Recreational Christianity

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Hobbies are big business these days. As Americans, we spend massive amounts of time, energy, and finances on our hobbies. I find it humorous how we are constantly seeking new ways to justify our worship of our hobbies. From health benefits to relational enrichment we repackage our toys to justify our obsessions.
I don’t have a problem with hobbies. As a matter of fact, I have way too many of them if I’m being honest. However, I’ve never been one to take my hobbies too seriously. I’m more of a dabbler. I pursue many different hobbies at the same time and switch frequently. I refuse to spend too much money or time on my hobbies because, well, I’m cheap busy. I wish my reasons were more mature or spiritual. Essentially, I know just enough about the hobbies I pursue to be dangerous. I’ve learned this tends to drive serious enthusiasts crazy.
Take golf for example. Several years ago some friends encouraged me to take up the game. To this day I have never purchased a club or any accessories. The only money I have spent is on greens fees. However, there were those who were more serious about my golf game improving than I was and blessed me with clubs and a few accessories. Now golf isn’t a game for the dabbling type. To attain even an average game, serious attention is required. Yet, I was happy to be a hack. All I wanted was to enjoy the outdoors, make a few jokes, make contact with the ball on my first swing at every third tee, and leave the course with almost as many golf balls as I arrived with, even if they were different ones (I am a firm believer in the gentlemen’s golf ball exchange. Your loss is my gain, as is mine yours.) To this day I am happy to go out once or twice a season, blow the dust of the clubs and remember what it feels like to swing. Unfortunately, my golfing buddies wanted so much more – silence on the tee box, use of the same ball throughout the round, and scores within a cul de sac of par. Imagine that!? Needless to say, they don’t invite me to golf with them much anymore.
As a pastor I am immersed in church life and as I look around at things today I am often reminded of my golf game. It seems as though many church attenders are content to treat Christianity as something to dabble in. Hobbies sometimes seem to take a higher priority than living out the Christian life. There are times when I get the sense my aspirations for many church attenders are much higher than their spiritual aspirations are for themselves. While I want to see them voraciously hungering to know God through prayer, His Word, and meaningful relationships with other believers, they give the impression that attending church once or twice a month and throwing some loose change in the plate as it passes is more than enough to satisfy them and God. In reality, just enough is invested to keep the dust from accumulating on their Christianity, but not enough to make any kind of lasting impact on a life.
Even a brief survey of the teachings of Jesus seems to contradict this recreational approach to our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus repeatedly teaches that we are to prioritize him first and then allow everything else to filter through our relationship with him (Matthew 6:33). His message seems to be reverberate repeatedly that Christianity consists of enthusiasts not dabblers. If this is the case then what are we to make of the recreational approach to Christianity? Are we ignorant, are we falsely interpreting Jesus, or are we simply choosing to ignore him? Whatever the case, there appears to be a significant problem brewing among the Christian population.
A deeper look at Jesus teaching becomes even more compelling. At one point he told his disciples that following him meant denying oneself. He took things even further by explaining to those listening that following him meant taking up a cross daily. In Jesus’ culture, the cross was one of Rome’s most grotesque forms of execution that left the most hardened criminal humiliated. It was used to keep conquered peoples from rising up in rebellion, reminding them of what happened to those who attempted something so foolish. Jesus uses this image to propose a daily death, a total sacrificing of self: self-promotion, self-pride, self-exaltation, and self-comfort to follow him. Perhaps you have friends who treat their hobbies in this way. Daily taking up their “cross” and following ____________ (feel free to fill in the blank with the hobby of choice.). They sacrifice family, friends, church, health, and anything else that hinders the pursuit of their “hobby.” As extreme as it may sound to us, this is exactly what Jesus says being a Christian requires. There was a time when Jesus told his followers that Christianity would require denying family. There was a time when Jesus told his followers to let the dead bury their dead. This is hard teaching, which may be why some choose to ignore it, just like many did when Jesus first said it.
My choice to be a dabbler in golf means that I will probably never experience the euphoria of dropping a hole in one. A have friends who light up when they tell of their experience of this feat on the golf course. I’m OK with that. What I am not OK with is dabbling in my Christianity and missing the euphoria of seeing the fruit of a life completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that I will one day have the privilege of being a part of a group of believers who, together, are living lives completely sold out to the glory of Jesus Christ and by grace, experiencing the fruit of this kind of life. If that is your desire as well, let’s lock arms. Recreational Christians need not apply!

