Friday, April 23, 2010

#64 Interconnectedness

Romans 12:5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another

I wonder if most of us realize just how interconnected the various parts of our bodies are? Sure, we can easily see that our arms and legs attach to our main torso, and that hair grows out of our scalp; well for some hair still grows out of the scalp :-) The point is that our bodies are wonderful machines, if you will, that work in an intricately amazing way.

If you stop and think about the various systems of the body and how they work in harmony with each other you cannot help but be impressed by God's handiwork. If you want a stark reminder of just how connected the parts of the body are, sustain an injury to one of them. Take the back for instance. The back is connected to at least the muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems--there may be more but I am not a doctor or medical professional. I found out this week in a pronounced way how some of those systems "announce" when something is wrong.

I was working in my study at one of the churches and simply bent forward to retrieve an item from my computer bag. As I bent over I heard a "pop" sound come from my lower back. It was similar to the sound your joints make when your knuckles crack. I knew right away that something was wrong. I sat back and continued to work for a bit, but when I got up my nervous system screamed out and told me there was a problem. Because the nervous system was getting signals for pain in my back the muscles reacted by refusing to move in such a way that would increase the pain sensation. In simple terms, when my back sustained the injury the rest of my body had to compensate and adjust with it because the various parts and systems of the body are interconnected an inseparable.

As Christians, we are also interconnected and inseparable as the body of Christ. And like the human body, when a member of the body of Christ hurts it effects us all. When we see a fellow believer hurting it should move us to compassion for them, it should move us to want to comfort them. The hard part about this process is that many times the "injuries" are not visible to the naked eye. More often than not the injuries are internal within the heart of the believer with a more spiritual or emotional aspect.

So how do we know if people are hurting or injured when it is not totally obvious? We spend time with them. We get to know them so that they trust us and open up to us. Once people know that we care about them they are more willing to share what is troubling them. Sure, we may not always have the answers for all their problems but we don't have to have all the answers. Many times people just want someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. How many of us have figured out a situation just by talking it through out loud?

The point is this: Christians cannot go through life as an island unto themselves. We have an obligation to reach out to one another and try to help as we see hurting in our midst. If we are tuned into the needs of others it allows us to focus less on our own problems. When we do this it is amazing how much better we feel. There is a joy that comes from helping others. I would even go so far as to say there is a blessing to be had in helping others. I would challenge each of us to look for ways that we can be a blessing to someone else. I know some of us are already doing this, but I know there are many who need a gentle reminder to pay more attention to the members within the body of Christ. Christ is the One that connects us and He is the One who will sustain us if we live for Him. Why not begin today looking for ways you can be a blessing to others?

Our Father Who is in heaven,
Thank You for being so gracious and wonderful toward us in that You sent Your only begotten Son to save all who will accept Him. Forgive us, please, for not being tuned in to the needs of others more, and please teach us to watch for ways that we can be a blessing and a help to our fellow man. We pray these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

#64 Following the Tracks

1 John 2:6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Spring is in the air and most of rejoice that the coats can be stored away for another few months until winter makes its way back around to us. I will never forget the first winter our family experienced in Michigan. Of course moving up from the south we fully expected things to be covered in snow for months: we were not disappointed in the least. People said that we got more snow than was typical for central Michigan. We thought is was fun and did not get too worked up over it at all.

I can recall walking out in the yard with the kids. We have a hill beside our house to the west and it is perfect for sledding. The hill actually varies enough that you can have a more vigorous experience if so desired just by walking over to another part of the hill. One of our sledding runs has a bump at the bottom that will bruise your bottom if you're not careful to hit it just right.

The snow was pretty deep this particular day and the walk back up the hill was grueling after a few runs down. What we all discovered was that it was easier to come back up the hill if you walked in the foot prints of the one who went up first. Twelve inches of snow is not bad unless you are trying to walk in it up a steep hill. It was so cute watching the kids plow their way back up the hill, and it was neat to see them try to match the stride marked in the snow by me and Ginger. We had a blast that day and built some memories that will last a lifetime.

