Is it just me – or are the Olympic athletes even more amazing than ever this year?
Whether it’s trying to imagine how fast the downhill racers travel or how high the slope-style snowboarders launch into the air, this year’s athletes have me hunting for new adjectives. I wore out “Wow!” by Saturday. And I love the ads that go in reverse and take us back to the firsts: the first time a tough little guy laces on his skates or a cute little girl hops on a snowboard.
Every journey has a beginning. Every dream starts with that first attempt. Every gold medal journey comes complete with starts and stops, raised arms and face plants, tears and blood, and that dogged determination to get up, do it again and get it right!
As you and I live our lives and watch the “Olympic athletes” of Scripture we run the risk of being overwhelmed. “I could never have faith like that!” “I tried to forgive and I couldn’t do it.” “I’ve prayed for 6 weeks (or 6 months or 60 years) and nothing happens.” How did Abraham do it? What was Joseph’s secret? Who can even think about following in Job’s footsteps? We run the risk of quitting; giving up and believing that this isn’t for us.
I could quote 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 here. It’s pretty Olympic! Instead, I’m drawn to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
But he (the Lord) said to me (Paul), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When things are about you and me, they are always going to fall short of the goal. When they are about Him, the attempts that may not appear “golden” to us may be, in His eyes, a perfect 10. So let’s “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
- Pastor MarkRead More
Imagine Immanuel Church has a special speaker this Sunday morning. This speaker is a world traveler, and as part of his sermon he takes out a handkerchief. He starts waving around the piece of fabric and says that it is a handkerchief that once belonged to the Apostle Paul. He then goes on to say that this particular handkerchief has healing abilities, and if anyone is sick and wants to be healed they would have to come forward touch the hanky and receive healing.
What would be your response? Would you feel strange?
Honestly, apart from my immediate doubt that said handkerchief actually belonged to Paul, I would have a hard time believing something inanimate would have actual healing powers. It would feel very hocus-pocus. It wouldn’t sound like something God would do…heal through fabric.
In Acts 19:11-12 it says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”
When I read a passage like this it gives me pause. It doesn’t seem like a normal way the Holy Spirit tends to work in our world; and yet, it is in the Bible.
So what do we take away from this passage?
The operative word in this verse is “extraordinary”. In other words, the Holy Spirit’s power was distributed in ways that were beyond the scope of the expectations of the early church: the Holy Sprit had the freedom to things that were unique and unexpected.
Today we have the same Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit has the freedom to work outside of what we think is ordinary.
What if the Holy Spirit started working in extraordinary ways that were unique and unexpected in our church? How would we respond?
Here is one thing I know about myself: I don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Here is one thing I know about God: He is totally fine with making me feel uncomfortable. And if God starts working in extraordinary ways, I hope that any uncomfortable feelings that I might initially have will be followed by a deepening faith. I would hate to miss out on the work of God because of my own limiting expectations.Read More
“Are we there yet?” What parent hasn’t dreaded hearing their child ask that question! With as many road trips as my parents took with my brother and me growing up, I’m sure we said it a time or two (or twenty). When we are young we simply do not have a firm grasp on the concept of time and much to our parents’ chagrin just ten minutes on the highway can seem like an eternity.
I must confess however that as an adult, even though I may know how long an hour or a day is, I have no firmer grasp on God’s timing than I did on how long a trip to Cincinnati took when I was a little girl. How often have I found myself in a place of wait, asking God, “Are we there yet?”
As many of you know my husband and I are expecting our fourth child and I am in the home stretch of my pregnancy with less than two weeks to go until my due date. Recently I found myself in a labor and delivery room at our local hospital anticipating the arrival of our little boy. After 24 hours of increasingly frequent contractions however it was determined I was experiencing false labor and was consequently sent home. Disappointed, I couldn’t help but ask God “Are we there yet?”
At times in our life all of us have found ourselves waiting. Perhaps we are waiting for our soul mate or for the right job. Maybe we are waiting for healing or for a loved one to come back to the faith. Maybe we are waiting for a relationship to be restored or for our hard work to pay off so we can finally breathe financial freedom. Whatever we are waiting for, it can be easy for us to focus on what has yet to come rather than on what God would have us do now to further His kingdom in the meantime.
There are many instances in scripture where men and women of faith found themselves waiting. Sarah waited for a child, the Israelites waited to enter the Promised Land, Mary and Martha waited for their brother to be healed, and as Christians today we await the majestic return of our Lord.
The question then becomes, what shall we do while we are waiting? Does our life come to a halt until our preferred destination is reached? Does our faith stop until we feel God comes through? Do we grumble and complain until our plans come to fruition?
When I realized that our son was not to be born just yet I found myself walking around the house the next few days disappointed and frustrated. After all, those contractions hurt! But my husband gently reminded me that I should make the most of this time, to prepare for our son’s arrival and also to spend as much unhindered time as I could with our three precious children whose lives will forever be changed by the arrival of their little brother. He was right, and the wait has been a lot easier since I switched my focus to the life God has in front of me right now rather than what will come.
