Hope in the Shipwreck

By Rev. Ken Childress

“No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in His goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as He said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21-26)

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Paul’s response was, “You should have listened to me…BUT.”  Paul was sure enough of what he had heard from God that he was willing to put himself in the position of reminding them of what he said. But he did not dwell on that. Instead, he immediately brought them hope. The same God who told him of the shipwreck was the same God who promised life and safety. The Word is consistent in its message – God is a God of hope. Paul even encourages them to eat in the middle of the storm.

The next point is very interesting to me: “But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” We tend to think because God brings hope everything will be comfortable. Nowhere in His Word do I find that statement. I find promises of provision, comfort, peace, salvation, and forgiveness. But nowhere do I find that we may not end up shipwrecked. God told these men, through Paul, that they would live. He also told them they would be shipwrecked.

I have always believed there to be a price to pay for ignoring the will and direction of God.

When we choose to sin against our body – we get shipwrecked.

When we sin financially – we get shipwrecked.

When we sin in relationships – we get shipwrecked.

There is a price to pay for disobedience. But even then there is HOPE. After the storm the sailors realized they still had life and there was dry land within reach.

God gives us His direction for our lives in His Word. When we ignore those directions, there are some things that follow: darkness, depression, hopelessness. But even in the darkness there is a light. And though we will find ourselves in a shipwreck, His love is big enough to find us, spare our lives and get us to dry land. Once we are on dry land He provides us with sustenance and the hand of others who help us get back on our feet.

Yes, with God we learn the lessons of disobedience and we learn that, no matter how far we roam, His unconditional love is able to reach us and save us.

All for Joy

By Ken Childress

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:1-2 (BSB).

Many Christians have the perception that God’s rescue mission for the human race was a reluctant venture. We blew it, so He resorted to plan B, at enormous expense, and did what He had to do to save us. His Son suffered excruciating agony to bring us into His Kingdom. He died for lowly, undeserving sinners like us because He had to.

But He didn’t have to, and it wasn’t a chore. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but it wasn’t a reluctant one. Though the night in Gethsemane was tearful and painful – no one wants to suffer unspeakable pain, after all – the Cross was a willing choice. Jesus didn’t save unworthy sinners because He was obligated to do so. He did it for the joy set before Him.

Think of the great lengths a man deeply in love would go in order to win his beloved’s heart. Whatever price he had to pay, however long he had to wait, whatever obstacles he had to overcome would not seem like a sacrifice. Why? Because of the inestimable worth of the prize. Love goes to any length to be fulfilled. The cost is irrelevant. Only the fulfillment matters.

That’s how Scripture describes the rescue mission Jesus went on to redeem humanity. It was and still is like a bridegroom seeking a bride. No cost is too high, no sacrifice too great, no wait too long. The joy in the end will be worth it.

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This is the role model we are told to fix our eyes on. Because of His great love, Jesus became the author and perfecter of our faith. Just as He endured every obstacle and hindrance because of the joy set before Him, so can we. When we realize our ultimate destination, no cost seems too great. Whatever we face in life today, we can keep going because the goal is worth more than anything we will ever have to endure.

Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross.”

God called us to run a race, to soar like eagles on the wind of His Spirit, to overcome the entanglements and weights that would conspire to hold us back. Our burdens are no match for our God my friends. Faith sees the reality of that truth and allows us to keep running our race to the end.

More Than Doing Without

By Charles W. Christian

Lent is the approximately forty day period leading up to Easter Sunday. It is meant to be a time of preparation and reflection that is patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). As we have entered this season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, many of us have joined Christians all over the world – both Catholics and Protestants – in fasting.

Like Jesus, many Christians have used this time to participate in fasting from food. Others fast from something more specific, like chocolate or coffee, or from certain activities like using social media or watching movies. While fasting has been a key spiritual discipline for Christians throughout history, it may be the most neglected spiritual discipline today. The Lenten season gives the Church an opportunity to return to this often neglected discipline.

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It is important to remember that fasting is meant to remind us of our biblical and historic identification with the poor and needy. Regardless of what we remove from our daily routine, we are reminded that we are intentionally giving up items that many give up without choice. This allows us to more deeply participate in compassion, which literally means “to suffer with another.”

While it is easy to focus on the ‘giving up’ aspect of fasting, there is a deeper meaning to the discipline. Fasting is not just about giving something up, but it is also about replacing.

For instance, time spent away from a favorite TV show could be set aside for more time in Scripture or more time in direct loving service to others. Time and money saved by not eating out may be spent directly on helping the poor and others without food. Time and resources given up can be intentionally put to good use in service to Christ’s Kingdom.

Finally, fasting is meant to draw attention to God and God’s ways, and not to our own sacrifices.  In order for fasting to be Biblical, any sacrifices we make during fasting are to be for deepening our relationship with God and for increasing our participation in the mission of God. Boasting about our fasting or making ourselves into a “spiritual superhero” is to be strictly avoided. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16, NIV).