Deacon Ordination Sunday message “To this Aspire”

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The ministry of deacons is a visible reminder of the biblical portrait of a godly, spiritual man to which all Christian men should aspire.

 

A Lesson from Cain

Preacher Billy Sunday had just finished a message on anger when a woman approached him seeking to justify her angry outbursts. She said to him, “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” To which Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun, and look at the damage it leaves behind!”
Angry outbursts and their devastating effects are everywhere. From road rage to domestic violence to irate customers at the grocer to children’s temper tantrums we know anger when we see it.
Anger and its effects are not something new to our modern world. We have accounts of anger included as far back as recorded history goes, many times including evidence of the destruction it leaves in its wake. I was reading the story of Cain and Abel this week from the book of Genesis and was struck by how easily this ancient story could be transplanted into our local newspaper without batting an eyelash.
The account in Genesis chronicles that through a series of events Cain becomes very angry, so angry that the author of the book describes Cain’s situation as being hot for him. Have you ever witnessed someone in the midst of a situation that was causing his temperature to rise? Old Looney Tunes cartoons did a great job depicting this. Good old Daffy Duck would get all bent out of shape with Bugs Bunny. Slowly but steadily he would tense up every muscle in his body like a board, clench his hands, pierce his lips (yes, ducks have lips), squint his eyes, sweat would bead on his forehead, and then he would turn red from toe to head. When he was completely red a train whistle would pop out the top of his head and let out its shrill shriek while Daffy shook all over. He was hot. He was angry, Cain kind of angry. It may be funny when its cartoon Daffy, but its not funny in real life.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed this transformation in someone. Maybe you’ve experienced this transformation yourself, and as a result, everyone knows not to mess with you. What’s going on inside shows itself on the outside as your anger boils over and into the lives of others. We may feel justified in our anger because of that reckless driver who cut us off or that insensitive customer who won’t get off the cell phone but when we begin to burn with anger we head down a devastating path.
Anger weakens us. It dulls our ability to reason. When Sinbad and his sailors landed on one of their tropical islands, they saw thirst quenching hunger satisfying coconuts high up in the trees. The coconuts were far beyond the reach of Sinbad and the sailors. But they noticed that in the branches of the trees were chattering apes. Sinbad and his men began to throw stones and sticks and shells up at the apes. This enraged the monkeys and they began to seize the coconuts and hurl them down at the men on the ground, just as they had wanted. The angry apes ended up collecting food for the sailors without even realizing it. Their anger played right into the hands of their foes, and so does ours.
In the story of Cain God comes to Cain and warns him not to continue down the path of anger because if he does there is a great danger he will no longer master the anger but the anger will end up mastering him. Sadly, that is exactly what happens and Cain ends up coldly taking the life of his own brother in the middle of a field. The anger gains such domination in Cain’s life that after he has killed his brother and is confronted about it he callously answers as though he could care less. Without even realizing it Cain allowed his anger to play right into the hands of his greatest foe, Satan and taken the life of his own brother. Cain gave in to sin and found himself neck deep in the devastating consequences of his anger run amock.
Has anger taken over in your life? Maybe you haven’t literally murdered but have you verbally murdered someone with harsh words. Perhaps you have emotionally murdered someone by withholding your love and affection. Do you find yourself relationally crippling others by spreading lies about them or avoiding them completely unless its to give them a disapproving cold shoulder? You may believe you have been wronged in some way and deserve to be aggressively hostile. Unfortunately, the longer you journey down the path of decision making driven by anger the greater the depths of bitterness, resentment, and misery that will take up residence within – leaving you neck deep in devastating consequences like Cain.
Daffy Duck and monkeys in palm trees may be cute expressions of anger but there is little that is cute about unrestrained anger in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Heed the lesson of Cain, if anger is crouching at your doorstep desiring to take over rule over it before it rules over you (Genesis 4:7).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20 ESV

