“This is the story of Star Wars”

I remember as a kid I would hear that line every time I pulled out the Star Wars Book and Record set. This calm voice would begin reading the main plot points while I slavishly turned the pages. To this day, I still remember dialogue from that book before I think of the actual dialogue from the movie (of which I now own several editions). I still have that book and record, somewhere, but the story of Star Wars has been fully revealed with the latest chapter, Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith.

You might know, unless you live under a rock somewhere, that George Lucas has finished his six-part epic. Viewers of Episode 3 usually come away with one of two reactions: either they loved it, or they come away feeling dirty. What I mean is, watching Star Wars III is like watching the Passion of the Christ, or Titanic. You know how it’s going to end, and it won’t be good for the hero. It is the story of Anakin Skywalker’s “temptation and fall [, which should be] of special interest to Christians,”1 because there are many parallels between Anakin and ourselves, that we have more in common with Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker.

This is what the story of Star Wars truly is. It is a story about the Fall and Redemption. It is a story that says, regardless of how evil you have become, or how lost you believe you are, or if you think that you’ve done too much to deserve grace and forgiveness, remember this, “There is still good in you.” There is still that spark of divinity from our Creator that offers hope. In Star Wars, it is the son that brings the father from the dark side, and back to the light side. For us, it is the Son, and obedience to Him, that will bring us to the light and into eternity.

The Bible describes this in simple terms: “Whoever has the Son has life.” (1 John 5:12) Does it sound too easy? Well, it actually is. Christ went to great lengths (the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection) to make it easy for you to come to Him. He doesn’t demand great sacrifices or powerful deeds, or even a life cleaned up. All he asks for is you. He wants you just as you are. Let Him worry about cleaning up the mess. “The Spirit and the Bride [His Church] say come. … Even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:17, 20)

But note one more lesson we learn from Star Wars. Darth Vader could not merely believe he was changed, and let that be enough. His belief required action. You cannot change your heart and ignore the rest of your life. Vader took the source of his evil, the Emperor, and cast him into the depths of the Death Star, eliminating the source of evil and deception in his life. Then he embraced his son, honestly and truthfully. “Let me look on you with my own eyes.”

Belief in Jesus also requires action. Though it costs nothing to believe, it costs everything to follow that belief with life-changing attitude. Though we come to Christ dirty, He makes us clean. No more can we wallow in the mud. But He helps us make those changes that make us disciples. He helps us grow. Like Vader, our change is made evident, not merely by our mental agreement, but by working to eliminate the evil in our lives, and casting them in God’s sea of forgiveness.

The Bible describes it this way: “Repent [that is, cast off your sins and your desires to do them] and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit [who will help you learn how to live according to Jesus, and resist temptation].” (Acts 2:38)

The Story of Star Wars is my story, and it is your story. It is the story about sin, grace, and redemption. This forgiveness is freely available to you. Just let Him in. Please call or stop in today to speak with one of our ministers or myself, and we’ll be glad to tell you about God’s love for you.

1Gene Edward Veith, “The Fall of the Jedi” World Magazine (May 18th, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 21),12.

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Fearful No More!

IMG20053We consider our homes, our castles, inviolable. Sometimes, with a false sense of security, we leave our homes unlocked, if only for a short time, so that we can run errands. We live in a “safe” community, don’t we? It is while we are away that the enemy creeps in and steals. This particular enemy favors cash and drugs. No one knows his name, or, if they do, they are unwilling to share it. They say, “I’m glad it wasn’t me.” Thus, home after home, church after church are victimized, and ransacked for valuables. It is he, the enemy that seems to be invulnerable, not our homes and families.

We church-folk are fond of saying, “Jesus is the answer!” But how does Jesus become the answer in a community plagued with crime and criminals?

First – Christ enables us to call this behavior what it is: Wrong! This is an evil committed in our community, not someone’s poor upbringing, not a result of poverty, using drugs, sickness, or mental instability. Very clearly the Bible states: “You shall not steal!” There is no cause to make excuses for theft.

Second – Christ will exact justice. “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord” and of the established government;“if you do that which is evil, be afraid; because he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13) Jesus, whether through an agent like the government, or personally through disease or sudden death, will exact a penalty for the crimes committed in our community. No one escapes God.

