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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America, the Church & Abortion

Recently, the world mourned the loss of Cecil the Lion. This majestic and famous lion was tragically killed when it appears he was lured off of a protective park in Zimbabwe. The international attention to this killing has sparked outrage among animal conservationists, politicians and celebrities. Good, or bad. Right, or wrong. Everywhere I turned and everything I tuned into, it was talking about this tragic loss of Cecil the Lion.

As tragic as the killing of this animal was to so many people, an even greater tragedy is facing us: abortion. Many, especially in the church, are confused on this issue and have remained silent or have tried to make this about politics or cultural changes. Abortion is a spiritual problem that has huge political and social ramifications. The death of one lion, an animal, should not emotionally outweigh the deaths of millions of human lifes in America.

The church must rise up and speak to this issue with love and truth. For far too long the church and its leaders and its members have mistaken abortion as something political, and thus say or do nothing because of a belief that politics and the church should notlife-hc-pic go side-by-side. But because abortion is a spiritual issue first, the church must rise up as conduits of God’s love, His grace and His mercy when it comes to the issue of abortion in America.

The majority of babies being aborted are not from vicious rape situations or due to critical health concerns for the mother – the majority of babies aborted in America come from the choice a woman makes, and this might sound harsh, but that choice has less to do with the life she is carrying and more to do with her life circumstances and conveniences. Now is the time that we must take a stand, and help those in tough places get the right information about the sanctity of all life, even the life of an unborn child.

Many within the church have experienced abortion first-hand or are weighing their options regarding abortion. To those women and men, please know this: I do not condemn you nor wish to shame you. I do, however, long for those considering abortion to become informed before they make their choice, and for those who may be hurting from a past abortion to find true healing through Jesus Christ.

In my community, we have a wonderful resource to help you where you’ll be treated with compassion and without judgement and it is called Life Choices Community Pregnancy Clinic, located at 1201 N. Stewart St. #110 in Carson City. Go there, please, or call them (775-241-8161) and let them share with you about the options you have, the hope for your circumstances, and the restoration from your past choices. For those in other communities, I encourage you to find a pregnancy care clinic where you can get informed and helped. Visit www.care-net.org for more information on a clinic close to you.

Esther, a queen, was reminded of her divine purpose: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Disciples of Jesus Christ, the world is reminding us, the church, of the challenge, and we must rise to the occasion before us and boldly, courageously and compassionately declare the whole truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which includes the sanctity of human life. We must be the leaders in seeing the end to the legalization of abortion. And, we must rally around support networks like Life Choices and help those who have been hurt or who are wrestling with an unforeseen pregnancy. We must compassionately help them understand their options and how important their choice for life truly is.

As followers of Christ today, we must be a voice that declares, without shame or fear, that all lives matter and that abortion is tearing apart the very fabric of our society. Let us then, without fear or shame, be voices of God’s truth. for life and may we be active demonstrations of His love as we take a bold stand for life.

America needs to know that the abortion industry destroys and devalues human life. The church must address this spiritual issue for what it is and the church must demonstrate the power of God’s grace and redemption for all those touched by abortion. Let us join together to be champions of God’s love as we confront this issue that is affecting so many people. And may the church be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, being obedient to God first and foremost as we move beyond our personal beliefs and represent God’s truth for all life.

(Adapted for my blog. Originally written for the 8/29/15 Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – August 2015)

Transformed by Humility

At various points and places in life, we come face-to-face with our past.

In some experiences, this moment is thrilling and exciting. And at other times, that moment can be a shaming, sorrow-filled reality.

It is easiest to run straight towards those exciting past experiences – it was a moment of great joy, one you are proud of and most willing to recall and even repeat. But those moments of our past that we face, those saturated in sin and self, we often choose not to run towards those things, but rather, we choose to run away from them.