“Normal”

Normal is an interesting word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines normal as “conforming, adhering to, or constituting a usual or typical standard, pattern, level, or type.”
It took until my junior year in college for me to realize my eyesight was not normal. I was oblivious to the gradual deterioration that had taken place over the years, so I thought the way I saw the blackboard was the way everyone else saw it. While everyone else was seeing sharp lines and distinct shapes I was seeing fuzzy lines and blurry shapes.
What finally triggered a visit to the eye doctor was a drive home from Western New York after a long day on the ski slopes. The sun had set and a light snow was falling as I edged my little Ford Festiva onto the road home. The road was dark and curvy and the snow began to fall harder the closer we got to home. My brother-in-law was with me and I remember repeatedly saying to him, “boy it’s bad out here tonight. I don’t know if I can make it.” Since this is not the type of thing you typically hear a 22-year old male saying when he is with another guy, I should have immediately recognized that something was not normal. Later on my brother-in-law shared with me that I kept creeping farther and farther over the steering wheel as if I was trying to crawl out onto the hood or something, and by the time we pulled into a gas station at his suggestion I was squinting so tightly he wondered whether my eyes were even open. He graciously offered to drive the rest of the way home and I accepted feeling relieved that I didn’t have to navigate the elements any longer. As we pulled back onto the road I began to realize just how poorly and slowly I had been driving. I felt like we were in a rocket as Rob pressed down on the accelerator. I was a little concerned at first because it appeared reckless until he began to share that he could see things. Things like signs…with words and symbols on them…and oncoming cars. But the biggest shock to me was that he could see these things long before they were at the nose of the car, which is quite short on a Ford Festiva mind you. The next morning I scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor.
Our mind has a tendency to play tricks on us when it comes to “normal”. If we have been born into something or it’s all we’ve ever known, then our propensity is to label it “normal”. For example, it is “normal” in our culture to date. As a matter of fact, though parents differ on the appropriate age for their teenagers to begin this practice, it is not considered bad parenting to allow our sons and daughters to go out on dates. It’s even considered “normal”. But if we were living in the early 1900’s shortly after the word “date” entered the American vocabulary we would have a completely different understanding of normal. Few parents, or sons and daughters for that matter, would have wanted to be caught dating, since it was a lower-class slang word for prostitution. If someone wanted sex for money they went dating. (Mark Driscoll, Religion Saves, 181-183).
Oh how things have changed, but maybe not as much as we think. We may think we define dating differently than the way it was understood back in the early 20th century but how many times do our young women get taken out on dates in which the young man pays for everything and then expects he will get something in return. Couldn’t that, by definition, be loosely understood as a form of prostitution? Just a little food for thought.
Just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t make it right. There are a lot of things considered “normal” today that weren’t a decade ago. Some of those changes are good and some are not. I’m concerned that it is more common for followers of Christ to live life by conforming to what is classified by the surrounding culture as “normal” than it is to transform to the standards of the One we are to be following. We are far too happy with “normal” when Scripture clearly teaches not to conform or adhere to the patterns or typical standards of this world. Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our minds, like my eyes, need an appointment and regular check-ups with the Doctor. Some of us may need a new prescription so we are able to see the road signs – words and all – and the oncoming traffic. Then we stand equipped to navigate life in such a way that people see clearly we are followers of Christ. We need to stop letting our mind play tricks on us, stop accepting “normal,” and embrace God’s will by allowing Him to renew our minds.

Deadly dispositions preaching series

this 8 week series looking at the 7 deadly sins was preached at MorningStar Baptist Church during the fall of 2010.  To read a description of the series, view the messages included in the series, or listen to sermon audio click on the following link http://www.morningstardayton.org/resources/audio/series/info/deadly-dispositions

Misery Meets Grace

            My eleventh Christmas started out as the worst Christmas experience of my life.  That was the year I had the bright idea that it would be fun to secretly find out what all my presents were before Christmas morning.  So, two weeks prior to Christmas I snuck into my parent’s room and spoiled the surprise. 

