Abide in Me

What does it mean to Abide in God?   This scripture can be very confusing. “Abide in me as I abide in you.” This abiding seems to go ‘round in circles and can leave your head spinning.  To abide in God is to come closer to Him, to take on His character.

                There are a couple of humorous sayings that speak to this.  “You can always recognize a genius….  he’s the one with the same views as your own” and – “The apple never falls far from the tree”

                In both of these sayings we see the thoughts or actions of one person bringing them closer to another. In the same way we can get closer to God. If we let God shape our thoughts and actions we become more and more like Him, and as children of the heavenly Father, we won’t fall far from the tree.

The apostle John says, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they [live] in God.” (1 John 4:15)

    So how do we grow closer to God? “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)   One word jumps out again and again; “LOVE”.  It sounds so simple and yet often times there’s nothing more difficult. In every situation to look like Jesus means to choose love. Not any kind of love. The Love that Jesus models looks like the cross.

“We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  God loves us unconditionally, despite all the awful things we have done. He continues to Love us. Yet, his love also confronts us for our selfish and rebellious way. Love is not being a push over or weak willed. Love required the strength of God to hold Jesus onto the cross. Love is strong.

                If you say you love God, how will you love God? Will you love God’s values and actions?  Will you love being with God in prayer, scripture and worship?  Love is not an empty sentiment, but a commitment that takes action. Love is a worldview that permeates how we see others.

                “God has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:21).   If we seek to love others the way God loves us, we will become closer to others. As we become closer to others we become closer to God. Then one more miraculous thing happens, the closer we get to God, the more we abide in Him and He abides in us.

               This abiding in love means abiding in God does kind of go around in circles. Perhaps we can think of it this way; Love leads to love leads to love leads to love. Let’s keep the Love cycle spinning.

May you live a life worthy of the Lord, and may you please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in knowing God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience and joyfully give thanks to the Father. (Col 1:10-12)

  • Your servant in Christ, Pastor Douglas

Lazarus Raiser (John 12:9-19)

Lazarus Raiser (John 12:9-19). A raised Lazarus is a problem for the powers of Death. This donkey riding Jesus is the King who raises the dead. Nothing brings faith like dead lives restored to new life through the Gospel.

LOSS & GRIEF

My heart has been broken so many times. My heart was broken when I was a child, a teenager, and an adult. My heart has been broken as a friend, boyfriend, pastor, husband, and father. How many times has your heart been hurt? And how many times have I hurt someone else?

Loss is unavoidable in this life. You can’t be bubbled wrapped and live a real life. You can’t avoid loss and pain because it is inevitable. In this life with other humans, with our own neediness, and with the march of time transition, changes and disappointments are unescapable. Loss is predestined as our frail bodies move towards their end.

We lament and shake our fists at God asking why we have to suffer such disappointments. Yet we rarely cement our character when we are at the party. When we go through the valleys of this life our character deepens and we become stronger.

The apostle Paul speaks about how in the depths of our losses God is working. “We [boast] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3–5)

While we cannot avoid losses, we can choose to avoid grief. When we avoid grief we are damaging ourselves. For grief is a truly a gift from God to help us move through the losses of this life. We are supposed to feel something. The worst thing we can do is to stuff our grief and pretend the loss did not happen. When we stuff our grief, it comes out sideways in unhealthy and neurotic behavior.

Grief can also be holy. The LORD grieves over the sin and rebellion of this world (Isa 63:10, Jer 8:21).  The Father grieves over the death of His Son on the cross for the sin of this hurting world (Zech 12:10). Christ grieves over this sin-filled world from His Cross. Grief is an emotion from God to mourn over the hurt and loss of what is sacred and valuable.

