Saturday, April 30, 2016

Live Your Story

by Andrew Cromwell

There is a fascinating conversation recorded in the Bible in the last chapter of John between Jesus and Peter. During this encounter, Jesus gives Peter a glimpse into the future. Jesus tells Peter he is going to be persecuted at the end of his life because of his faith. Upon hearing this, Peter was a little shocked. I think his mind began to race a bit and he probably struggled with the question, “Why me?”  

Scripture says that he turned around to his fellow disciple, John, and asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” In other words, “Am I going to be the only one that is going to get mistreated because of following you? John will get his fair share too, right?”

I love Jesus’ response because it is so straightforward. He doesn’t mince words and He doesn’t sugarcoat. Basically he says, and I’m going to paraphrase here, “Peter, that’s none of your business, that is between John and I. The only thing you need to worry about is whether or not you are going to stay true to your convictions and follow me until the end.”

Jesus is telling Peter to live out his story. I think He would tell you and I the same thing today. He would tell us to live out the story that He has designed for us and not worry about anyone else’s.

As humans, we really struggle with that. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. We are always thinking about some other person’s life and asking why we are not more like them, why our life is so much harder than theirs or why God is using them in such wonderful ways when it seems we are forgotten.

But that is their story! That is between them and God. Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “You know, Pete, if you were just more like John....” And that is because Jesus is not interested in Peter being more like John. He is interested in Peter being who He needs to be in and through God’s power.

God is not interested in you being more like someone else. He doesn’t need you to be more like the person you idolize or less like the person you demonize. He needs you to be you, transformed into His image. He made you for a purpose. The Scripture says that you are His masterpiece! 

So live your story and stop wondering about everyone else’s. Be thankful that you don’t have to feel like you are ahead or behind anyone else. God’s timeline is custom designed for you! After all, don’t you realize that the very person you compare yourself to is probably feeling the same way and comparing themselves to someone else?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How You Doing?

by Tim Howard

Ever gone to a store or visit a coffee shop and upon entering you’re asked by one of the employees – ‘How are you doing?’ We all have! Who hasn’t been told by a sales clerk, a personal attendant or some other representative to ‘Have a nice day’ upon leaving – Even if it’s 6 pm and the day is behind us!

Phrases like this are commonplace and are usually asked or spoken with no genuine desire to ascertain the truth. They are just mindless statements full of niceties and pleasantries.

As a disclaimer: I too find myself asking rhetorical questions that don’t require an answer and make statements that aren’t rooted in real concern.

When I do, however, broach the subject of ‘wellbeing’ with a person and ask the question – “ How are you doing’ with sincerity, I’m amazed to hear this phrase more often than ever before, “I’m Tired!”

We live in a decade of tiredness! Speaking with a friend recently – she was describing the challenges of raising a grandchild. I chimed in by saying: “ I can relate!” Having my grandson living with us and being a part of the ongoing process of development can be exhausting. I found myself saying to this person: “ People tell me that children keep you young but mine just keeps me tired.”

Weariness is epidemic! People are worn out, exhausted, fatigued, dog-tired, frazzled and too often live on the edge of burnout. In view of this, it may be helpful to know that weariness is not a product of Hard Work.

Working too hard does not create weariness – Working too hard on the things that don’t really matter – causes this condition. Solomon in his book; Ecclesiastes said: When you give yourself to things ‘Under the Sun’ – things that don’t last, the things that are temporal and fleeting without any connection to those things ‘Above the Sun’ – You will experience weariness!

That may be the rationale that prompted The Apostle Paul to gives this admonition: Col. 3:2 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Jesus even said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… “

The real answer to weariness is found when you connect the temporal to the eternal – the things that are ‘Above!’  The things that produce lasting ramifications and are eternal because they are connected to Jesus – who is eternal.

When this happens – our life ‘Under the Sun’ is redefined by those things ‘Above the Sun.’ Meaning, purpose, hope, joy and strength begin to dispel and replace weariness and fatigue. Our lives receive a resurrection of sorts!