            Waking up that Christmas morning was worse than waking up for the first day back to school after Christmas break.  The guilt and shame were so heavy that I thought I would need the fire department to extract me from my bed. 

            As I trudged down the hallway to the living room that morning I was met by my overly enthusiastic little sister who was under strict orders to wait until I got into the living room before evening touching a single present.  She met me halfway and began dragging me down the hallway with the strength of two teams of firefighters.  Normally this would have been cause for evasive action, but this morning I welcomed the helping hand as I lumbered down my personal death row.  When we finally got to the living room I could barely look up at my parents.  Their smiles and excitement made my stomach convulse even more, a feeling that was further accentuated by the box that my sister thrust into my stomach with a giggle and a, “Merry Christmas Mark!”  I looked down at the box, “a lego set,” I thought.  You would have thought I was holding a king cobra.  In my mind I had dropped the box and stepped back screaming like a little girl, but on the outside I had mustered every ounce of willpower I had to keep hold of the box and forced a smile.  I had to do this for Mom and Dad.  I may have ruined my Christmas but I didn’t need to ruin theirs too.  Déjà vu resulted from each present that was placed into my hands; socks, coat, baseball glove, forcing me to fake surprise for the family.  It was miserable and as I came to the last present I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had a feeling my parents could tell something was wrong, so I hung my head and confessed every sordid detail right there in front of the Christmas tree. 

            I thought every present would immediately turn to coal.  Then I thought my parents would just gather everything that lay in front of me throw it in the trunk of the car and take it to some eleven year old who would really appreciate it.  Neither of these things happened.  Instead, my Mom began to cry and my Dad looked at me and said, “We already knew, we just wanted you to tell us yourself.”  It turns out I hadn’t been as covert as I thought I was.  Through her tears Mom explained to me how she had noticed something out of place in her closet a couple weeks ago but didn’t think much of it until she saw me getting more and more miserable.  She put two and two together and realized I had gotten into the Christmas presents.  My parents were disappointed over missing the surprise on my face as I opened the presents, but their hearts broke more over the misery I had inflicted upon myself.  Pushing aside their own pain they asked me if I had learned my lesson then gave me a hug and told me they loved me. 

What happened next turned my worst Christmas experience into my best.  While I was hugging my Mom and apologizing through the sobs, my Dad slipped something onto my lap.  I thought I was going to look down and see a present that would again prompt déjà vu but instead when I looked down my mind drew a blank.  Finally, I reflexively looked into my parent’s eyes with a face full of surprise, wonder, and a good measure of perplexity.  My parent’s faces beamed right back.  Maybe in spite of, maybe because of, maybe both my parents had secured one present for me they knew would be a surprise on Christmas morning.  As I tore into the present I didn’t care what it was and honestly I can’t remember what it ended up being.  I had already received the greatest present.  I knew I didn’t deserve this gift.  I knew I didn’t deserve my parent’s forgiveness and kindness.  I knew my parents were well aware of all this and still gave the gift. 

That Christmas, grace was the greatest gift I received, and as I look back now I realize how much my parent’s actions helped me understand the grace of God wrapped in a babe in swaddling cloths and lying a manger.  Its a gift we don’t deserve.  Its kindness and forgiveness we don’t deserve.  With full knowledge of this God still places the gift on our laps inviting us to receive it with wonder and maybe even a good measure of perplexity.

Homes and Hearts in Order

            A transformation takes place in our home in the days leading up to the arrival of guests.  I don’t know if it is a result of how my wife and I were raised or if it is a common practice among human beings, but we shift into a different mindset during this time.  We do everything we can to put our best foot forward.

            Before I get myself into all kinds of trouble on the home front let me say that the typical state of our home is not one of chaos and disarray, at least not any more so than any home which includes two little children, a dog and a messy husband.  The customary atmosphere of our home is best described as comfortably lived in.  But with the anticipation of company “lived in” just won’t do. 