Third – Christ reminds us in our suffering that He alone should be our Rock and our Fortress. (Psalm 46) “Cast all your anxious care on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter) We put our trust in Him, for He cares for us. He may not hinder the free-will of the burglar, but He will enable us to bear the loss. Jesus also says “love your enemies; bless them who curse you; do good to them who hate you; and pray for them who arraign and persecute you; that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5)

Our chief objective as people of God is to pray for those who are our enemies. Therefore:

“Our heavenly Father, you have seen fit in this community to allow an individual, or group of people to raid our homes, our churches, or lives. Lord if we have committed sin to warrant such discipline, we pray Father for Your forgiveness. We repent of our sins, and pray for the grace, which you pour upon all men liberally, to be felt and filled within our hearts.

Our Father, we pray for these who so casually enter homes and steal without thought to consequence, either to themselves, or to the others whose medication may be vital to their lives. We pray for these few who victimize the many, and bring a similitude of fear upon our community. We know dear Lord that perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore we pray Father that we face these criminals fearlessly. That Father these robbers will be brought to repentance, if not to justice this side of Heaven. We pray that they will be influenced by godly and Christian neighbors, so that they give up this thoughtless and hopeless life, and give themselves to Christ Jesus, for Your glory. In Jesus Name, Amen.”

Let’s pray this prayer, and mean it.

Worship, It’s not just for Sundays anymore

Here I am to Worship

Here I am to Bow down

Here I am to say that you’re my God

When you have approached the church service, how did you arrive? Did you have a carload of kids distracting from the task of driving? “Are we there yet?” “I have to go potty!” “Johnny hit me.”

Or maybe the squabble was in the front seat. “I wish you would help me with the kids once in a while.” “Did you bring the checkbook?” “You wouldn’t have that headache if you came in before 9!” “I thought I told you last week there would be a dinner after church today.”

Somehow, between the your front door and the door of the sanctuary, most people find a way to hide the frustration of getting ready for church, and keep that mask on throughout the 2 hours of church and Sunday School, only to take it back off when they get back in the car. And it seems as if worship was something someone else did, while you were away. In this, worship exists only at church. And then you can go home and live the rest of your life.

But this isn’t the way the Bible seems to teach. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” (1 Th 5:16-19) God seems to be saying that worship, that joy and laughter we feel in God’s presence, is an everyday joy, not just for Sunday. Worship fills our heart from dawn to dusk, and even through the night. It must become a part of us, a vital cord in our soul that takes us from solace to solace, faith to faith, Sunday to Sunday. I want to encourage you this week and all this month to make worship a part of your life.

The Present Crisis

Not to be alarmist or anything, but we do have a crisis of family in our community. This is the gift of modern “civilization.” Let me tell you what I see. Because I am sure you see it too. Everyday, after school, kids get off of the bus. Perfectly normal, yes. But where do those kids go? Do they go home? Some do. Some stay out, go down to the park, to friends’ houses, or they simply roam the streets, looking for something to do. Where are the parents? Not at home. They are working. They are out, often with no option but to leave their kids to fend for themselves. These kids, roaming unsupervised, are allowed to do anything they want, to go through backyards, church lots, and responsible to no one. Will there be any discipline of these kids? Not if the parents are too tired to give it.

Is this the parents’ fault? Not entirely. Many of these are single parents, who must work these long hours to support the household, to pay the bills, to make ends meet. Why are they single? They are single because a husband, a wife, a boyfriend, or even a girlfriend have walked out and abandoned them because. Life with them was too “difficult” too “stressful” and “they just couldn’t take it anymore.” Everyone has heard these words at one time or another. But somehow some couples manage to stick it out, while others fall apart.

The reasons for this abandonment are legion. When all is said and done, we have single parents trying to help their families survive with what Minimum Wage is willing to pay them. It’s not that these parents don’t care, it’s that they have no energy left-over to care. What energy they do have is making supper, ordering the kids to be quiet, and off to bed. I’m a parent. I know how much energy is required, even demanded to “raise up a child in the way he should go.” A single parent doesn’t have anyone to talk to. They have no one to lean back on. So, yes, many will take up the next boyfriend or girlfriend willing to give him or her an ounce of concern. We have adults in our community so starved for affection that they will take up with anybody, settle for anyone to give them that affection. Have they lost their senses? No.