So… How are you doing? Seriously!

Are you focused on things under the sun? Is life all about ‘now’ and just trying to survive. Are the earthly things and challenges capturing your full attention? Have you lost sight of the ‘Big Picture?  Maybe a glance upward will restore a better perspective. Maybe a focus on things ‘Above the Sun’ and ‘In the Son’ will make a positive change. It sure has for my house and me – I know it can for you as well … Josh 24:15

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Calling You Out

by Andrew Cromwell

Have you ever been called out? If you have, you know that sinking feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach as your name rings in the air and all eyes turn to you to see what your response will be. On June 12, 1987, then President Ronald Reagan called out Soviet Premier Gorbachev in a very public way when he demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The eyes of the entire world turned to Gorbachev to see what he would do, would he follow through with his promises of peace and openness?

Being called out demands a response. As I read through the pages of Scripture, I see a constant theme there of one person calling out another. Jesus had a way of doing this that was incredibly powerful. He would through down the gauntlet and wait to see how people would respond. He never picked a fight and He was rarely insulting. He didn’t do it just to get a rise out of people. He called people out because He knew they were capable of something more.

There are three ways that Jesus called people out in the Bible and, I believe, He calls you and I out in the same way today. These three “call outs” demand a response. He doesn’t do all three at once but progressively calls people to a higher level of commitment.

The first way is that He calls out for people to step toward Him. Jesus declared, “if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” This is the first and most important decision we must all make when it comes to Jesus Christ. Either we see Him as the source of living water or we don’t. This first step is a step of response. Jesus comes to each and every man and woman and child and makes the offer. We don’t have to do anything to receive the invitation, but we do have to decide what to do with the invitation.

This first step is also often the most difficult step. Getting started generally is. Richard Evans said, “the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” There are so many things we need to do in life, but the problem is that we have to begin. If you want to go to the gym tomorrow morning, it means that you’re going to have to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. But it is so much easier to hit the snooze button!

There are many reasons people don’t respond to Christ — past hurt, false expectations, fear — whatever the reason is, it must be overcome if you want to begin on the road of relationship with Him.

At almost the exact instant that a person responds to Christ, He makes a second “call out.” This second step is to step away from other things. Even as we step towards Christ, He demands that we step away. He said, “if anyone comes after me, he must deny himself and take up his Cross daily.”

This is a step of separation. Jesus Christ is a separator. He separates our calendar into two and He separates His followers from the crowd. To follow Christ is to be different. It means declaring allegiance to the Kingdom of God and renouncing citizenship to the Kingdom of this World. There is a different lifestyle that is required. If Christ-followers aren’t different, then they aren’t really Christ-followers.

The final call out demands a continual response. When Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, Peter called out and asked if he could join Jesus. Jesus’ response was, “Come.” In that moment, Peter had a decision to make. Would he step out on the water and risk sinking or would he stay seated in the boat. He was the only one of the twelve in the boat that stepped out, and he was also the only one who walked on the water.

Christ is always saying, “Come.” He says, “come closer, don’t be satisfied with where you are at because there is more.” There is always more with Jesus and He always demands more. Following Christ is a journey, not just one step. And is is always encouraging us to take another.

What is the one step you need to take today towards Christ?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Surprise Endings!

by Tim Howard

I can’t remember the first movie I ever saw on the big screen but I do recall the kind of movie I enjoyed as a kid. There had to be lots of action, a lot of suspense and a superhero was indispensable. You know the kind I mean! The ones when everything looks hopeless – evil is winning – darkness is setting in and the end is surely near!

Then out of the blue, a superhero appears! Maybe it’s Iron Man, Super Girl, Spiderman or Superman – But they show up just in the nick of time to defeat the opposing forces and free the people. I loved that kind of movie because they always have a surprise ending and conclude on a positive note. I like the stories that have a:  ‘They lived happily after’ ending!