Like most individuals expecting company my wife and I go into a meticulous cleaning mode, but instead of being satisfied with a spotless abode we take our preparations to a whole new level.  For example, a few years ago the week before the imminent arrival of guests we set out on a mission of reorganizing our laundry room, several closets and remodeling our guest bedroom/home office, all of which wouldn’t be a big deal if there weren’t a two day deadline looming over our heads.  Two days which were already filled with other responsibilities.  Honoring guests in our home is a strength of ours.  Realistically planning what we can fit into a short period of time is not.   

There is a tradition among the Jewish people that dates back several millennia.  At the beginning of their Passover celebration, which commemorates their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, parents hide yeast, also called leaven, throughout their home.  After hiding the leaven they send their children through the home searching for all the leaven to bring back to the parents.  This little object lesson is the inauguration of a week in which there is to be no bread cooked or eaten within the home that includes leaven.  The house is cleaned out and made ready in remembrance of the way in which God set His people apart and delivered them from the hands of oppressors.  In a loose sort of way, this tradition shares some similarities with the practice we’ve in adopted in our home of preparing for company.

The effort we expend in preparing our home for honored guests really isn’t the most important factor to welcoming them into our home.  Regardless of how beautiful and spotless our home may look if we don’t have attitudes that communicate warmth and friendliness then the house will feel cold and cruel no matter how calming the color scheme or how fresh the fragrances flowing from our Plug-Ins.  Most people don’t come to our home to see our home they come to our home because they want to spend time with us.  So the attitude or our heart is far more important than the preparation of our home.

This was the point of the Passover object lesson.  In hiding leaven throughout the home parents were taking an external activity to illuminate an internal heart attitude.  God didn’t care as much about clean homes as He did welcoming hearts.  He was looking for, and has always been looking for, individual hearts that welcome Him as an honored guest.  The problem is far too many individuals have been ambushed by an obsession with getting the house in order at the expense of the heart.  There is a widespread belief that one can’t possibly expect God would want anything to do with us until all the vices have been cleaned out.  We’ve got to get it all together for such an honored guest.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The truth is none of us can possibly get it all together.  The best we can do is mess it up.  We are like my four year old washing the good china, yikes!  God doesn’t expect any of us to get the whole house straightened and just right before we invite Him over for a stay.  What He desires is a heart that is welcoming.  A heart that acknowledges the dust bunnies and dirty closets and is overwhelmingly grateful that such an honored guest would so genuinely desire we abide with Him.

Thanks in Everything

            I recently had a stark reminder of my tendency to take things for granted.  It all began when I arrived home after a day out with the family to find our homestead engulfed in a cold front.  I immediately checked the circuit breaker thinking that maybe we had tripped it, but to my chagrin everything was fine there.  It appeared as though our furnace was in need of some T.L.C. and since I am no Tim the Toolman I had to call a repairman.  So, this morning I find myself sitting in front of our fireplace writing this article as I turn myself around like a rotisserie chicken when one side gets too hot and the other side too cold. 

            This whole experience has reminded me of just how easy life has become for us.  Though my daughter and wife look on this as some sort of Little House on the Prairie adventure I know the novelty would soon wear off for them if we had to spend even half of the cold months living like this.  Yet, this is exactly how our ancestors lived just a few generations ago, and some unfortunately still do.  Everything was a struggle for them.  Heat didn’t come from the gas or electric company with automatic climate control year round at the touch of a button.  Food wasn’t purchased at a grocery store prepackaged and ready to pop in the microwave.  And the cure for common ailments wasn’t as simple as a visit to the family physician for a flu shot or an antibiotic.  Life in general was much more difficult.  The elements were harsh and life was much more about survival than embellishment. 

            Today, for most of us life is far more about embellishment.  The concerns jostling around in our minds are not about heat and food and sickness as much as they are about flat screens and french fries and fashion.  That’s a luxury many of us have because of the incredible advancements that have taken place in fields like science and technology.

            This reminder brought with it a sobering realization.  In spite of all these advancements that have contributed to the relative ease of my life I still find it very easy to grumble and complain about life and the cards I am dealt.  I can’t tell you the last time I walked through the door of my home and expressed gratitude for the electric company faithfully supplying me with energy.  Instead I get irritated when that energy goes out for a few minutes, or an afternoon, inconveniencing me and my family.  I grumble and complain not because my life is in danger but because things are no longer convenient.  Even in the midst of this reminder of the conveniences of life I am struggling with grumbling and complaining because furnaces should be made to be maintenance free and they should last forever, or at least until I have moved out and the next guy moves in.  It embarrassing how ugly our hearts are when we take an honest inventory isn’t it?!

