When I was in college, I attended a large student conference in North Carolina. One day, as I was waiting for my friends, an older woman struck up a conversation with me. She asked me if I was enjoying the conference. For some reason, I told her I was really disappointed because I hadn’t been selected to sing the solo with the choir for that evening’s worship service.
She replied, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of that it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this it still belongs to the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16) Do you know why I stopped to talk with you?”
“No,” I replied.
“I wanted to tell you that each night when the choir sings, I watch you worship and it encourages me. You are unique and loved by God. He doesn’t want you comparing yourself to others. He wants you to rejoice in what He’s given you.”
I walked away encouraged.
That evening, I was surprised to see that very woman introduced as the keynote speaker. She walked to the podium, looked out at 1500 college students and said, “You are unique and loved by God.”
I noticed a girl on the front row wiping her eyes. She needed that message as much as I did.
We all spend so much time comparing ourselves with others that we forget that God loves us just as we are and made us that way on purpose.
So, before I go, let me remind you – You are unique and loved by God.
*Warren Wong Photo courtesy of Unsplash
Thurgood Marshall became a Supreme Court Justice in 1967. As the first African-American justice, he was attributed with the following quote: The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis.
Today, as I ponder his words, I have to wonder, “Do I retain my compassion in times of crisis?” No, I don’t. Instead, I often freak out and become completely self-centered?”
However, as Christians, we are called to live differently.
The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
We all struggle with selfishness. If we say we aren’t, we’re not being truthful. The truth is, we could all spend the rest of our lives learning how to clothe ourselves with compassion, not to mention kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Let’s get started.
Most days, it’s go, go, go. It’s moving on, pushing forward, forgetting what is behind, and pressing on to what is ahead. I get it. If you don’t look ahead, you live in the past.
But today, at this marker in my life, I look back, and realize how long the path has actually been. I see the wild, unusual trajectory of my life’s journey so far and think, “How did I end up here? It feels like I just got started.”
But I didn’t. I’ve actually been at this whole life thing for quite awhile.
A student once asked Billy Graham, “What’s the greatest surprise you have found about life?”
He answered, “The brevity of it.”
I agree with him. It has been short and it seems to be getting shorter by the year. When I look back, I see that I’ve come a long way, but all I can really think about is all the duties I still need to fulfill, all the people I still want to meet, and all of the journeys I still want to take.
But time is short.
If that’s the case, then I want to do what’s most important with the rest of my life.
Jesus once said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
So now, as I look back, it looks pretty good. But it sure is nice to know there’s more assignments and adventures ahead of me.
*Photo courtesy of Unsplash Mike Rawlings
I woke up this morning feeling a great sense of loss. This is something that happens at some point to everyone, I suppose. I tried to shake it off with prayer, activity, and even with strong wishing, but it’s still there.
So, I did some research on it.
Google describes loss as a noun and defines it as the fact or process of losing something or someone. That’s a pretty simple explanation. Unfortunately, dealing with loss is not quite so simple. It’s definition implies that loss ends once the object or person is gone. In my mind, that’s only the beginning of loss.
John Steinbeck, in The Winter of Our Discontent, wrote the following: It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
I found that to be true after my wife and I lost our baby to miscarriage after ten years of marriage. A few people, while trying to comfort us, said, “This is a big blow. It must hurt so much to not have a child.”
I would often reply quietly, while screaming my lungs out inside my head, “We’re not sad because we don’t have a child. We’re sad because we once had a child and no longer do.”
So, what do I do this morning with my sense of loss? Do I squelch it? Do I try to think about something else? Or do I take the time to experience it?
C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, shared the following words: Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?
Something within in me fights against that kind of logic though. Something says, “Suck it up and be happy. You shouldn’t feel this way if you’re have Jesus as your Savior and Lord.”
But there’s a flaw in that type of thinking as well. Jesus experienced terrible loss, much greater than I will ever know. Isaiah 53:3 says He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
I think C.S. Lewis is right in what he is saying. There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. We can attempt to delay it or deny it, but we cannot destroy it. It’s going to find us in the end.
So, here’s my resolution for today. If I’m going to feel loss and grief today, I’m going to do it while holding the hand of the One who was acquainted with the deepest grief. He’s also the God who wants me to live life more abundantly and wants my joy to be full. He knows the way, not around, but through loss and I will follow Him.
What’s the first thing we learn about God?
When we read the first five words of the Bible, we don’t learn that God is loving or forgiving or convicting or beautiful, even though He is all those things. Instead, we read: In the beginning, God created…
He created the heavens and the earth. He made the plants and the sky and deepest of oceans. He made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. And then, He made us in His image, a true work of art.
If we’re made in God’s image, then we are creative.
Most of us believed this when we were children. We created joyfully. But then something happened.
Someone laughed at our creations. We saw the creative work of others and thought we could never rise to their level. People started praising the creative efforts of younger people and forgot about us. Our friends gave up on their creative pursuits and pressured us to join them. We experienced loss and decided to set it aside for a few days. Then, of course, we were distracted by bills, tv, family, work, social media, traffic… and suddenly, we quit trying to be creative. It became easier to just exist.
Then, years later, we look back at our creative desires and chuckle, wondering why we ever pursued creativity in the first place. However, somewhere, deep inside of ourselves, we don’t laugh. We ache and long for yesteryear, because we realize we’ve lost a vital part of who God made us to be.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We can be creative again. It may be different from our earlier creative pursuits, but it’s time to take our first steps. It’s time to create something. It doesn’t matter if the creation is music, clay, words, paint, furniture, string, or bacon, it’s time for us to get out there and create.
Then, after we start, we can’t stop. We have to keep trying, keep improving, keep living, and keep creating. We can’t dare stop.