As adults, we are hungry, and this is the necessary stuff of life that we need. Marriage was designed by God to fill that niche, to satisfy that need for intimacy and affection in a healthy and loving relationship with someone of the opposite sex. When marriage ends in divorce, when marriage is avoided altogether, parents suffer, and children, just as we see it today, roam the streets looking for affection, attention, from anybody. This is the reason for nearly every problem we have in our community. The Breakdown of the Family. If our families don’t function, our community doesn’t function.

Is there hope?

I believe so, or I wouldn’t be in the ministry that I’m in. Obviously, the correct Sunday School answer is Jesus. But what does that mean for hurting families? That means a community of faith like the church that will reach out and will embrace these hurting parents, will support them and strengthen them. That will give them hope for tomorrow through our Savior Jesus Christ. That means reaching out to the kids of your community and giving them guidance, leadership through the rocky years of adolescence and beyond. It will require the members of your community that are Christian to reach out to the families that aren’t. And that begins with you.

In order to avert this crisis, we’ve got to begin where we can do the most good for the moment, at home.

Inconvenienced For Christ!

A few weeks ago, I was talking about getting volunteers for our VBS program and asking any and all to help out. Anyone who helped I know would be “inconvenienced” for the week, but only that they might introduce some small child to the Lord. What a task! A responsibility to witness to the truth of the gospel is ours, and what greater opportunity than VBS!

What did you say?

Many chose not to be “inconvenienced for Christ.” I know the reasons, because I’ve used them myself. But, I fear that these will be the testimony of millions before the throne of Christ.

He’s coming you know. He’s coming for you. He will ask you to give an account for the talents you’ve been given. (Romans 14:11-12) “For it is written, “As certainly as I live, declares the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will praise God. Consequently, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

What will you say?

You might believe that the missionaries and ministers fulfill the great sacrifices. You might think that the only the professionals can accomplish the great missions. “I just don’t have the time or training.” Nonsense! Did the Lord only call the missionaries and ministers? No.

Every Christian is called to ministry (Rom 8:28 “And we know that he works all things together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”), for we have all been tasked with the ministry of reconciliation (2Co 5:18 “All of this comes from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation”), bringing this lost world under the subjection and saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (may His Name be praised). We have a duty to our King to serve Him, wherever we are. This call isn’t just for religious nuts, or the slightly dazed and confused. It’s time we proclaimed the truth about Jesus!

But you’re tired. You like your life the way it is. Christ will only get in the way, mess things up, be too much of a bother, an inconvenience not to be pursued. Sadly, many will die with these words on their lips. (Luke 12:19-20) “”Soul, you’ve stored up plenty of good things for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Now who will get the things you’ve accumulated?’”

What will you say?

You see, Jesus isn’t just for the super-religious. Life is too short to be a spectator. Jesus isn’t for the pious, the perfect, the morally pure. (Mar 2:17) “When Jesus heard that, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a physician, but sick ones do. I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners.”” Jesus calls you to come to Him, to become a “beloved disciple” whether you feel you deserve it or not. Are you willing to be “inconvenienced for Christ?”

What will you say?

Eyesores

I had the privilege of attending the Town Board Meeting last month. I was curious about what was going on in town, so I decided to drop in on Town Hall on a Monday Evening. I was not disappointed. I had taken my 7-year-old son with me, but he didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did.

It seems that the most pressing problems in our community has to do with eyesores, those properties that nobody cares about. According to the Town Board, these are usually properties that the owners have simply left to fend for themselves, and houses make very poor caretakers. Houses cannot mow their own grass, or keep kids from wandering around inside of them doing who-knows-what. Though the town has tried to enforce local ordinances about keeping one’s yard and property in decent condition, the owners not only have not cleaned things up, but also have yet to return to town.

Thus, we have eyesores as next-door neighbors.

What others might not know that these eyesores are problems. They create places for kids to hang out and potentially injure themselves. They are places where drugs are likely sold and exchanged. They provides homes for vermin and lost animals, and by result, cause one to hold their nose as they pass by. The real trouble is, its easy to point to these eyesores and say, “There’s the real trouble about this town.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Tearing down buildings and cleaning up properties are only taking care of symptoms. They aren’t the cure. We could tear down every building in town and level the entire town to dust, but the real problems, the real issues at stake would not have been touched.