So, for us Lent is a time to grieve over our broken relationship with God. Grieving over our sins will lead us to healing and wholeness. For the LORD repeatedly promises to turn our grief into joy (John 16:20). So we can grieve with confidence that the LORD will comfort us and give us joy and praise instead of mourning and despair (Isa 61:2-3)

“We loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)

Pastor Douglas

Our Spiritual Hospital

 As human beings we are more than just the one dimension of our physical being. We all recognize our emotional and spiritual health impacts our physical health. The LORD creates as whole beings. Jesus reminds us that we are to love the LORD our God with our body, mind and spirit. (Mt 22:37)

Jesus Christ told us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:14-17)  “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matt 4:23). He also conferred this healing power onto his disciples who he sent out and they “anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6:13) 

The Church is a Hospital for sinners “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). We offer healing services offered no where else. Your church is a hospital to bring you God’s healing and promote your well-being. We offer therapies that are not offered anywhere else in our society.

A study from the University of Rochester showed that 85 percent of people who face a major illness turn to prayer … and it works. Studies have shown that prayer and meditation can bolster your immune system, meaning fewer days laid up in bed with the flu and more days out living your life. Daily spiritual exercises can bring long term benefits and wholeness to your body, mind and spirit.

As society we have not an honest discussion about all the damage the lockdowns are causing. We are not discussing the spikes in suicides, opioid deaths, and homicides. We are not talking about the sharp increases in substance abuse and domestic abuse of spouses or children. Polling has shown the effects of loneliness and depression upon the entire populace.

We all recognize depression is a common condition that can lead to self-harm and substance abuse. Spiritual fellowship, however, has been shown to help people who suffer from depression because it eliminates isolation, which is a major cause of many mood disorders.

Churches are needed during this time because people are so spiritually ill. This spiritual illness is affecting their physical health and immunity. The gathering of God’s people is a needed remedy, maybe not for everyone, but for many.

Remember the woman who was bleeding and had exhausted her life savings. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” (Matthew 9:21)  In this time when we have exhausted so much of our emotional capital we need the spiritual replenishment that comes from the LORD and from the LORD alone.

The LORD promises to bind up your wounds; whether those wounds our physical, emotional or spiritual. So, come to the hospital where you can meet with the Great Physician. “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 30:17)

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened  so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and  his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)   

– Your servant in the Gospel, Pastor Douglas

CHRISTMAS COURAGE

Far from the jingle bells and dancing plums the events leading to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ were filled with fright. Mary and Joseph were both fearful of the path the LORD called them to take. After his birth the Christ child was threatened with death as the wretched King Herod sought to exterminate the newborn king.

The story of the Nativity is glued together with courage and faith in the face of fear. And not just for Joseph and Mary. The LORD enters into this world of idolatry as an infant. The Incarnation is the bold act of God becoming vulnerable. The boldness of God to come in the flesh results in conflicts throughout the Gospels.

The vulnerability of Christ culminates when Roman and Jewish leaders utilize death to threaten Jesus to cry “uncle” and renege on being the Word made flesh. These enemies of the Kingdom utilize death to silence the Prince of Peace. For Jesus death on the cross is real. As fully human he must decide who he fears more; who he trusts more.

Over this past year for our god-less world the reality of death has plunged billions of people into fear. As this world does not have the LORD God to fear and trust, it has only death to fear. It is the godless’ ultimate god. The lack of belief has made death an idol. We have idolized death as we have given it our fear.

BUT we, you and I, the people of God, are to fear and love the Lord our God. “What does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 10:12–Ps 103:17).

Yes, death is real. In spite of all our medicine and creature comforts, death never stopped being our enemy.

But with boldness the LORD became vulnerable in the flesh under the curse of death. With boldness and courage Christ took on our sin and death so we can freely approach his throne of grace (Eph 3:12).

The Word of God died on the cross and raised from the dead so we with all boldness and courage may live lives of God’s grace. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7).

  • Are you reeling in fear?
  • What are the fears tormenting you?
  • How are you taking these fears to the Lord?
  • Are you listening to the Word of God?

”Who among you fears the Lord and obeys His word? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” (Isaiah 50:10)

Like you I am seeking to rely on my God.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Dr. Douglas Schoelles

Cocooning (Numbers 32:1-27)

d86450912ccc32cc82f5b188a0a1b14eCocooning is that urge to just take care of you and yours. We undergoing a huge surge in cocooning. It is all the rave being pushed by media and influencers and all sorts of folks.