Walking in snow can tough but walking in this world can be even tougher. Sometimes the paths that we choose are bad at best and fatal at worst. We cannot see the future and too often we walk our own way without consulting God who knows all things (1 John 3:20). How much different would the course of our lives be if we would simply follow in the footprints of Jesus? How much less pain and heartache would we endure if we allowed Christ to be our guide? I can only speak from personal experience and tell you that when I have pursued my own courses of action they have often ended in failure, but each time I have looked for God's path and followed His leading I have found success and joy.

Does following the Lord mean that we will never endure hardship? No, not at all. In fact, Jesus said that if any man intends to follow Him, he must deny himself and take up his cross (Mark 8:34). Taking up the cross denotes public shame, possible humiliation, possible suffering for Christ's sake, and the likelihood of loosing our lives. But after the cross there was victory. There was newness of life. There was the promise of eternal life. There was a blessed hope of being united with Jesus forever if we remained faithful. No, the walk may not always be easy but life without Jesus is certainly not easy either. If life is going to be difficult, then I at least want Jesus' version of difficult instead of my own foolish version.

It is my prayer today that each one of us will have the courage to surrender our walk of life to Jesus. It is my prayer that you and I will choose to follow Jesus completely. For it is only in following His footsteps that we will find true joy, success, and ultimate happiness as we spend eternity with Him. Stop striving in vain friends and let the Lord of heaven lead you today.

Dear Father God,
Thank You for giving us the wonderful example of Jesus that we might follow after Him. Please forgive us for the times that we have tried to follow our own course and brought shame to us and You. Give us the faith and courage to follow Him wherever He may lead us, and may we never trudge through life alone and apart from Christ. We pray these things in Jesus' lovely name, Amen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

#62 Tower Power

2 Chronicles 7:14 NKJV "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

Our world today is filled with wireless gadgets. The number of people who do not have a cell phone are nearly the minority these days. Cell phones have gained such prominence that many have dropped their land lines completely and only use cell phones. My family has followed this trend as well. With cell plans dropping in price it has made it affordable for many families to add multiple lines enough for all to stay in touch with one another.

Although cells phones are fairly widespread, you are not able to get a cell signal in all places. The more remote or rural a place is the less likely you are to have coverage. I travel about 3,000 miles a month to accomplish my pastoral duties and I have learned where I will drop calls. The problem is with the location of cell sites. Most people say "cell towers" but the truth is that come antennas are mounted on buildings and other structures. But we can use the term and know what we are talking about. A cell site will cover a certain radius based on natural terrain, technology used, and urban terrain features (i.e., buildings, houses, etc.).

Another factor to consider is the hand-held device you use. Older style phones came equipped with external antennas that were either fixed or extend-able. Today, users prefer sleek devices with internal antennas and the market has adjusted to meet that preference. Each cell service provider promises that they have the best coverage, the best prices, and the best devices. All have pros and cons and not every carrier will always leave each consumer completely happy.

I am thankful for the work that my device allows me to do as I travel around my pastoral district. It truly saves me a ton of time when I have signal. As I think about how cell phones are a part of our lives it causes me to consider our connections with the Lord. It makes me question whether we are as concerned with whether or not we connected with our Heavenly Father. If we have too many dropped calls on our phone we rail against our cell provider, but when we walk through life unconnected with the the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) far too many of us do not even know it.

When Solomon finished the Lord's temple and the palace he made sacrifices to God and asked the Lord to bless what he had accomplished. The Lord came to him and told him that He wanted to bless His people, but there were conditions that must be met first. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God told them that He would hear their prayers and heal their lands if they did four simple things.

First, He said that they must humble themselves. Humility does not always come easy for us, but we can become humble if we reflect on the life of Christ and surrender our will to His. We should pray to not be prideful or arrogant.

Secondly, God said they needed to pray. This seems so obvious, but so many who profess to be Christians simply do not pray anymore if they ever did. We have to pray and ask forgiveness for our sins daily if we want to stay connected to God. Is a friend truly a friend if we never talk to them or they to us?

Thirdly, He told them to seek Him. When we look at the story of Noah we quickly realize that God's Spirit does not strive with us forever (Gen 6:3) so we must seek God's will while He may still be found (Isaiah 55:6). One day soon our opportunity for salvation will be gone and we will be lost if we are not connected to Jesus (Rev 22:11).