I’ve been reading some of the great stories in the Bible that have surprise ending. The author of a New Testament book called Hebrews, documents a few of those stories in Chapter 11. 

He says: By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.         
By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. As a result: He became one of the greatest leaders of all time.

Consider Abraham’s wife – Sarah. She gave birth to a son at 90 years old – Surprise!”         

Jonah should have been dead after being in the whale for three days but God turned everything around. What are the chances of a teenager named David surviving a fight with a well-seasoned warrior, who happened to be gigantic – His name was Goliath? Take Daniel when he was thrown into the lion’s den – The three Hebrew boys who were put into the furnace – Gideon who fought thousands of warriors with only 300 men or Jesus who was crucified and put in a grave! All of these mentioned – had a surprise ending!

The Apostle Paul paints a picture of a bright future for all those who put their trust in God. He assures believers that they may be knocked down but they will not be knocked out. They may be persecuted but they will not be forsaken. They will overcome the obstacles they confront and the current difficulties of life. As they go through the valley and shadow of death they need not fear any evil because a Surprise Ending is waiting!

Even though superheroes and Santa Claus don’t really exist, there is a Savior who is willing and able to turn your life around.  Jesus is more than a superhero – He is supernatural!

When He comes upon the wreckage of our lives, in the natural realm, things are altered.  It doesn’t matter how broken, bruised or devastated you are – you don’t need to give ‘up’ but you do need to give ‘in’ to Him by yielding to His directives.

Your future doesn’t need to be bleak because Jesus has a Surprise Ending in store for those who call out to Him. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tertium Quid

by Andrew Cromwell

I’ve been spending some time recently thinking about the unique nature of Jesus Christ. For Christians, it is all about Jesus Christ. He is at the center of everything. The historical fact of His coming back to life after three days dead in the tomb, is the central and most important miracle of all Christianity. Without the Resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christian faith.

This makes Jesus truly unique. Buddhists have Buddha, Muslims have Mohammed, and Jews have Moses. But none of these men claimed to be God and rose from the dead. All of these men were prophets or messengers who were pointing the way to God, but none ever said that they were God.

Jesus bucked the trend in a way that generally only people that are unhinged do. Think about it, only crazy people or ego-maniacs claim to be God. There are plenty of people in institutions who make the claim, but everyone knows they either dropped too much acid or have an imbalance in their brain. There have also been plenty of “God-rulers” — Roman caesars, Egyptian Pharaohs, and Chinese emperors — all declared themselves to be deities, but we all know better.

So either Jesus was really “cray” or He knew what He was talking about. My belief is that our responsibility as human beings is to follow a belief system that is consistent with reality. It is possible to have any number of religious beliefs, but they are only superstitions unless they align with the way the universe really is. This is what makes Jesus different.

The way Jesus talked about the human condition was incredibly accurate. He spoke clearly about the wicked and self-centered nature of all of our hearts. He didn’t sugar coat evil, He called it for what it was. We spend a lot of time rationalizing our actions and behaviors and explaining away our wickedness — but we all know it’s just our own way of hiding from the truth. We are messed up as a race and we need help.

But He didn’t stop there. Plenty of others have pointed out that we have a problem. Where Jesus went further is that He offered a solution to the problem. He gave a clear path to rescue. If wickedness is rooted deep in the heart of every woman and man, Jesus offers healing for our hearts. He offers forgiveness. We all need forgiveness, and anyone that tells you different is full of it.

You can look at His miracles, you can look at His teachings, and you can even look at His claims. If left by themselves, all of these things would make Jesus an amazing man, but they wouldn’t make Him a God-Man. What makes Jesus different, what proves that He is the “tertium-quid” as early Christians came to know Him (literally the third-thing — as in there is nothing else like Him in the entire universe), is that He proved those claims true by coming back to life.

This is what we all have to wrestle with. If He didn’t resurrect, then we shouldn’t worship Him. But if He did, then we had better listen because He probably knows what He’s talking about!

What do you believe about Him?