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Friends, it is in those moments, when we are confronted the shame of our past, it is those moments that running away from the past brings no healing, no forgiveness and no redemption. Facing our past, or mistakes, our sin – it is never easy. And yet, how we deal with our past mistakes and sin, that speaks volumes to the world around us about how deeply we understand the grace and redemption of God.

See, the Word of God tells us in 1 Peter  5:6 & 7 to “humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” The word picture here of “the mighty hand of God” is a powerful symbol in the Bible of God working in the experiences of men, always accomplishing His divine and sovereign purposes.

We often choose to run away from the very process in which God has designed to use in our lives to purify us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Seeking humility as we face the past, it positions us before God to truly receive His correction, His guidance and His empowerment to press on. 1 Peter 5 continues in verse 10 by saying: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” God will work through our struggles, our sin, to produce His strength and character in us if we remain humble and let God work and transform every thought and every action we have.

We have to remember that Lord will not waste any pain that we face. Yes, we need to get serious about dealing with our past. And yes, we need to get serious about sin. For as disciples of Christ, we need to be radically committed to the spiritual discipline of confession and repentance so that we can fully abide in the powerful and majestic life-shaping grace of the Lord.

Most of us do not want to be humbled, so choose to be humble – choose to seek humility daily, staying devoted to having a contrite heart before the Lord, letting Him speak to the problems you have and thus allowing Him to restore and redeem you.

Remember, God is never closer than when He is pruning and refining us, and action which is a very “hands on” moment in your life. God is faithful to transform us when we address the discontent, the discouragement, the despair, the fear, the lies, and all of the other “stuff” from our past.

So choose humility. Run towards transformation and redemption. Abide in Christ, so that He may lift you up and out of the shame of your past.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – June 2015)

mercy-grace-21585658I went to the grocery store with all three of my children. The youngest is buckled in and the older two walk beside the cart, holding on. This is standard protocol for the Emery kids. We got some fresh fruit and then some milk. My youngest is learning that he can’t just have whatever he wants, whenever he wants it – he is not even two years old yet.

As we walked past the greeting card section of the store he saw an inflated ballon and really wanted it. He got loud about his want. My face turned red as heads turned and stared at me like I was a three-headed monster. What was only like 15 seconds of instruction and redirection seemed like an eternity.

With things now calm, we grabbed a few other essentials and headed to the check out stand. Hanging there at the top of the isle was another ballon and little man saw it and quickly asked for it. Now before he even got upset and loud, the person behind me sighed loudly and told me to get my child under control this time.

That loaded statement, small and maybe intended to be innocent, it was hurtful.

We think things that are judgmental, and maybe we don’t even realize it. And we say things that are judgmental too. No one, myself included, as not struggled with being judgmental. Rather than operating with an abundance of mercy and grace, we can be quick to judge others. And the scary part: we try to justify our judgmental tendencies. And yet mercy, should triumph judgement. Being judgmental is hurtful. And our judgmental ways are hurting our impact on the Kingdom of God.

God’s perfect work of mercy, can be displayed through imperfect people. James 2:12-13 says: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” Whatever we say or do – we will be judged by it and often mercy lacks within us because we have a poor understanding of God’s mercy for ourselves and for others. It is easier to be judgmental, than to be conduits of mercy.

As disciples of Christ, we must talk and act like one who is centered in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. We must still speak boldly to the issues of our culture that are contrary to the Word of God, but we must act and speak from a place of mercy, not judgement. And if we cannot display mercy to guy in the car next to us, or to that parent in the store, then how will be able to operate from a state of mercy and grace with bigger issues – eternal issues – Biblical, Christ-centered issues – ones that we must address and speak to as disciples of Christ?

We must never compromise the standards set before us in God’s Holy Word. Nor should we compromise God’s calling on our lives to not just experience His mercy, but to be conduits of His mercy and grace. We have never been commanded to be the judge of others. Yes, we can and should assess and judge others actions by the fruit their lives produce. And yes, we can see the consequences others face because of their decisions and make an assessment, or judgment on that.