            A wise teacher once wrote, “In everything give thanks.”  This could be written off as an absurd statement if it had been written by someone who had never experienced anything but luxury, but the individual who wrote this phrase was the same individual who spent much of his life in a state of survival, skirting death on more than one occassion.  Various accounts of his life document the meager means on which he had to survive, the rigorous travel that took a toll on his health and the physical torture and imprisonment he endured at the hands of his enemies.  It was in the midst of this lifestyle that the Apostle Paul wrote these shocking words.  A contemporary of Paul’s records this was Paul’s lifestyle not just a catchphrase.  During one particular unjustified imprisonment Paul was found singing joyful songs of gratitude.  Bound, chained, beaten and smiling – Are you kidding me?  I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of person who I just want to trip when they’re walking down the street.  There’s that ugly heart again.  I can’t help but think that maybe a change of heart and a change of outlook would do many of us a lot of good.  Maybe I do have a lot more to be thankful for and a lot less to grumble about.  So here goes.  I may be sitting here in the cold waiting for the repairman to arrive but at least I have a fireplace and it certainly has brought the family closer together, literally.  Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.  I’m not bound, I’m not beaten, but I am smiling.

Babies, Bulls, and Buddy Lee

            Love is one of the most sought after and needed things among the human race.  Studies have shown that babies who are depraved of love actually experience long lasting physical, emotional, psychological and physiological damage.  This was clearly evidenced by some information compiled by Rene Spitz. In a South American orphanage, Spitz observed and recorded what happened to 97 children who were deprived of emotional and physical contact with others. Because of a lack of funds, there was not enough staff to adequately care for these children, ages 3 months to 3 years old. Nurses changed diapers and fed and bathed the children. But there was little time to hold, cuddle, and talk to them as a mother would. After three months many of them showed signs of abnormality. Besides a loss of appetite and being unable to sleep well, many of the children lay with a vacant expression in their eyes. After five months, serious deterioration set in.  They lay whimpering, with troubled and twisted faces. Often, when a doctor or nurse would pick up an infant, it would scream in terror. Twenty seven, almost one third, of the children died the first year, but not from lack of food or health care. They died of a lack of touch and emotional nurture. Seven more died the second year for the same reason. Only twenty one of the 97 children survived, most suffering serious psychological damage.   Love isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity.

Unfortunately, love is also one of the most misunderstood and ill defined notions within humanity.  I came across a story in Reader’s Digest this week of just such a mistaken understanding of love.  A young man was attending a junior stock show when a grand-champion lamb, owned by a little girl, was being auctioned. As the bids reached five dollars per pound, the little girl, standing beside the lamb in the arena, began to cry. At ten dollars, the tears were streaming down her face and she clasped her arms tightly around the lamb’s neck. The higher the bids rose, the more she cried. Finally, a local businessman bought the lamb for more than $1000, but then announced that he was donating it to the little girl. The crowd applauded and cheered. Months later, the young man was judging some statewide essays when he came across one from a girl who told about the time her grand-champion lamb had been auctioned. “The prices began to get so high during the bidding,” she wrote, “that I started to cry from happiness.” She continued with: “The man who bought the lamb for so much more than I ever dreamed I would get returned the lamb to me, and when I got home, Daddy barbecued the lamb—and it was really delicious.”  Everything we perceive as love isn’t necessarily.

In the words of Johnny Lee, “[We are] lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, lookin’ for love in too many places.”  If most of were asked to give a definition of love we would hem and haw around a little, stumble and stammer a little more and then come up with some definition that was a conglomeration of clichés like, “love is a warm fuzzy,” and “love is never needing to say I’m sorry.”  But regardless of most of the definitions we give, eventually we recognize that they fall short of what love really is.  We see what we think to be love carried out but then realize it has fallen short of what we sense to be love, but still we can’t seem to get our arms around.