It’s who God made us to be.
Imagine for a moment that you are in Washington D.C. at the national mall. You walk past the reflection pool and make your way up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Slowly, you walk up to the large statue of Abraham Lincoln. You pause and remember the man that many people consider the greatest president to have ever served. Suddenly, the statue begins to move and, to your surprise, it starts speaking to you. At first, you wonder if he’s some sort of zombie statue who might devour you, but then, you realize that he, the real Abraham Lincoln, is really there, in person, speaking through that statue, desiring a one-on-one conversation with you. What you thought was going to be a personal memorial for a deceased man has suddenly become an interaction with a living president.
This is not unlike what often happens when we encounter Jesus. We think of Him as the One who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, but we often don’t anticipate it going any further than that. We often memorialize Him and certainly don’t expect any personal interaction with Him. But then, when He speaks to us, we are totally blown away. It’s often, at that point that we remember that He’s alive and well, not wanting to destroy us but desiring a strong, real, meaningful, personal relationship with each of us.
Don’t settle for a knowledge of Jesus. Get to know Him.
I know a lady who moved to New Orleans after her marriage fell apart. For years, she had lived a holy, set apart lifestyle. However, upon her move, she decided to embrace the ways of the sinful world. She stopped attending worship services and life groups and started frequenting bars and night clubs. Late one evening, while in a bar on Bourbon Street, she was approached by a man who offered to buy her a drink. In the midst of their conversation, the man smiled and asked, “What are you doing here, Honey? There’s something good shining out from you and you’re trying to cover it up.”
Once the Holy Spirit enters us, He is there working in and through our lives even when we’re purposefully trying to sin. In a similar fashion, the spiritual gifts we receive from the Lord are alive, working through us from the time of our salvation to bring about the purposes of the Lord. They are within us, working to accomplish the Lord’s will even if we are not purposefully activating them. In other words, the spiritual gifts we receive from the Lord are permanent. They cannot and will not be withdrawn, rejected, stolen, spoiled, re-gifted or returned.
God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. Romans 11:29
Everyone, everywhere seems to have an remarkably meticulous opinion of what or how worship is supposed to be or happen. Interestingly enough, most of these opinions do not refer to true worship in a biblical sense, but are more about musical preference, sermon methodology, tradition (or the absence thereof), and permissible clergy clothing.
However, when Isaiah saw the Lord in Isaiah 6, he experienced the greatness of God, realized the extent of his own sinfulness, and witnessed his sin being atoned for. The end result of his worship experience was when Isaiah said “Here am I, send me.”
God shaped us after Himself so that we could experience His presence and accomplish His purposes. When we realize who He is and all that He has done for us, our only reasonable response to Him is worship and absolute surrender.
Every year, as Easter approaches, churches spend lots of time making programmatic and physical preparations, lining up extra volunteers and updating old systems. However, I’ve found that it’s often good to breathe for a moment, take a look at everything, and then prepare ourselves spiritually. The outline below shows how we did that in 2017. Check it out.
Night of Worship and Prayer As Easter Approaches
Opening Musical Worship
(Transition To Main Content)
As Easter Approaches, We Need To Celebrate Jesus
- Read Luke 19:28-40 – Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”
And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.
As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
- Expound on scripture (Suggestions below)
- It was the week before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In a sense, Jesus was preparing for Easter.
- “If they kept quiet, the very stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
- Why do we need to celebrate Jesus?
- Lead the people in cheering for Jesus, so the stones don’t have to cry out.
- Upbeat Prayer celebrating Jesus
- Song celebrating Jesus – Suggestion “Shout It Out” by Vertical Church or “Great Are You, Lord!”
As Easter Approaches, We Need To Cry Out For Our Communities
Read Luke 19:41-44 – But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
- Expound on scripture (Suggestions below)
- Jesus wanted the people to understand the way to peace. Wouldn’t He pray the same thing today about our communities?
- If God doesn’t intervene in our cities, destruction surely awaits us.
- Earlier in Luke, when speaking to Jerusalem, Jesus says “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Luke 13:34b)
- As Jesus cried over Jerusalem, we should also cry over the condition of our cities…
- Lead the people to gather in groups to pray for the city. After several minutes, pray a pastoral prayer to gather them back. Pray that those we are crying out for to attend one of our Easter services. Pray for our people to be inviters of those they see in need.
- Song crying out to God for our communities – Suggested Song – “Here As In Heaven” or “Fall Afresh”
As Easter Approaches, We Need To Consecrate Ourselves
Read Luke 19:45-48 Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
After that, he taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said.
- Expound on scripture (Suggestions below)
- Jesus, a few days before his death and resurrection, cleansed the temple. We’re not planning on beating anyone here, but it is time for us to cleanse our personal temples as we make preparations for Easter…
- Verse 48 says that all the people hung on every word that Jesus said. As we prepare for Easter, we need to hang onto the Word of God and onto the words of Jesus.
- What sin have you been holding onto that you need to confess to the Lord? Confess it to the Lord right now and turn away from it.
- Lead the people in praying for themselves, giving them time to confess sins and get right with God.
- Song about the Lord transforming us – Breathe On Us or My Heart Is Yours (Passion)
- Easter is almost here, and we have a lot to do in our preparations for it. Many here still need to volunteer in one way or another and we want you to do that, but right now, let’s remember why we’re celebrating Easter. It’s because Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a cruel death on a cross to pay the price for our sin, yet even more than that, He rose victoriously from the dead, defeating death, hell and the grave… It’s time for us to cheer for Him once again…
- Lead the people in cheering for Jesus once again, celebrating His resurrection.
- Closing Upbeat song about the resurrection. Suggested Song – “Resurrecting”