Lastly, God told Solomon that He wanted His people to turn from their wicked ways. This would come easy if they were following the other three categories. If they were humble, praying, God-seeking people then sin would be nearly naturally eliminated in the process. It was after they did these things that God promised to hear them and heal their land.

So how is your connection with God today? Are you a humble, praying, God-seeking, and evil-avoiding Christian? Seems like a tall order in some ways doesn't it? If you try to do it in your own strength and power then it will not only be a tall order it will be an impossible one. The secret to all of this is to allow Jesus to be your source of power. You see, Jesus is the "Tower of Power" that we each need. He is the One who will keep us connected and who will mold us and make us what He wants us to be.

Some of you reading this have not maintained your walk with Christ and you feel a total lack of power in your life. Some of you may not have been to church in years. Today, all of that can change. Today, you can choose to turn your life over to Christ and He will revamp your weak life and give you a life filled with power and hope. Why not take that step today and become connected with the true source of power. When you are connected to Jesus you never have to worry about a "dropped call" when you pray because Jesus does not lose power or coverage. He is the source that never runs dry.
The recipe for accepting Jesus is in 1 John 1:9. We are told to confess our sins and He will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He longs to connect with you, step out in faith and answer His call.

Dear Father God,
Please forgive us where we have not lived in a way that connects us to You. Give us the courage to surrender to Christ that we might receive His power and heavenly connection. Bless us as we follow You. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

#61 Beautiful Chaos

Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

I recently had some painting done at our home while my wife was away visiting family in North Carolina. We live in a rented home that was built in 1901. The three bedroom house is full of character with its wide wood moldings and its field stone exterior. When we first saw it I loved it and knew that was where I wanted to live.

Despite how much we like our little place, it has needed a few modern conveniences added to it. The landlord agreed to buy a dishwasher if I would install it so I did. A friend and church member came out and reworked the cabinets to accommodate a dishwasher and he even did a new counter-top and back splash. They turned out great. The next touch we needed was some new paint. I asked another friend and member to come help with the painting. She does great work with painting and has a knack for doing rag painting.

Rag painting is accomplished by first painting the wall a base color and then taking a wadded up rag and dabbing it all over the base coat with a color that is just slightly different. I was amazed the first time I saw it done at our Mount Pleasant church. A flat lifeless wall comes to life when the "ragging" is done over the top of the base coat. Walls with slight imperfections are perfect candidates for ragging because the variations in the ragged pattern trick the eyes into seeing only the beautiful finish that is created. I am amazed at how beauty comes out of the seeming chaos of just dabbing an old piece of t-shirt dipped in paint over the wall. At first it looks like the wall is being ruined by a rag dabbed all over it, but in short order the wall comes to life and beauty is added to your space.

These recent changes in our home have caused me to think about our lives. Each of our lives have a "base coat" of our existence so to speak. Each is colored by our experiences; good and bad. As we experience life there are also all sorts of things that get "dabbed" onto us; some good and some bad. Often times the events of life are very chaotic and confusing. Apart from Christ those events can seem to lead us nowhere, but with Christ those chaotic events can become way-marks of how Jesus has led us.

No, I am not saying that God is chaotic and His ways make no sense to us. I am saying that in life crazy things happen and even when crazy, chaotic things happen God has the awesome ability to take those situations and allow good to come out of it. Just as beauty emerges from the dabbing of paint from a rag over a base coat of paint on a wall, if you and I surrender our lives to Christ fully He can take our life of chaos and turn it into something beautiful. No, God does not desire for us to suffer but as long as Satan is in the world there will be suffering, but I praise God that He is greater than Satan by far and our God can turn around those bad situations we experience and give us beauty from chaos.

My challenge to each of you today is to stop trying to manage life by yourself. Stop striving and going in circles apart from God and surrender it all to Him today. I promise you that you will not be disappointed with the results.

Dear Father God,

Thank You for Your goodness and mercy. Thank You for taking the chaos of our lives and making it into something beautiful. Teach us to surrender everything to You each today and to trust in Your goodness. We praise You and thank You in Jesus lovely name, Amen.