But we don’t need much of a push to want to hunker down and ignore the world out there.

As the twelve tribes are on the verge of leaving the wilderness journey and traverse the Jordan River, two tribes decide they’re good. They are fine where they are and do not want to travel any further.

“The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and said, “let this land be given . . . as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.” (Numbers 32:1-5)

They want their inheritance now (v. 19). They do not want to wait to settle in. They want to take care their economic well-being. They want to protect their women and children.

Now, these are not bad inclinations. These are the responsible inclinations of family leaders looking after their own.

Problem is that they were not just on their own. They belong to the whole family of God, the twelve tribes of Israel, that Moses has led these many years.

This obstinate, rebellious people has vexed the LORD. Moses points out that when the LORD invited them to go forward into a new land, their leaders were among the worst who discouraged the Israelites from trusting the LORD.

Moses calls them out. “Here you are, you brood of sinners”; once again you are talking about turning away from following him – because you want to just to get your finances going and your families protected. You want your inheritance, your promise from the LORD now, and will abandon the other tribes to fend for themselves.

Backed into a corner, looking selfish and foolish, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, offer a solution. They agree to go with the rest of Israel in their struggle against their foes. They agree they will accompany them in their journey to receive the LORD’s inheritance.

As Christians we have received our inheritance from the LORD. We have received the riches of his glorious inheritance of the Kingdom of Christ (Eph 1:14, 18, 5:5, 1 Cor 15:50, 1 Pet 1:4)

The Father . . . has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Col 1:12).

As people loyal to Christ, we cannot simply sit back satisfied that we got ours. As the people of God we are never called to cocoon to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of this unpredictable, sin-soaked world. To simply sit back, to do so is sinning against the Lord (v.23).

Rather, as a baptized Christ follower, you have received your inheritance so you are called to struggle with others to receive theirs. You receive your inheritance of the Kingdom to be empowered to struggle with others and help others.

  • Who do you need to walk alongside of that is in a spiritual battle?
  • What boundaries do you need to cross over to fight the spiritual foe?

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

 

THERE BE GIANTS (Numbers 13-14)

report-of-the-spies-and-remonstrance-of-Caleb

This year has been tumultuous. The coronavirus pandemic, the resulting shutdown of public life, an economic crisis with record levels of unemployment, incidents of police brutality and racial tensions, and urban rioting. Add to this rumors of murder hornets, meth laced alligators, and a presidential election.

We all are overwhelmed. Many want to go back to normal. Go back to the way it used to be. Others see this as an opportunity for reset. To re-evaluate our priorities. To reassess the way we relate to one another.

We all agree that the challenges we face are overwhelming. They are huge. We are facing giants we feel unable to control. We are facing giants we are afraid will crush us.

In the midst of this fear, where do we turn?  Many are self-medicating. Alcohol and drug sales have skyrocketed. Comfort food is adding pounds. Suicide hotlines are overwhelmed.

Not long after Moses leads the people out of slavery through the Red Sea into the wilderness the LORD instructs Moses to send scouts to check out the promised land where they are supposed to be heading (Numbers 13).

They are sent to find out what kind of people live there? what kind environment it is? Is this a fertile place or unfruitful place. They are report back and bring some evidence of what they find.

Ten of the twelve scouts report the land is fruitful. But the land is filled with giants. These giants are powerful. The strongholds are enormous and hardened and entrenched.(Num 13:26-28)

Two of the twelve were the young men Caleb and Joshua. They agree with everything the other ten say. The land is fruitful. The land is filled with giants. The strongholds are immense, entrenched and hardboiled.

But they reach different conclusions. The ten say, “we can’t take this on. The problems are stronger than we are.”(Num 13:31) They spread this dispiriting attitude. They even exaggerate it. They make themselves look even smaller.

These men who only see through their limitations cause the rest of the community to go into panic (Num 14:1-4) The community is restless, worried and weeping out loud. They grumble against Moses and Aaron. They move onto blaming God. “Why didn’t you just kill us in Egypt? Wouldn’t it be better if we just went back to being slaves?”