As followers of Christ, we must speak and act in such powerful ways of mercy and grace that those we encounter will see God in us, because of the extravagance of mercy and grace that we display in our lives. When you speak and act, do people see Christ in you? Regardless of the situation, big or small, do others see God at work in you and at work through you?

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – May 2015)

be genuine

While out at the store, I came across a wallet made of leather and stamped into the leather wallet was the word: genuine. For something to be genuine, it means it has to be real – to be pure, to not be counterfeit or fake in any way. I reached into my pocket to compare this wallet with my own, wondering how real my wallet was.

Both were black in color, both had a sleeve for cash and several sleeves for cards, etc. And both had a clear sleeve for a drivers license. Now both wallets looked like they were leather and yet here I was, holding my wallet and now also holding a wallet that was marked as genuine. How genuine was my wallet then, in this side-by-side comparison, with the new wallet marked as genuine?

As followers of Christ, we must be genuine and our lives must be stamped with this truth. We must understand though, that in order for our lives to bear witness to a true, genuine faith in the Lord, then we must be devoted to taking in the Word of God and then living it out. This is what we are to compare our lives to.

genuinefaith

James 1:26-27 says: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

This truth from James gives us three markers of what it means to be genuine in our pursuit of knowing God’s Word and then living it out. First, tame your tongue. Second, care for those in need. And third, avoid worldliness. When we do these things, we walk in God’s Word, we are more apt to have His stamp of “genuine” upon on our lives. When we know this truth and live out, we genuinely represent God to others.

We say we want to take in and live out God’s Word. We say we want those around us to know we belong to the Lord. And we say we desire to have a genuine faith. And yet, our “religion” is useless if it what we take in from God’s Word, if it does not tame our tongues, if it does not move our hearts to serve and and if it does not separate us, or distinguish us in word and deed, from the rest of the world.

Take time to consider what the Lord may be speaking to you through these verses in James. Reflect on your journey with God, because it is possible that you are looking to others and thinking you are genuine in your faith, but you may be far from that truth. We cannot compare ourselves to others. We must compare ourselves to God and His Word. So, when you look at your life – at what you think and believe, in what you say and do – are those actions and elements true, pure and genuine? One can compare wallets, and hope or think they are the same – both being genuine – but the truth is that only the one marked as genuine is the real deal. As a disciple of Christ, are you the real deal – or do you merely hope or simply think you are? Have you been deceived by your “religious” activities and busyness?

Controlling what we say, passionately caring for others, and remaining separate from the ways of the world – it will require that you know God’s truth and abide in His truth. It  requires of you to compare yourself to Christ and His Holy Word, not others. We cannot desire to influence the world around us if we are allowing the world to influence our thoughts, our words or our actions. May you make the time to reflect on this truth and then allow God to show you the condition of your heart.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – April 2015)

A Walking Target

I love Sunday morning comics in the paper; I still look forward to reading them each week. One of my favorites is “Far Side” by Gary Larson. He has done such a great job of capturing so many human expressions and depravities. 6g6XMU8In one of his comics, he displays an aerial view of a man, a woman, and a dog walking through a city park – each one of them with a target on top of their heads. The caption below the image reads: “How birds see the world.”

Have you ever felt like a walking target? We have all had those days where it seems like nothing we say or do is right. There are days when our children test every ounce of our patience. There are days when we just cannot connect and communicate correctly with our spouse. There are days when we show up to work and report on our efforts only to be told that what has been done is not good enough. And, there are days when we are so sensitive that everything that happens to us seems very intense and very personal. Those are the hard days that we all face. Those are the days where we feel like life comes straight out of a “Far Side” comic strip.

Yet, God has given us a great reminder about the power of His grace for those daily life experiences. James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Perhaps you need to change your perspective to that of a God-defined, grace-filled perspective.