My prayer and challenge for us this week is to focus on how God would use us right now as we simultaneously anticipate the answers we seek from Him. May we be a church that lives fully for Christ in the present, knowing that God’s timing is perfect and His plans for us our greater than we could ever imagine. Though we may not ever receive the answers we are hoping for this side of heaven, scripture assures us that if our lives are fully devoted to following Christ in this present day, great will be our reward!
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”
2 Chronicles 15:7Read More
Let’s pretend that every year our church did a spiritual audit of every member. Our pastors would call you into their office, sit you down and determine your spiritual health. They would tell you if you are doing a good job in your relationship with Christ or they would tell you your spirituality needs a lot of work. Of course they would base their statements on things like attendance, tithing, general friendliness and willingness to volunteer.
What would be the problem with doing that? Well, no one can be a perfect judge of spirituality based only on things that they see. How many times have we heard stories of Christians who were seemingly strong in their faith only to find out later that they had a hidden sin or issue that did serious damage to themselves or others? Or what about those quiet individuals who don’t get any public recognition but are the spiritual pillars of the church?
We certainly wouldn’t want our spirituality to be measured by people who cannot see the full work God is doing in our own hearts. So how can we measure the spirituality of others?
I had a friend recently say, “It doesn’t take any faith to say what you see in people.” In other words, what we see in people is so often different from what God sees. What we might see as an immature Christian, God sees as a chosen son or daughter filled with the Holy Spirit who is hungry to grow in their faith. So when it comes to seeing our fellow Christians, we need to have faith to see them the way God sees them. We need to have faith to love them the way God loves them.
Paul’s hope for us in Ephesians 3:18 is, “… [that we] may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
It doesn’t take any faith to say what you see. It does take faith to believe what God sees. And God sees a church filled with individuals of immeasurable worth and infinite potential.Read More
I’ve never used a snowboard but I can imagine that trying to transition to one after having only used skis would be a disaster. It would take me a lot of time – and probably a trip or two to the ER! But that’s how learning happens. As a follower of Jesus Christ you have to learn how to live in two worlds. On one hand, you’re comfortable living in this natural world of sky and trees and butterflies and bananas. But when you encounter Christ and you start to learn about living in the supernatural world of faith and prayer and Bible readings that speak of angels and talking eagles, it can get tricky. It takes some getting used to. But as you practice you gradually come to realize that both worlds are equally real and exist simultaneously.
Philip Yancey writes, “Jesus does not say, ‘My kingdom is not of this world, so therefore just sit around and wait for the next one.’ Rather, he says, in effect, “My kingdom is not of this world, so therefore go and fulfill the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, and in so doing, you will point the way to my kingdom.”’ That’s good advice.
God may challenge you this year to feel the tension of living more in both worlds. And if he does, just remember, It doesn’t happen overnight. You will have days where you lay your head on the pillow and realize that you hardly thought of God at all that day. But then you will have those days, too, when eternity seems so close you could reach out and touch it. You will begin to realize, like you do when you live in an apartment with thin walls, that this world is not all there is. There’s more and that ‘more’ is what you’re made for.Read More
Have you ever experienced a loss of control? I don’t mean losing your cool, but losing your ability to control a situation? It can be really frightening.
Leah and I had been dating for a few months, and I thought it appropriate make things official. I wanted to call her girlfriend, and—in turn—be called boyfriend. So I playfully asked her if we were “officially boyfriend and girlfriend” (in my mind a simple formality that Leah would quickly agree too). To my consternation, she said, “I don’t know.”
Only a moment before I was confident in our standing with one another, but now I felt like I was falling down a well. I started asking many questions. Had I been wrong in pursuing Leah? Did I interpret our relationship incorrectly? I quickly realized that I thought I controlled the situation, but in-fact I had no control. I became anxious and fearful, that this beautiful woman (whom I was going to marry, but she didn’t know it yet) really didn’t love me.
There’s a passage in the Bible where Pontius Pilate was interviewing Jesus to see if Jesus deserved to be executed. In frustration Pilate says to Jesus, “do you realize that I have the power to either free you or crucify you?” Jesus replies, “you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” In other words, Pilate—the man appointed by Caesar himself—had power on loan from God. Whatever control Pilate thought he had, it was not his.
That feeling of losing control is not fun, but for Christians it’s an important lesson. Whatever control we think we have (in our families, at work, in politics) is on loan. So, if our control is borrowed, than who really is in control? Not us. Honestly, that is a scary thought. One of the best examples is the difference between those of us born in America (with all its blessings and idols) and being born in Africa (with all its poverty and malnourishment).
Have you ever lost control of a situation? It’s can be really scary. But here is the good news; losing control is the best way to recognize your complete and utter dependence upon God. It is in those situations where your eyes are opened to your inability to control. Praise God for the loss of control.
And don’t worry, Leah eventually agreed to becoming my girlfriend.Read More