During Lent, as we deepen our walk with God and increase our participation in His mission, we also find time for reflection and repentance. As God and His ways become clearer to us, flaws in our own ways also become clearer. Part of our preparation for resurrection involves allowing the Holy Spirit to move us into areas of growth, which often involves confession and repentance. It is important that we are especially sensitive to these opportunities for growth as we fast and focus.

As people who are living out and telling God’s story, may we make the most of seasons like Lent, allowing ourselves to become more and more like the risen Lord we serve!

Prayer for the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

Why Ash Wednesday Matters

By Caryn Rivadeneira

If you want a faith worth celebrating, it has to start here.

This year’s Ash Wednesday presents a bit of a problem—it’s also my son’s sixth birthday. So, somehow, we have to figure out a way to make the imposition of ashes after his birthday dinner a logical (and festive and fun, maybe even) tie-in. And somehow, we have to weasel a way to combine celebrating my son’s birth on a day designed to keep his eyes on his eventual death. Cheers to that!

But of course, even if Ash Wednesday weren’t my son’s birthday this year, it would still present a problem. It always does. If the doldrums of winter haven’t beaten you down by now, Ash Wednesday—with its laser focus on our morbidity and depravity—is bound to do it. For many of us, it doesn’t take a birthday to tempt us to skip right over this troubling first day of the troubling season of Lent and stick to the happier occasions. After all, Easter’s a-comin’ right?

But there’s a very good reason not to skip Ash Wednesday and all its gloom and trouble, tempting through it may be. Even on a birthday—especially on one, maybe. Because as wonderful and joyous as I want to make my son’s birthday and as much as I want him to know we are thrilled he was born into this world and how worth celebrating he is, I also want him to know that taking time to mark ourselves with a sign of our grief and our sin and our suffering isn’t that bad of a way to end a birthday. It’s actually a pretty good gift.

Not that he’ll catch or appreciate any of this. Not at six. In fact, for many of us much older, we still have a hard time drudging through this dark day or grasping why it’s significant at all.

But in time, it’ll sink in. We all grow to understand that, just as the wonders of life are worth blowing up balloons and eating cake for, so are the hardships of life worth noting. Especially if we want to live a life and a faith worth celebrating.

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Of course, this is what Ash Wednesday is all about. Of course, not every one of us will feel much like heading to church on Wednesday or being told that we are dust and to dust we shall return. And not many of us like to spend much time communally acknowledging our sin or our shame or our suffering or our sorrow. Even still, Ash Wednesday reminds us this acknowledgment is central to our faith.

This year, my church, along with many others, invites folks to mark the first day of Lent with a time of music, quiet prayer and the imposition of ashes at an Ash Wednesday service and offers the hope that “this time of worship will help us walk more closely with Jesus through the Lent and Easter season.” With this, we offer the reminder that “ashes are a symbol of our repentance, of our desire to turn back to God; ashes demonstrate our solidarity of with Jesus, and with his journey to the cross and through the grave; and the sign of the cross in ashes is Christ’s own signature on us, that we belong to him.”

Yes, ashes announce an understanding of our mortality and need for repentance, but at the same time, they proclaim our solidarity with Jesus. They declare our faith in a God who not only wipes us free from sin but who takes the offerings of our broken hearts and our fears and turns them into hope and promise.

All this captured in one smudge—one smear of the ashen cross on my forehead that serves as a symbol of a most poignant paradox of our faith: God brings life out of the sin and suffering. It signifies that He did this with every heavy step Jesus took toward the cross and that He does this with us, with every burdened and broken step we take in this life.

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we’re invited to a time to look at our missteps and our regrets, our longings and our losses, and offer them all to God, who not only accepts them but transforms them.

After all, in sending His Son to suffer with and for us, God declared that our despair and our hope, our sin and our salvation, our suffering and our celebration are intertwined. He declared it’s through one that we get to the other. It’s through confession that we find forgiveness and through lament that we find healing. And Ash Wednesday offers us opportunity to do both—publicly and communally.

And it’s through this—through the smear of the ashen cross on our foreheads—that we ultimately celebrate the most poignant paradox of our faith: God draws our very hope and life—the cross—right out of our very sin and suffering—the ashes.

In the end, it’s this day of grief that leads us into the biggest cause for celebration.

This original article was published on: Relevant Magazine

A Look at Lent

Just recently we have finished our 40 days of focused prayer for the cities of the Mesoamerica Region. Every January we begin the calendar year by asking the Lord to begin a genesis in us and in the urban populations around the world.  Let us continue to intercede for these cities, and may we give and serve sacrificially in order to witness their transformation!

In 2018, those 40 days ended just a few days before another 40-day experience begins.  In the Christian calendar, this upcoming Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  This is a significant season where we as Christ-followers do just that: we follow Christ, and we follow him specifically to the cross.

Our friends at A Plain Account have shared a description of Lent (below) that I hope will prove helpful to you and your congregation during this time.

