ZOOMING OUT

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12-13, NIV).

Most of the March is immersed in the Lenten season this year. Lent is that season of the Christian year (March 6-April 20, 2019) leading up to Easter when Christ-followers turn to God to get perspective on their lives and examine their faith. It is a time to zoom out and look at our lives and our connection to God. It follows the 40-day pattern of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before the beginning of his ministry.

CONNECTED

“Jesus said…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).

Take a look at the pictures of all the new members that have recently joined our church family. Are they not beautiful?  We are now family.  All 34 new members and the 20 children that are a part of their families have become one of us since last January.

EVERYTHING NEW

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

The Bible begins with “In the beginning. . .” (Genesis 1:1) and ends with a beginning! The last book in the Bible sums up all of history by declaring that God will renew and remake all of creation. The old ways of selfishness, violence, and worry will forever disappear. Against all things cynical and discouraging, God promises that all of history -- and every aspect of our personal lives -- is moving toward a glorious goal. There is the elimination of everything and all that seek to block God’s magnificent pleasure and purpose. No more cowardice, unbelief, immorality, lying, self-glorification, death, or pain (Revelation 21:4,8). No more divided hearts or divided lives. No more ambivalence toward God or each other.

NEAR

“Come near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay, Close by me forever, and love me, I pray” (Christmas carol “Away in a Manger”).

Christmas is approaching. What happened far away is coming near. What happened in Palestine will reach Long Island. Far away Heaven invaded this world. As Matthew 1:23 reflects, El Shaddai (God Almighty) is truly to be Immanuel (God with Us). “Away in a Manger” is to become “Come near me.” The glory of the Almighty appears very closely as a humble infant.

THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH

Take a good look at the sweep of the whole story that the Bible tells. From the first book, Genesis, to the last, The Revelation, there is a story. The message: if anyone has a future it is the church. After all the furor and turbulence of human life has run its course in the biblical narrative, there remains a clear reality: the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9). Death, the devil, the heavens, the seas, and the earth all pass away (21:2). But the church, “the city that God loves” (20:9) outlasts everything.

CHURCH

The church is a wonder. It is unique among all human relationships and associations. God rates the church above marriage, family, and government. “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world, the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence” (Ephesians 1:22, Message Bible). There are no higher claims made for anyone or anything in the Bible, with the exception of God. You are never closer to reality than when you are in contact with the church.

MY FAVORITE BIBLE CHARACTER

Paul is my favorite character out of all the stories in the Bible. He wrote most of the New Testament. Paul was brilliant, articulate and had a encyclopedic memory. But all his smarts got him into trouble, inflated his pride and people died because of it. His vendetta against Jews that followed Jesus was murderous.

Then everything changed as he traveled on the road to Damascus. Jesus appeared to him and stopped in his self-righteous tracks. In his thirties, Paul’s life was significantly transformed. Against all odds, this strict Pharisee became a Christ-follower and a Christ- preacher from Jerusalem to Rome.

REST

Rest is a vital part of life. The Bible, from its beginning chapters, establishes the place of rest as an essential aspect of being human.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3, NIV).

RE-CREATION

Jesus does not have a high respect for the reliability of conventional wisdom.  His first recorded sermon in the gospel of Mark reads:  “‘The time has come,’ he said.  ‘The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!’”   In essence he was saying that there is a whole lot of changing that needs to take place with our assumptions.

WHY THE COMMISSION IS GREAT

It is God’s nature to overflow.  The life of the Creator overflows and creates the universe…including us.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Then humanity is given a commission to overflow:  “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  God chose barren Abram and Sarai to overflow: “I will make you into a great nation. . .and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2,3).  At Jesus’ birth the shepherds were told by the angel of the Lord that the good news of God having come to earth was to cause great joy “for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  As the baby Jesus was presented in the temple he was announced as the visible salvation which God “prepared in the sight of all nations” Luke 2:31.

THE HOLY SPIRIT

The Holy Spirit proves God to be intensely personal and also the source of unity in local congregations (as well as the supporting bond for billions of Christ-followers around the world).

The best way to describe God that is true to the Bible is to say that God is three-persons-in-one.  I don’t know how to say it any other way.  God is the Father -- the creator and ruler of the universe.  God is the Son -- the person who deals with us and our humanity.  God is the Holy Spirit, the divine person who resides in the heart of any woman, man or child who trusts in Jesus.  God is not one person who appears as different persons at different times.  Nor is God three gods in one.  God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all time and eternity.

RESURRECTION

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. . .” (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

In the Bible resurrection means being completely, altogether dead -- soul, spirit, and body -- and being raised to life again. It is a miracle. Even though Jesus predicted his crucifixion and resurrection, his followers had no real sense of what his resurrection would mean. It simply rocked their world, their assumptions, and the trajectory of their lives.

THE MAN WHO KNEW WHERE CENTER IS

I have never met Billy Graham, but I have felt his influence. I was a student at a seminary which he helped establish and at which he was the chair of the board of trustees. As a college student I recommitted my life to Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Twenty years later my dad committed his life to Christ at a Graham crusade in the same stadium. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association supplied guidance and literature to share the gospel to congregations that I have served. I was a trained follow-up counselor for a Cleveland crusade. I called on those who had answered the call to “come forward” at a Graham crusade. I saw firsthand how effective the crusades could be to emphasize the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

ENTRY POINTS

God is ambidexterous and multilingual. God is fully able to use various ways to reach people. Consider the Bible, authored by God through many human imaginations and cultures. Holy Scriptures are written using many styles: poetry, history, personal letters, vivid apocalyptic symbolism, law, and practical wisdom sayings.

God could have conveyed his message through a blog or a newspaper article all composed at one time. Instead divine revelation is spread over hundreds of years from diverse cultural settings.

WHEN GOD IS MOST LIKE GOD

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, New International Version).

Did you ever wonder why God did not stop with just one human being in the Garden of Eden rather than creating two humans with the ability to increase their numbers indefinitely? Why not just Adam? It would have been so much more ecologically friendly and would have significantly reduced the tragedies of human poverty, war, and rebellion.