Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#11   Giving

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21]

Jesus was distraught over the greatest prophet ever alive being killed. [Remember Jesus is much more than a prophet - He is God in the flesh] John the Baptist was beheaded.  He went off to a solitary place to pray.  But He could never be alone too long.  The crowds followed Him.  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  He healed their sick.  He cast out the demons.  And then it was time for the crowd to be dispersed.  Yet, they were hungry.  What to do? 

Matthew 14 records the events in this way.  The crowds are there - healed but hungry.  They have heard the words of Jesus; they have seen and received the miracles of Jesus.  If they left, they still would have been satisfied.  But Jesus had not yet given enough.  He called the disciples together and told them to feed the five thousand.  They doubted.  "How can we feed so many?"  Jesus even says quite forcefully, "you give them something to eat."  The disciples respond, "we have but five loaves of bread and two fish - what will so little do amongst so many?"  

This is the question for the ages.  "What will so little do amongst so many?"  Sadly, this is the mentality of too many of us.  We forget that we have Jesus with us.  He can take our, "little" and do amazing things.  Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and broke the bread.  He looked up to heaven and gave thanks to the Father.  He then told the disciples to distribute.  

Can you imagine the disciples' faces as they walk toward the crowds of people with a paltry amount of fish and bread.  Can you imagine the doubt that would be going through their minds?  But then the miraculous happens.  They hand the five loaves and two fish to the crowd and it multiplies.  All have their fill and are, "satisfied" the Scripture tells us.  They ate as much as they wanted.  

Now, what is amazing about all of this is that the leftovers were more than what they started out with.  They had 12 baskets of bread left over. 

I see something amazing here.  Jesus gave more than expected.  He healed.  He spoke.  He fed the body.  He provided for all of their needs.  That is our Jesus - He gives abundantly and all glory goes to Him.  

Now, the response of the Christian to this should be the response of the disciples.  Even in their trepidation [remember, they gave all they had to the crowd - they would have had, 'nothing' left for themselves] they gave.  Why?  Because they had Jesus with them, that is why; and Jesus always provides.  

This excites me.  I must confess my worry.  I must confess my hoarding my gifts, talents, and abilities to myself.  I must not simply understand and know - but truly embrace the fact that Jesus loves me more than I love me; and He will always provide.  This fact alone should excite me to give more than I think I  can in all things.  

During this Lenten season, let us truly focus on the giving nature of Christ to us and how that can compel us to give.  Amen. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

#10 Compassion.

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. [2nd Corinthians 1:2-4]

As of late there has been a lot of suffering in and around my life.  Now, as my calling as pastor, that is something one must expect.  People get ill and you visit them.  People get sick and you pray for them.  You anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  People die and you officiate their funerals and you grieve alongside the family.  But there is a difference between suffering in another and suffering in your own life.  As of late, there has been suffering in my life.  

My Father-in-Law is exceptionally ill.  Right after my two youngest girls were born he had a level 4 tumor removed from his brain.  After surgery he had seizures.  Months passed and then he had much more severe seizures.  He had a stroke.  Now he is currently in a rehabilitation facility and may come home soon - but not because he is better; because insurance is running out for the hospital stay.  He still cannot walk on his own and he will need assistance with almost everything.  

I have also experienced some very recent emotional downs.  [No need to go into them and please do not begin to worry - everything is just fine.]  I am a jolly fellow a great majority of the time.  I am not used to being sad for any long extended period of time.  And that still applies.  As I write this, honestly, I am doing much better.  However, I am convinced that the Lord allowed me to go through this so that I could learn the principle of the above Scripture.  

You see, without suffering there is no compassion.  If you are a person that is immune to, or at least does not take seriously, suffering, then very often you will have a lack of compassion.  God very often allows suffering in our lives to understand this principle.  If we were not sinful we would simply be compassionate due to our holy nature; however, we are sinful.  Therefore by nature we are selfish - and we do not want other people ruining our good time with their suffering.  One serious bout of suffering will relieve us of this hypocrisy.  To walk in the shoes of one who suffers is a serious thing.  