Lent is a period of fasting and sorrow for our sin in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The purple colors that decorate many sanctuaries in this season represent sorrow, mourning, and suffering. However, purple is also a royal color, reminding us of the sacrifice of our King, Jesus.

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Lent is an exceedingly ancient custom. There is tradition that suggests the original Apostles instituted the practice.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts 40 days, not counting Sundays. Ash represents our repentance, our sorrow for our sins, and our mortality. The period of 40 is common in the Bible, associated with Moses, Elijah, Noah, Jonah, Jesus, and others. Ash represents the death and destruction caused by sin. To receive an anointing of ash is a sign of repentance.

During this time people often fast from something such as chocolate, TV, or eating meat.  The purpose of a fast is to heighten your awareness of the presence of God. You also might consider adding something to your life during Lent like a spiritual discipline or being more generous. It can be a great way to begin a good habit.

Lent concludes with Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday (the Triumphal Entry) and includes Maundy Thursday (when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (a day of deep sadness at Christ’s death).

During Lent we recognize our need, and we repent of our sinfulness. The essence of sin is broken relationship. It is when we say “no” to God’s call to love at each moment. Even in this somber time of the year the Resurrection is in the background. There is hope. There is forgiveness. Easter is coming.

Pray for the City

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Did you know today is the last day of our 40 Days of Prayer for the cities of Mesoamerica? In Genesis, we start every year by dedicating ourselves in intercession for the urban populations in our region.  We have prayed that God would give us his vision for the city.  We have prayed that God would raise up missionaries for the city.  We have prayed that God would use us to transform our cities!  It is happening, too.  He is changing our cities in Mexico and Martinique, Honduras and Haiti, Grenada and Guatemala.  And as we have prayed for others, God has begun a transformation in us as well!

I hope you have joined us in this journey.  If you have not, or did not even know about it, why not challenge yourself or your church to dedicate 40 days to prayer? We even have resources to help you! 

Two years ago, Gary and Naomi Faucett, our Genesis Member Care Facilitators (that big title basically means they love our missionaries bigtime!), provided a much-needed retreat for our missionaries ministering in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  Eunice Zaragoza, Freivy López, and Merit Córdova gazed out from the fifth story of their hotel on the sprawling city below them. Freivy began to introduce Gary to all of the neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula:

“Gary, that section of the city is so dangerous.  We’re not supposed to go there at night.  But we still do anyway because we have started a cell group there.”

“Over there is known as the center of gang activity.  But there are kids there, too.  We play in the park with them every Saturday.”

“Hey, most of the drugs that pass through Honduras come through that barrio over there.  But see that apartment? That’s where we have started to see a lot of youth come to know the Lord.  God’s really up to something in that place.”

Gary elbowed Freivy and half-joked, “Sounds like San Pedro Sula is pretty unsafe, brother.  Are you gonna be alright?!”

Freivy nodded.  “Definitely.  But I love this city.”

Do you love your city? Do you love the high-risk places, or just the comfortable ones? When was the last time you truly prayed for your city?

Now it’s a tradition.  In every retreat, we find a room where we can look out on the city.  And we pray.  The photo up top is of the Global Mission Coordinators in New York this last October praying for that great metropolis, but also for all of our cities.  The photo you see below is of the Guadalajara team praying over their city with over 6 million inhabitants.

Are you committed? Will you join us in praying for the city? It’s not over after 40 days.  Find a rooftop somewhere or a fifth-story window and take a picture of your family or church praying.

The city has gotten into us; it’s now under our skin.  It is hectic and noisy and oftentimes dangerous.

And like Freivy, we love it.

“Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.” (Jer. 29:7 NET)

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That’s not Fair!

By Scott Armstrong

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7)

(Read Psalm 37:3-8)

When they are little, siblings often complain about “fairness.”  Is that not the most burning issue to a small child? If one toddler takes a toy away, another exclaims for all to hear, “Hey, that’s not fair!”  If one brother gets to go over to a friend’s house while the other stays home, the “tortured” sibling mopes to his dad and mom, “But that’s not fair!”

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Even as teens and adults, we are usually concerned about fairness.  She got those grades and didn’t even try. He makes more money than I do and I work much harder.  The issue is even more complex when we see followers of Christ suffering and those who don’t even care about God living the high life. It is definitely easy to focus on those around us and ask God, “Are you seeing this? It’s just not fair!”

Maybe that is why David writes Psalm 37.  In its first 8 verses, he says 3 times, “Do not fret,” especially with regards to the apparent success of “evil men” who carry out “wicked schemes.”  It is as if David is saying, “I know it’s not fair.  But don’t worry about it.  God knows.”

Perhaps more importantly, David gives us some great advice.

“Trust in the Lord and do good…”

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart…”

“Commit your way to the Lord…”

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

Those are words of guidance and also of encouragement.  Although the circumstances in your life may not be fair, God sees and knows everything.  He has incredible promises in store for you if you continue to faithfully serve him (vv.4-6).  Instead of focusing on others, let’s focus on the Lord and trust in him.