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.

Not God’s Favorite

By Scott Armstrong

Jesus Comes Home with a Sobering Message

Christmas is a time when many of us return home.  We laugh with relatives and gorge ourselves on excellent food.  Grandmas grab our cheeks and tell us we’ve grown sooooo big, which is awkward when you’re 8, but try when you are 40!

Luke 4 tells us of a time when Jesus returned to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  The little carpenter’s apprentice had grown up and now was an excellent preacher, and the people were amazed at his eloquence.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (v. 22).  Surely this can’t be the same little kid that was playing in the sandbox back in the day!

So, as is often Jesus’ custom, instead of basking in the praise from everyone, he turns it on its head.  In fact, he immediately transitions his sermon from good news to judgement.  “I’m here to change the world just as Isaiah foretold” (see v. 18-21) quickly becomes “If you think you’re better than anyone else, I’m here to tell you you’re dead-wrong.”

The result is jarring.  The crowd’s transformation is stark.  The church folk are enraged, throw him out of their town, and are ready to throw him off a cliff (v. 28-29).  Wow! What made them convert from admirers to attempted murderers in the blink of an eye?!

Essentially, he yelled out, “You are not God’s favorite! Stop acting like it!”

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It’s a message that’s painfully appropriate and quite controversial even today.  Christian authors have made a lot of money writing that you and I are God’s favorites.  Preachers use that phrase to try to explain God’s boundless love for you and me.  It all seems obvious, right? And anyway, it feels good to know I am God’s favorite child; it kind of gives me a spring in my step as I leave the service on Sunday!

Here’s the problem: Baked into the definition of the word “favorite” is the singling out of something to the exclusion of something else.  When I ask you what your favorite food is, if you say, “They’re all my favorites,” it makes no sense.  You are either trying to hide something or way too indecisive.  Saying “I like all foods the same” would seem implausible, but it’s at least better than claiming that all foods are your absolute favorite.  Selecting a favorite by necessity means something else has not been selected: it is, thus, not your favorite.

When pressed on this, the authors and preachers insist that, well, when they say, “YOU are God’s favorite,” they actually mean that we are ALL His favorites.  It’s an effective communication technique, but it completely dilutes the word.  In fact, using the word “favorite” in this way can actually have some serious, unintended consequences.

When we start to view ourselves as God’s favorites, we subtly begin to believe that he likes us more than others.  The product of such thinking is ethnocentrism and religious selfishness, exactly what Jesus railed against in verses 24-27.

My political party is right.

My race is better.

My denomination is the best.

My way of viewing the world is the only real way anyone should see it.

And it also makes us spoiled.  We start to expect God to be at our beck-and-call.  The “favorite” child at Christmas demands that his parents save the last piece of pie for him.  Every gift becomes boring within a few hours. Nothing is appreciated. Everything is deserved.  Jesus says it this way, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum’” (v. 23).  We are here for the show, Jesus! Come on, we prayed; why won’t you grant us our every wish?

God lavishes his love on all of us in the same measure.

That’s the point.

He has no favorites.

As we near Christmas, hear again those amazing words from Jesus’ homecoming sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v.18-19).

Interesting last word: “favor.”

Our God comes to the poor, to the prisoners, to the blind and oppressed.  His favor is offered to all in abounding measure.

What if you were actually not God’s favorite?

It’s painful and humbling to acknowledge.  But maybe admitting it would open you up to truly receiving God’s favor for the first time.  Maybe it would allow the God who plays no favorites to anoint YOU, as well, to go to the broken-hearted and usher in the Lord’s favor.

May today this scripture be indeed fulfilled in your hearing.

 

Come, All You Not So Faithful

By Rev. Chris Gilmore

One of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming.  Come, all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus?

If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s.  We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

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So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

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“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

 This article was originally published at: iamchrisgilmore.com

 

Ain’t No Difference

By Scott Armstrong

“For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22b-26 NKJV).”

(Read Romans 3:22-31)

The verses we just read give us some pretty bad news.  We’ve all sinned.  Not one of us is good enough for God.  As The Message says, “We’re all in the same sinking boat,” and that means all of us.  As one country preacher puts it, “There just ain’t no diff’rence.”

