord Himself works in my life, my efforts are really, really weak.  Yet, the fact that God uses ordinary human beings: jars of clay filled with something we cannot earn- His presence and glory, is a greater thought than how broken I am.

That’s why we have to do something with our healing other than bask in it.  I’ve known many who have been so blessed by their experience with God but then see them do very little with it other than flaunt their new found life as a trophy.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t praise and rejoice…but that it’s got to get beyond us and flow to others.  Grace found, grace given!

I was recently reading in the gospels and saw how many times Jesus healed the broken and immediately sent them back to their hometown or out to others.  The woman at the well, the invalid man on the mat, the guy filled with so many demons that he said his name was “Legion.”  All of these were wounded healers, not fully complete, but on the journey toward healing.  What I mean is that instead of going with Jesus and becoming part of the entourage, they took what they had been given and brought it to others.

I think all of us are called to be wounded healers.  Whether we have had a tough upbringing and God brought us through that…or if we had some physical challenges and God is working through that…or if we are seeing God in the midst of questions and challenges.  C.S. Lewis once said,  “Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier could give some advice.”

A lot of times we think that we just need more of Jesus, and I agree, we do.  But, I wonder if our next encounter with Jesus is in our encounters with others who need the Jesus that we have, who need the healing we are experiencing.  Could it be that as we confess our life and show our brokenness being healed that we are further healed.  Maybe it’s not only our sin that we confess to one another, but our forgiven sin, our healing, our woundedness.

The man set free from demons begged Jesus to go with him, and I can understand why.  Who wouldn’t want the nurture of the Savior, the touch of the master again and again. Jesus wouldn’t let him though.  He said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” Go…and become a wounded healer.

-Peter

Sad to say, but crisis has a way of shaping us like nothing else.  Nobody wants it, but everyone knows (deep down) that difficulty is inevitable.  I would never wish this kind of thing on anyone.  It’s not like we run to suffering and pain.  I like to believe that God also works through the good times, through the blessings and through the happy, happy.  Both/and…only I don’t really want the bad parts.

If there was a book in the Bible that as a Protestant, I would have preferred to be in the Apocrypha, it would be the book of Job.  Then I could portion it off as something that may be cool literature, but not actually applicable to me here and now.  It’s a good story really.  It would make for a good movie.  A man with everything loses it all and faces the ridicule of friends and community- but against all odds he holds his head high and refuses to give up.  In the end, he lives “happily ever after.”  And that’s the way the best movies are written, without regard to reality and life.  Laugh, cry, feel emotions and then leave the theater back to my own current reality.

I just can’t do that with the book of Job though.  In fact, I can’t do that with any of the Bible.  I have to read the whole story and walk out the journey just like the people did in Moses time, in Josephs time, in Jobs time and in Jesus’ time.  And that walking out calls for growth and change through crisis.  There really is something worse than crisis, it’s when I waste it and don’t see that God is using it to draw me closer to Him and learn to trust Him even when circumstances don’t go my way.

I’m kind of a control freak, although I’m not as freaky as I used to be.  Even my wife acknowledges that although I used to get really up tight about holding onto my way, I’ve loosened the grip and realized that I am not God.  Good thing…because this is not a great example as a pastor who teaches people to surrender to Jesus.  Anyway…the illusion of control has been broken in my life more through crisis than anything else.  When my expectations aren’t met, I realize I’m not in control.  When my prayer aren’t answered in my time and in my way, I can’t control that.  When God doesn’t show up the way I thought He should, who am I to control Him?

Maybe it’s control for you, or maybe it’s comfort or your expectations.  I’m sure Job had some of that going on even though the Bible says he was a man without blame and feared God.  After all, he was human.  That’s the reason why Satan believed he had something on him.  Job’s response is what amazes me though. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)”  This is not anyone’s favorite memory verse.  I never pulled out a card from the little “Daily Bread” box on the kitchen table that quoted this verse.  I still have people who wince when we sing that refrain from Matt Redman’s song Blessed Be Your Name.  Why?  Because Job basically rocks our world when he says, “I realize I didn’t have anything when I started this life, and I’ll have nothing when I say goodbye to this life.  It’s all yours to do what You want with it Lord.  So…Praise God!”  Would I be able to express this kind of trust in such as crisis situation? Can I let go of my illusion of control?  Do I worship God or the circumstances?