Caleb and Joshua had a different vision. “We should go and take possession.” They knew they could face down the giants. They knew they could take on the hardened strongholds. They knew they could do it because the LORD promised to lead them, to take them through the giants and strongholds.

Which vision do you think won out?  (Numbers 14:26-35)

As Christians we know that even death does not stand in the way of God. We have been connected to God through our baptisms “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25)  If God has taken down the strongholds of sin, death and the devil, we can walk in faith through any tumult. We can face any giant.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

Triumphing Over The Weeds

georgefloyd-articleLarge

Reading and watching the news of the killing of another black man in Minneapolis and the resulting rage and rioting, do our eyes glaze over?  Or do we get filled with rage looking for who to blame and hurt?

In our hyper-polarized war-zone we call a country, we must look beyond thinking this is a political issue. This is also more than a matter of justice.

Our hearts should break when unarmed black men lose their lives at the hands of individuals sworn to defend and protect their fellow citizens. Those who perpetrate such crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law.  But that is not enough.

As a nation we need healing. As a nation we need to search deep in our souls in order to come together.

Racism remains a deep wound within the American society. The horribly destructive sin of racism scars all segments of our national family from those living in the projects to those living in gated communities. The long history of racism has century old roots which continue to birth its weed as seen in blighted neighborhoods, under-performing schools and jail cells. Even though we try to eradicate it, the seeds of this weed continue to blow and take root.

Jesus says his enemy is the one who plants the weed (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  Looking at another human being and seeing them as less than human is satanic. Our prejudices of race, sex, religion, etc., within ourselves which cause us to see another human being, as being less than the child God created and for whom Christ died and saved, come from the abyss of Satan. Malice and hatred are the fruits of wickedness and have no place in the life of people cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Gal 5:19, Col 3:8, Eph 4:31, Rom 1:9, Tit 3:3). We must keep our eye on the real enemy if we are ever going to win the war on racism. We must see the spiritual oppression if we are to find healing.

Does knowing that George Floyd was a committed Christian change our perspective of this tragedy?   “George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,” said Pastor Ngwolo of Resurrection Church in Houston. Floyd wanted break the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring in outside ministries to do discipleship and outreach in the Third Ward, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project.  George Floyd always said, “God trumps street culture”.

In this moment, as Christians we must proclaim that God trumps racism. God trumps the wickedness of this world. As we are called to follow God, we are called to witness to His Kingdom. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Proverbs 31:8)  This senseless, wicked tragedy is more than a political issue, more than a justice issue. This is a matter of the Kingdom knocking down the gates of hell.

We are confronted with the wicked catastrophe of human existence every day.  We cannot avert our eyes because we want to avoid the ugly truth of this sin-soaked world. To avoid the ugly truth of wicked weeds of our world is to avoid looking at the cross.

We are baptized into the cross so we can have the courage to look at the world the way it really is. We are baptized into the cross so we can look at ourselves the way we really are. We are baptized into the Cross of Christ so we can look to him for our salvation and hope. We are baptized into the Cross of Christ so we can rely on the Holy Spirit to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6, Eph 5:2)

As Christians we are empowered to lead the way. To confess and repent of this rooted evil. God calls on his children to “fast from injustice and oppression.” (Isaiah 58:4) God promises that this is the path so that “our light will break forth like the dawn.” (Isaiah 58:8) Then we can model the way of Jesus for our neighbors. Then we can imitate Christ in the way of love by giving ourselves as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2)

God Triumphs Over the Weeds. Amen.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with us all. (2 Thess 3:16) – Pastor Douglas

UNESSENTIAL?  

mask - prayingAfter weeks of our Coronavirus sheltering in place President Trump announced the CDC will classify houses of worship as essential. While governors have allowed marijuana shops, liquor stores, and abortion clinics to remain open as essential services, our society is actually debating whether churches are essential.

The sad truth is that to many people in this country the church is not essential. One fitness minded person complained about churches opening when he wanted the gyms to open. There are many others who want churches to remain close fearing that worship gatherings will be super spreaders of COVID-19.

