tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

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Living the Kingdom Experience

As we begin a new year, my heart is drawn to 1 Corinthians 4:20 which says: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” Warren Wiersbe writes that “the church has known for 2,000 years that Jesus is coming again, and yet many believers have become lethargic and drowsy. They are no longer excited about the soon-coming of the Lord. As a result, there is little effective witness given that the Lord is returning.”

Is this you? Be honest here – are you an effective witness for the Kingdom of God or are you just a lot of dull talk? Do you have an excitement for sharing about the Good News of God’s love with others? And, have you ever truly responded to the Good News of God’s love for you?

The final part of the Matthew 25 addresses the final judgment of the entire world. Leading up to this, there are four parables that (Matthew 24:43–25:30) have all alluded to judgment, and have concentrated on right living in this life. So although this last part is told using illustrative language, like a parable, with the final judgment being compared to a shepherd separating sheep from goats, it is not a parable. Jesus ends his teaching here in Matthew 24 & 25 with an emphasis on the eternal judgment of the entire world.

It reads almost like an exact description of what will happen when Jesus comes again, as if Jesus wants to make explicit what was implicit in the parables. This is a very moving and very solemn passage. It reminds us of certain things that will be true about the return of the Lord. From this passage there are four things we learn about the return of the Lord. First, He returns in glory (v. 31). Second, He returns as the Judge & for final judgment (vv. 32–33). Third, He returns to bring us into His Presence for Eternity (vv. 34–40). And fourth, He returns to confront wickedness (vv. 41–46), a truth that should compels us to not delay in seeing others come to know Jesus Christ personally – to be fully committed to daily living the Kingdom experience this next year.

So how do we do this?

We have to actually apply these truths from Matthew 25 to our lives. Start by pointing others to His glory by living a vibrant, Holy life. Secondly, let God, be God – let Him be the Judge others. And lastly, we must not forget that others need to know the truth about Eternity in His Presence. Much like the first truth we learned from Matthew 25, we must also recognize that with all of our holy living that the conversation about eternity must still happen. Being “Christian” is just the start to this – sharing Christ consistently with others is what makes the good news of Jesus Christ powerful, real and authentic – so share your story!

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We must not forget what 1 Corinthians 4:20 said: “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” When you and I are living by God’s power, there should be an infusion of the Holy Spirit within us that makes us and our way of living refreshing & exciting to those around us. Are you an effective witness for the Kingdom of God or are you just a lot of dull talk? Are you living the Kingdom experience daily?

What Jesus shares in Matthew 25 was meant to clearly communicate what it means to be ready for His return & how to live until He comes. We must be an effective witness for the Kingdom of God and we must not waste our opportunities. You may feel as if you may not have a great deal of ability to reach others, to impact them, but you can choose to be faithful with what you do have – for all of us must be faithful, as we daily seek to live out the Kingdom experience by pointing other to His Glory by living a vibrant, Holy Life; to let God, be God – to let Him be the Judge of others; and to be faithful to share with others their need to know the truth about Eternity in His Presence forever.

May you live the Kingdom experience throughout this year and may those apart from God, see your action, your desire to live by God’s power each day, and praise Him for it – drawing closer to the Lord as their Savior, their Creator, their Healer and Redeemer!

(Originally written for: Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – December 2015)

The Kingdom of God & the Prodigal Son

The scripture I am writing on is found in Luke 15 [click here to read]. We find Jesus in the midst of people who were considered sinners & dishonest and he teaches them using a parable, hoping to reveal the heart of the Father more clearly and the aim of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus taught this group of questionable people the Pharisees were there too. The Pharisees were a Jewish religious group that fanatically followed Old Testament laws, as well as their own religious traditions. There were highly respected (and even feared) in their community, but they were jealous and hated Jesus because He challenged their proud attitudes and their dishonorable motives and they criticized Him for associating with tax-collectors and sinners…something they wouldn’t do.

In the parable found in Luke 15 we have 3 main characters: the father, the older brother, and the prodigal son. Let’s talk about these 3 different people…

The prodigal son’s share of the estate would have been one-third, with the older son receiving two-thirds and in most cases you received it after the father died or retired from managing their estate. What is unusual here is that that prodigal son initiated the division of the estate and this shows almost and arrogant disregard for his father’s authority. He then sold off his share of the estate so that he could have cold, hard cash to do with what he wanted. He wanted to be free to live as he pleased, and he had to hit rock bottom before coming to his senses. Jesus paints us a picture of an unbelievably arrogant, unpleasant, immoral, foolish and irreligious young man. Scripture says he had to hire himself out…that he had to feed pigs and because he was so poor he longed to fill his stomach with the very food he was feeding the pigs. And get this, according to Jewish law, pigs were unclean animals, not fit for food or to be used as sacrifices. Jews would not even touch pigs. For a Jew to have to feed them it was great humiliation and to eat their food was even worse and so this may sound gross to us today, but for the Pharisees in this audience it would have been completely horrifying. The prodigal son finally came to his senses and made a plan to return to his father and try to work for him.

In this story the father watched and waited for his sons’ return, ready to greet him if he returned. God’s love is constant and patient and welcoming. God tells us clearly in 2 Peter3:9 that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And in Romans 8 we are told “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God will search for us and give us opportunities to respond, but He will not force us to come to Him. Like the father in this story, God waits patiently for us to come to our senses. Even though the prodigal son left out of selfishness, God’s great love reaches out and finds sinners not matter why or how they got lost.

The older brother found great difficulty in accepting his younger brother when he returned. Wouldn’t you? People who repent after leading notoriously sinful lives are often the hardest ones to accept. In this story, the father’s response is compared to the older brother’s response. The father forgave because he was filled with love. The older brother refused to forgive because he was bitter. He resented his brother and even his father for forgiving him and welcoming him back. But get this: his resentment made him just as lost to the father’s love as the younger, prodigal brother had been.

In Jesus’s story, in this parable, the older brother represents the Pharisees who were angry and resentful that sinners where being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, the Pharisees must have thought that since they had sacrificed so much and done so much for God, wouldn’t they be the only ones allowed into the Kingdom of God. Our self-righteousness can get in the way of us understanding God’s love for ourselves and even for others.

If you were to compare your life right now to that of the younger son, where are you? Are you off in a distant land? Feeling alone, far from “home”? Are you coming to your senses about God’s love and forgiveness for your life? Have you returned home and you are enjoying the Father’s love? Each of us needs to learn that anyone can return to God, that they can confess their sin and need for Him and be forgiven.

Do you struggle with the way that God seems love accept and forgive those who don’t seem to deserve it? God wants you to be ready to forgive and accept those who return to Him and I believe God wants us to understand that the Kingdom of God is all about accepting and loving sinners because it is more effective then condemning them. The condemned find it harder to come home…

In this story, who are you? The lost son or the older brother? Regardless of who you most identify with, God is patient with you and He loves you. For the prodigal’s out there: nothing you have done will make God love you less. And for the “older brothers” out there: nothing you can do will make God love you more.