Wait a second. No difference? That means the most awful murderer and the kindest, most generous person to ever live share the same destiny if it’s up to us and our own righteousness.

Let’s pretend there is a ladder stretching from humanity on Earth to God in the heavens.  If we piled up all the bad and good things we ever did where would the criminal be? The bottom rung, maybe? Where would Mother Teresa or Billy Graham be—people who have served Christ faithfully and changed the world through their ministries? Let’s put them on rung four or five. And you and I are somewhere in between. With just a few hundred more good works we can maybe reach God, right?

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There’s only one problem. The ladder has a million rungs. If it’s up to us to reach God by our own righteousness, we’re all hopeless. Even though in our eyes there may be a difference between us and others, in God’s eyes, we’re all at the bottom of the ladder. There just ain’t no diff’rence.

But the bad news is followed by really good news. It’s not up to us. It’s up to God.  Through his grace He can change our lives and we can spend eternity with Him.  The Message translates verses 23-24 this way, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity…He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ.”

So what? How does this affect the way we live? Well, we live overwhelmed at His grace, constantly thanking Him for saving us. And we also live humbly.  If we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, there is no room for bragging or thinking we’re better than anyone else (v. 27). God makes the difference.  Do you need more thankfulness or, perhaps, humility in your life? Is there someone in your life who needs to hear the good news that God makes all the difference? How can you show Christ to them today?

News Flash: Noah Saved by The Grace of God

By Scott Armstrong

“God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:12).

(Read Genesis 6:9-22)

I always wondered why the story of Noah was a kids’ story.  Isn’t this about the judgment and wrath of God? While Noah and his family are cooped up as temporary zookeepers, the heavens are opened, the waters start to rise from the earth, and everybody else drowns.  Can you imagine how terrifying that would be if we told little Billy all the details? I guess it’s the animals.

But that’s not the only thing that strikes me as strange in this story.  We have to acknowledge that God is ticked off here.  He’s grieved, and his heart is filled with pain (v.6).  The wickedness was so bad that this same “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love…” (Ps. 86:15) puts his fist down and shouts, “Enough!”

Here’s the weird part: in the midst of sharing with Noah his plans to destroy humanity, he stops and gives detailed instructions about the boat Noah is supposed to build.  “I want three decks on this baby, Noah, and you have to use a certain type of wood….”  And then after specifying how Noah is supposed to gather his family and all the animals, the same God who is absolutely furious…waits.  Most scholars agree that it took Noah 120 years to build this massive ocean liner.  Why didn’t God just wipe everyone out when his anger was boiling? Or why didn’t he just tell Noah, “Build an ark, Noah; I’m sick of this”?

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The answer is the key to the story.  Even in his anger, God can’t not be gracious.  He loves his creation.  The very essence of his character is love.  So he takes the time to stop and tell the one guy who’s living a holy life what he needs to do to save mankind.  Isn’t that awesome? That means, as God’s children, we do not have to serve him out of fear, but are free to serve him out of love.  We can obey him, like Noah did, simply because we truly love him.  Are you at that point in your life?

Remember: even in judgment there’s grace.  Even in wrath there’s love.  And even a child’s story can teach us that.

 

Our Massive, Incomparable God

By Rev. Rob Prince

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We have no idea how big the Universe is.

The farthest thing we have measured so far with the help of a mighty telescope—actually two telescopes: one in Hawaii and one in outer space—is 13 billion light years away (a light year, by the way, is 5.88 trillion miles). So the farthest thing that we have measured is 5.88 trillion miles times 13 billion. That’s A LOT! 

Somewhere in the middle of this vast universe is a spiral galaxy called the Milky Way—which is made up of hundreds and billions of stars.

One of those stars is our sun—rotating around the center of the Milky Way once every 250 million years.

One of the planets circling our sun is a tiny little ball called planet Earth.

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Our tiny little ball of water and dirt, planet Earth, is only 8,000 miles in diameter and orbiting a tiny star on the outskirts of the Milky Way in this vast, vast universe.

And you and I are just two of the 7.4 billion people on this tiny, tiny planet.

Why the astronomy lesson?

Listen to this:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

    their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 

Let all the earth fear the Lord;

    let all the people of the world revere him.