John, one of Jesus’ disciples, wrote centuries ago that God is love.  I would say that most of us have heard this phrase at least one time in our lifetime, but have we really let it sink in?  This is a statement about who God is within Himself.  Love originates in God and perfect love is supremely expressed in Him.  This is the love we are looking for!  But, as with any of us, this is something that we cannot know about God, or know at all, unless He reveals it to us.  Fortunately John also tells us that God has shown His love to us through giving His Son, the object of His eternal love, to forgive us of our sins.  In this great act of forgiveness God reveals to us the greatest expression of love the world has ever known.  And it is right here in front of us.  Unfortunately, we are constantly rejecting, reinterpreting, and redefining this love and accepting crumby counterfeits in a futile search for this love that God is openly offering to us.  It’s as if we are walking through life and at every turn God is offering us the very love we are so desperately searching for, but we are so focused on the phony fabrications that we miss it at every turn.  Looking for love?  If you are not looking to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He offers at the cross then you are most assuredly looking in all the wrong places.

Firmly Resolved

I came across an inspiring story of a young woman who took a stand for her faith in Jesus Christ. This story did not originate from some foreign country in which individuals must hide their relationship with Jesus Christ behind closed doors and it is not a story from centuries past. This story took place just a few years ago right here in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, and let me say that in my opinion the story of this young lady epitomizes both of the these values. Megan Chapman was a graduating high school senior at Russell County High School in Kentucky. At the outset of her senior year she had been elected to the chaplaincy of her class. This position had traditionally had the privilege of delivering a prayer at graduation but this year things looked as if they were going to turn out somewhat different. The Wednesday before the graduation proceedings the ACLU filed suit to stop the prayer, and on Friday morning a federal judge issued an order barring the high school from conducting prayer in conjunction with the graduation ceremonies. In this order Megan was actually specifically named as being barred from praying during the graduation. With graduation taking place on Friday night it appeared as though prayer had effectively been removed from yet another part of the fabric of America. Yet, while all these official court proceedings were taking place the senior class officers of the high school had met on Thursday and decided that Megan should not only deliver the prayer at graduation but she should also be the one to deliver a message to the graduating class and everyone present. This group of seniors was determined to have prayer as a part of their graduation so throughout the day on Thursday they had passed out bookmarks containing the Lord’s Prayer, not fully aware of what would take place on Friday. With the realization that her name was specifically sited in a federal lawsuit I can only imagine the incredible pressure that Megan must have been facing. With just hours until graduation she had a critical decision to make, would she stand for Christ in spite of these circumstances and possibly face federal charges or would she comply with the court order and keep silent about her faith in Christ? I’ve asked myself multiple times since reading of Megan’s account what I would have done, though I can’t be one hundred percent certain my prayer is that I would have done the same thing she did. Just three hours before the graduation ceremonies were to take place Megan was contacted by a group of evangelical lawyers who informed her that the court order could only prevent her from praying and not from sharing her personal testimony or a religious message. So Megan prepared to take her stand. With 3,000 in attendance the senior class of nearly 200 students opened up the ceremonies by all standing together and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Before the students could even conclude the prayer the entire high school gymnasium was enveloped in applause. This was followed up by Megan stepping up to the podium. She had brought a poem with her to the podium but felt as though God was leading her to share a message instead. The message included her personal testimony of her faith in Jesus Christ, her confidence in the peace and guidance of Christ and a desire that everyone present would know Christ as she knows him. There were several instances during Megan’s message in which she was interrupted by applause and cheering as the crowd displayed their support of her decision. I thank God that most of us have not had to face such adversity as followers of Christ, but I also know that God’s Word tells those of us who are followers of Christ that we should be ready for such adversity and expect it. If you were faced with a similar choice with similar severe consequences potentially facing you how do you think you would respond? Would you respond as Megan did and stand boldly for your faith in the midst of adversity or would you quietly give in to the pressure and remain silent about the one who gave everything that you might have life? My prayer is the Megan’s story encourages each of us to have faith in God that there is no adversity too severe that He cannot carry us through and turn such situations into opportunities to proclaim His great message of salvation.