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”1 The real issues, he says isn’t what you see on the outside, but what’s on the inside.

Sure we’ve got houses that look rundown, smell, and are eyesores. But if we were to come to your house, and look inside, would you qualify? Would the inside of your house be free from the clutter and the odor that your outside claims to be? And even more importantly, if we were to look inside your heart, would the same stench and disgust revile our nostrils, or the same vermin inhabit your thoughts and desires?

You see, it’s easy to look at someone else’s house and say, “That’s an eyesore!” But it is very difficult to lay that same standard to our heart, and feel proud of it.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”2 I’ve sinned. I’m sure you have too. We’ve all done something or several things that make our souls an eyesore to our Creator. That once beautiful structure called a human heart was filled with wonder at God, at the things He has made, but now is filled with hurt, with suffering, with hate and malice. We are surely an eyesore in the eyes of God.

But God wasn’t content to leave us that way. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”3 God sent His Son, one who knew how to clean up the eyesores, who came himself, lived as one of us, and shed his own blood for the eyesores of our souls, so that our eyesores would be beautiful again: not perfect, but at least presentable.

It will take some elbow grease and some hard work to clean up the eyesores in our community. But to clean up our soul is far easier. Simply embrace the Christ who has come to save us by believing that He is the Savior and Lord of our “house.” Repent of your sins and confess His name and Lordship before men. Be immersed into Christ and live for Him, and so receive His gift of His Spirit, his Presence to move in to your soul and help you live, and clean up the messes that happen along the way.

Your friends at the Church welcome you this Sunday to join us in our “house-cleaning” we do every week. A quick broom to the soul never hurt anybody. Won’t you come?

1 Matthew 23:27

2 Romans 3:23

3 John 3:16-17

It’s Hot!

Now that’s some news! There’s just something about summer. It’s always hot. But it wasn’t that long ago that it was cold. And then we wished for summer weather. Well, your prayers have been answered. It’s hot! Do we have cause to complain? No, not really. It’s a trait of human nature, and a trait that God dislikes.

Ancient Israel mastered the fine art of complaining. When they were liberated from Egypt, were they thrilled? For about a day. When they reached the Red Sea, they “murmured” against Moses. “Murmur”-ing is a quiet form of complaining. When they crossed the sea of dry land, watched the Egyptians drowned, and finally walked as free men, they started murmuring against Moses because they had no food. God heard them, sent them Manna (bread from Heaven), and they filled their bellies, that is, until they tired of Manna. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:5, 6) So the Lord sent quail to give them meat to eat. But God was so angry at their ingratitude that He struck them with a severe plague! “Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.” (Psalms 78:41) Thus we receive the warning in 1 Corinthians 10:10, “And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.”

These are chilling words on a hot day. We can find a million things to complain about, but what does God think about it? God is the one who constructed the seasons, both the heat and the cold. In fact, if you go back into the Scriptures, you might find that winter and summer are consequences of the flood. Before the flood, the world was a temperate paradise. A layer of water in the upper atmosphere protected the world from the sun’s harmful radiation.1 But with the flood, that water, and the water under the earth flooded the surface (Genesis 7:11) and exposed the ground to direct sunlight, and the extremes of the seasons. And why did God send the flood? “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) So whose fault is it that it is so hot? Ours, because we are still wicked. We still wander away from God, and resist His will for our lives.

So what is it that God wants from us? He doesn’t want anything from us. He wants us, just as we are, to love Him, just as He is. He is the bringer of rain, to cool hot days, and of clouds, to shield from the sun. He is the Grower of green things, to feed you and to please you with its beauty. He loves you in so many different ways, but most importantly, He sent His own Son to you, to die for you, to pay for your wickedness in His Father’s eyes, and finally to rise again from death, to invite you to Him, if you are willing. His grace truly is amazing.

The path to Him is very simple:

Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Confess that belief to others.

Repent of your sins before God and change your heart with His help.

Be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins, and receive the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life.

Grow in Christ, through prayer, Bible study, time spent with Him, attendance and participation in and with Church.

Stop complaining. It’s always going to be hot in summer. But it sure beats Hell!

1 C. Theodore Schwarze, The Marvel of Earth’s Canopies (Chicago, IL: Good News, 1957), 24ff.