The bottom line is, being shaped through crisis is not an easy process.  Like the clay on the wheel of the potter, we’re pressed and molded and spun.  And then if there are any imperfections, He starts all over again.  I want to learn to surrender to what God is doing in my life now.  Even if I can’t see the end or know what will come of this situation, I want to be able to trust him.  Because how we respond to crisis in our life may determine everything.  He’s doing something bigger and better than I realize, both in me and through me.  So the next time we are facing a difficult situation, both big and small- let’s not waste it!

-Peter

Are we so concerned about actions that we have forgotten about our attitudes?  I am amazed how we can be so focused on right and wrong and yet call evil good and good evil in the way that we think.

As I have been preparing and studying for a series of messages focusing on money, power, sex and God…I’ve been struck with the idea that in the things that we really don’t want to deal with personally we make excuses for our actions.  For instance:

Money- we give what we want, not what God wants us to give.  We are okay with being selfish and just call it “need” instead.  Generosity is not something we think we are capable of because we feel so “poor” when we go to the mall or look at what others around us have. Whatever…

Power- we politicize and posture ourselves in opposition to people instead of positions.  We get angry at those who aren’t part of the same party, who have made decisions that we don’t agree with, and whose policies hurt us personally (though they may be caring for the broader population).  Do we actually believe that the Kingdom of God will come with worldly power?  Is it all about our pursuit of happiness?  Whatever….

Sex- the church is really facing some issues here especially when you consider that we have minimized the enormity and effect of sexual sin.  The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual sin is in a category all by itself, that all others sins are different.  I know it’s not common to teach this, but all we have do is look around and see the effect of adultery, of sleeping together outside of marriage and of lust and pornography.  Whatever…

Considering that followers of Christ are supposed to actually reflect Christ and be different from the world (while still being in the world), I think that a relative attitude has hampered the effectiveness of our witness.  We have become really effective and finding the flaws in sinners and really poor at examining the logs in our own eyes.  I want to be the kind of person that shows forth grace and obedience…and that stops treating God’s word as one big whatever.

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-Peter

I have been struck with the idea that God’s entire kingdom is built around Second Chances.  He gives us breaks, forgives our sins, moves us into a different future…and this to people who have blown it again and again.  We are second chance citizens once we come to Christ!

There’s a place in the Bible where it talks about how we cannot please God on our own.  It actually says that the law was given so that we could see that we cannot keep it- we are prone to fail.  It’s not that God needed to be reminded of this, but that we need to be reminded.  Otherwise I continue on my own strength, but only end up peeling myself off the ground after falling so hard.

First was Adam, Second was Christ.  The old man and the new man.  The law and grace. Death and Resurrection.  Forgiveness. These are the things that show us that we are people of the Second chance, that although we cannot rise to a level of perfection on our own, we can become complete in Christ.

But to truly be second chance citizens, we have to extend the chances beyond ourselves.  This can be the most difficult part.  For although we like to have our faults overlooked, we’re not so good at overlooking (or forgiving) the faults of others.  Why is it that we think everyone else should get what they really deserve, but we should be given a break?  Why is it that it’s okay for us to take a mulligan, but we get irritated with others who do?

Giving second chances was the thing that set Jesus apart from the other religious leaders of the day.  And it really irritated them.  They tried to trap him by pulling out the law.  Jesus just kept on doing it though- eating with sinners, calling tax collectors, forgiving adulterers, and healing people who may or may not come back to thank Him.  He was setting up a Second Chance Community that would extend to us today.

So, live as a citizen of this Kingdom- receive and give second chances every opportunity you get.

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