The sadder truth though is that the Church, the manager of the Gospel, is unessential to many Christians. The sheltering place is hurting our connection to one another. This sheltering in place, this cocooning, is cutting us off from the nurturing message of the Gospel.  No greater example of this than pastors who are unable to visit the sick. This isolation is hurting us.

“You may say, I can read the bible at home.”

“Pastor, I watch your devotions on Facebook.”

All that is true and good.

But faith is a communal experience. We learn to be disciples by interaction with other disciples. This is the pattern that Jesus himself established. In fact, Christ gave himself on the cross for you to be joined to the family of God.

The suffering of Christ is more than simply helping us managing our sin, but to release us to be vessels of his amazing power, not for our self-actualization, but so we could be a blessing to others. Think of how Paul describes the fruits of our faith: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22–23)   These fruits are to be used to bless the other disciples. Paul goes on to say we are to bear one another’s burden, encourage one another and build up one another.

Facebook emoji’s are nice, but will it help grow a person in faith?

We are in a historic time. A time which has ushered in significant challenges to really every institution in our society: governments, stores, employment, social media, families, sports, and health care.

The Church will be significantly affected by this. Your local church will be significantly affected by this. We will see this in the weeks and months to come.

We need to imagine how we will be in the Church together in new ways. We will need to imagine how we will be the Church for our friends and family in new ways.

We will each need to ask, Is Christ Essential to My Life?

Now may the Lord of peace himself give us peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with us all. (2 Thess 3:16) – Pastor Douglas

Exchanging for Self-Righteousness (Exodus 31:1-20)

Golden Calf

“These are your gods who led you out of Egypt.”   Ex 32:4

The freed slaves from Egypt panic when Moses is gone too long for their liking. They become uncomfortable and unstable. They demand Aaron do something to soothe them. They demand Aaron give them an understanding on their terms of the the LORD who redeemed them out of Egypt.

We are always trying to co-opt what the LORD wills to what we will, to what we want. The LORD who redeems unvalued slaves to become his holy nation of priests bearing his image in their lives. They instead want to revert to a demanding god who expects them to earn their value.

They want a god they can buy off. Buy off with their gold, with their offerings, with their effort. They do not want to be obligated to the LORD who loves them unconditionally. They want conditions.

The Christian faith’s greatest threat is not external persecution but internal heresy. As recently published research shows, so many “Christians” doubt the God who meets them in the Scripture. “A mere one out of three (34%) who have a biblical view of God also believe that He is involved in their life.” (1)  So many American Christians want the LORD to stay at arms length from them.

Truth is, we just don’t know what to do with a God who loves us without invitation, without condition, and without limitations.

“Your people have acted perversely; I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.”   Ex 32:7, 9

The whole purpose of the wandering in the desert is to give the people the necessary time for spiritual transformation. They cannot and do not want to deal with it. They want to live on their terms.

We always fail to remember that our terms are constantly, incessantly tainted by sin. Sin infests our entire lives.

So what is the perversion and rebellious nature of these golden calf dancers? To reject the LORD of grace to insist on a god of works and self-righteousness. A god that has to be appeased so we can boast in our efforts.

“It is the sound of revelers that I hear.”  Ex 32:18

In rejecting the LORD of unmerited grace, they want a god they can buy off to they can be released to do what they want.  To be released from grace releases us to bargain with the gods so we can revel in what we desire.

What we revel in looks different for different groups, but at its core is a self-righteousness, a self-importance that puts us riding and steering that golden calf. Our world is awash in self-righteousness. This self-righteousness reveals itself in every gloating post about how wonderful my perspective is and how evil and wicked those who don’t tow my line are.

He made the Israelites drink it.  Ex 32:20

We are the ones who suffer when we exchange the grace and glory of the immortal LORD for for idols of this mortal world. The LORD desires us to turn to him and trust him. To trust him even in the midst of uncertainty. To trust his love and forgiveness even though we feel unworthy.

The revelry around the golden calf is a caution not to exchange the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:21-25)

 

(1)  Americans increasingly redefine and reject biblical view of God, new Barna research shows  by Adam Ford · Apr 26th, 2020

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