When we are saturated with the loving grace of the Lord, and our identity rests not in what we do but in who we are in Christ, it is then that we can have the true perspective needed to be joyful (joy-filled) “walking targets” in this world. When we do this, we surrender ourselves not to be captive to circumstances and experiences with others, but rather, we submit ourselves to the process of God transforming our lives.

What if our perspective were to change and we were to realize that the target was not there to shame or hurt or destroy us, but rather it has been placed there to engage, grow, and equip us for works of righteousness for the glory of our loving Lord and Savior? In order for us to not just survive but to thrive and to be joy filled in those experiences, we actually have to grasp the purpose of being a “walking target.”

God loves you, and the remaining text in James 1 encourages us to understand that God desires for us to seek His heart and to seek His wisdom for holy living. God promises to be faithful in delivering His grace to meet every need of our lives. We must abide in Him and respond to His work in our lives so that no matter what we face God can use it to transform us into who He desires for us to be. We are not simply walking targets, but rather we are followers of Christ that the Lord desires to shape and mold into His instruments of noble holy purposes.

So “consider it all joy” being a walking target this next week, this next month, and this next year. Consider it all joy to be a walking target because our gracious and loving God will grace you with His wisdom and His truth that you will need every day. Abide in Him, rest in His grace, and trust in His provision. Operate not from what you can accomplish on your own, but from what God has graced within you.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – January 2015)

Mulligan

If you play or watch golf, you are probably familiar with a mulligan. It’s a action in golf that brings restoration from a bad swing. Often at fundraiser tournaments you can even buy a few – a mulligan gives a player a chance to re-do one play, to be restored.

icallmulligan

Our journey as disciples of Christ is full of mulligans. One of the disciples, Peter, he is a great example of this process. 

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter gets the identity of Jesus right, but he got the mission of Jesus wrong. He goes from one extreme to the next. He needed a mulligan. In Mark 10:17-31, with this shot, Peter made it back to rough for he understood that a sacrifice on his part was needed to follow Jesus. And yet, the rich young man that approached Jesus was not able to give up what he values on earth in order to be fully surrendered to Christ. In Mark 14:27-41, at first Peter nails it again, claiming his devotion to God at any cost but in the next few verses, Peter is with Jesus in the garden and he and a few other disciples, they could not keep watch like Jesus asked and they fell asleep. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter is about to slice it into the woods in Mark 14:66-72 when he does, in fact, disown Jesus, just like he had been told.

Peter was ready to give up on the mission and return to fishing. He was in a desperate need of a mulligan. Yet, a mulligan is not something he can give to himself. And despite what people say, it is not something we can buy either. Peter needed a mulligan, big time. Do you?

Do you constantly replay your failures? Or maybeyour problem is re-committing the same sin over and over again? While others around you are experiencing spiritual victory, you feel plagued with the same problem, the same temptation, the same sin. And after awhile, you give up on asking for a mulligan. You give up on becoming the Rock that Jesus said we would be.

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan. Mark 16:7 says: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Why was Peter singled out? For restoration, for a spiritual mulligan-experience He probably did not feel like he was worthy of and yet, just like that, Peter receives it when in Mark 16:15 when Jesus says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan, only God can do that. And some of you reading this article right now are in desperate need of a mulligan. You need something only God can give you. This is more important that Christmas shopping or holiday parties. You have looked for that restoration, that re-do, from so many other things and other people. You may have even thought you got one through some other route, but no, that was nota true spiritual mulligan because it did not last. When you really receive a true spiritual mulligan, it keeps you out of the woods.

Will you seek restoration with God now? Will you receive the mulligan He wants to offer you? Will you humble yourself and let God restore you into a right relationship with Him? Right now is the time to receive that much needed mulligan, just stop and go to our gracious Lord in prayer and seek His heart of forgiveness for your life. He will restore you, you are His prized possession, His beloved.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” in December 2014)