For he spoke, and it came to be;

    he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6, 8-9)

 Let the truth of those words sink in. 

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

    their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 

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God didn’t even lift a finger—to create this massive, blowing your mind, huge, vast, incredible universe.

He did it without the use of a “how to make a universe kit.”

He had no diagram.

He had no blueprints.

Speaking, speaking, speaking…and it came into existence. 

God is more massive than our wildest imagination.

BIGGER than the biggest words we have to describe Him.

After an eternity of being God…

He shows no sign of wear and tear.

He has NO dilemmas.

No quandaries.

No counselors.

No shortages.

No rivals.

No fears.

No cracks.

No worries.

He is Self-existent.

Self-contained.

Self-perpetuated.

Self-powered and

Self-aware.

He has no needs.

God does whatever God wants.

His purposes are a sure thing.

There’s no stopping Him.

No cutting him off at the pass.

No short-circuiting His agenda.

God is in control.

God knows everything and everyone.

There is not a bird flying on this tiny little planet or perched on a little, little branch that has escaped his vision.

He could start with Adam and name every man, woman, and child who has ever lived and tell you every tiny detail of their lives.

Nothing is hidden from him.

He wrestles no mysteries.

He doesn’t have to wait for a polygraph test to decipher the truth.

He has no equal.

No peer.

No competition.

He is God almighty! (I wish I had some timpani playing after I said that)

But that’s not the end of the story.

Though we are a mist…

Here today, gone tomorrow…

A tiny little speck of dust on this vast enormous universe…

One of 7.4 billion people on this planet…

God created you.

Think about that.

In his image.

God created you.

And he fashioned us with the ability to know him.

And here’s the good news…

The really, really Good News…He loves you!

HE. LOVES. YOU!

Yeah… you. 

Maybe you just flunked your first test of your college career and He still loves you.

You… who got so angry for no reason at your spouse last night… and he still loves you too.

You… who just let somebody down… yup, he loves you.

You are one of 7.4 billion people on this tiny little planet on the outskirts of the Milky Way.

But God knows you,

knows everything about you,

knows all your deep dark secrets, and he still loves you!

He healed the sick.

He fed the hungry.

He walked on water.

He calmed the storm.

And here’s the deal:

The ONE who can heal the sick,

FEED the HUNGRY,

Walk on water, and

CALM THE STORM,

The one who created this massive 5.88 trillion times 13 billion mile universe…

Knows you.

Loves you.

And can rescue and redeem and refresh and renew and revitalize you!

Does anybody need that today?

Total Victory!

Rev. Ken Childress

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Hate had nailed Jesus to the Cross. Religious men had become devilish in their opposition to the Son of God. Brutal men had carried out the execution of the Son of Man. As Jesus died, the sun covered its face in shame, and the earth trembled in embarrassment

A sound escaped from parched and swollen lips. Was it a moan of agony? Was it the rambling of a mind shoved over the threshold of unendurable pain? NO! The words formed the briefest of statements describing the most important single event in history: “IT IS FINISHED.”

To the hate-twisted minds of the religious bigots who schemed this murder, the words came as a welcome relief. The troublesome yet awesome Prophet who claimed to be the Messiah was quieted. This magnetic Teacher who taught with unique power was silenced. The miracle-working Carpenter was no longer a threat to them.

To the brutal soldiers, the death of Christ offered some excitement and diversion from the normal day of putting the sword to women and children.

To the curious mob, the crucifixion of Christ provided a lively topic of gossip in the bars and taverns on the day.

To the shocked disciples, the sudden end of their leader brought dismay and discouragement. It had been such a beautiful dream. Their years with Jesus had built expectations of dramatic social and spiritual change. Now they would attempt to rebuilt their lives, knowing they would always muse on what might have been.

To Jesus, the words, “IT IS FINISHED: meant that love had bridged the gap between a holy God and sinful man. The three words were uttered as a soul-satisfying proclamation that salvation’s door was opened.

To the world, the words “IT IS FINISHED” represent a Maga Carta, a Declaration of Independence, and an Emamcipation Proclamation all rolled into one – and more. Here is man’s redemptive Bill of Rights!. 

It is finished church, never ending redemption. It is finished! Hallelujah!