But Jesus comforts us.  You and I have to remember that we have a suffering God.  And I want to make clear that it was not just the cross where Jesus suffered. [As if that was not enough]  Jesus is God.  Prior to His becoming flesh He was in the heavens being constantly glorified.  Becoming human, for God, is a humiliation.  To thirst, to tire, to grow weary, to sweat, to hunger, to be tempted, etc...these are all unique sufferings that God went through for us.  He simply claimed the victory in every way. 

Jesus speaks a word of comfort in the midst of suffering.  We pray to Him and He hears.  We read His Word and the Spirit speaks.  We sing songs of praise and we are uplifted.  He comforts us.  But as in most things He comforts us for more than simply to comfort us - so that we can learn the principle of compassion and begin to be compassionate towards those who suffer.  

I now watch my wife suffer over her father [and her mother suffers attempting to minister to her husband.]  I see the weariness in my brother-in-law, and I pray that the Lord gives me compassion every day.  During my times of emotional sadness, the Lord used people to help me in my emotional suffering - they were used to give me wonderful words of wisdom.  One thing I have learned as of late is this - there may be many reasons why we suffer, but one reason is to teach us compassion.  I pray that I can showcase the compassion of Christ for my family and others.  Lord, help us have compassion.  Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

#9 Politics.  "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." [Matthew 22:21]

In my first blog I addressed some of what I am about to say.  However, I believe now is the time to codify some political thoughts as they pertain to faith.  The presidential and local election season is quickly approaching and, I am sure, our precious Savior will be dragged into negative political discourse.  Therefore, now may be the time to discuss political things.

The genesis of this thought process is something that I read recently in an online magazine concerning a Presidential Candidate.  This particular presidential candidate has branded himself as a follower of Jesus Christ and has publicly stated that his faith was very important to him.  The author of the article openly wondered how this politician could be affiliated with the political party that he was affiliated with and read the same Bible he was reading.  Basically it was an article where the author said, "how can this person really be a Christian and be a part of the Party that he is?"

I have heard this question from many well-meaning Christians throughout the years.  They do not understand how anyone who truly claims the name of Christ could, "vote a different way."  I am here to tell you that I believe that there are authentic Christian Democrats and authentic Christian Republicans.  There are authentic Christian independents as well.  I have met them.  Believe me, they are there.

What I have a real problem with is how both sides attempt to use Jesus to their advantage.  I have heard Republicans clearly advocate that Jesus would be on, "their side" of any political debate; and I have heard Democrats use Jesus to their advantage as well. 

Now, I want to be very clear about this.  I absolutely, unequivocally believe that our faith should influence all that we do - and yes even how we vote.  What I am saying is that well-meaning Christians, who are attempting to follow conscience, come to different political opinions.

In the above verse the religious leaders of the day were trying to, "suck" Jesus into a political controversy.  They wanted to ask Jesus, "should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  Now, the reason this was a loaded question was because if he were to answer, "yes" then the religious leaders of the day could paint him as a sympathizer to the Romans - for He's telling us to submit to their illegitimate rule. [Remember, at this time Rome occupied Israel and they occupied by force; therefore, they were an invading army]  If Jesus were to answer, "no" then the religious leaders of the day could turn Jesus over to the Romans as a trouble-maker and have them jail Him. 

Jesus asked for a Roman coin and was given one. [Interesting fact - those who did not think they should pay taxes to Caesar nonetheless used the Roman money...showing they already submitted to their rule...] He then asked, "whose inscription is on this?"  The people replied, "Caesar's..."  And Jesus said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's...Basically, Jesus was saying, "God has placed His name on you - give the coin to Caesar, give your life to the Lord." 

I cannot overstress this - politics are important, but they are not as important as we make them.  Jesus, in my opinion, was bothered about the pettiness of this.  I can almost hear Jesus saying something along the lines of, "come on people...do we not have bigger things to talk about - like people dying and going to heaven and hell?  I am here to save the Cosmos, not involve myself in the pettiness of all this..."  [I understand it is extremely dangerous to put words in the mouth of Jesus, so forgive me if I upset you...]  

Remember also this - Jesus pulled from amazingly different walks of life to be His disciples.  Simon the Zealot was a disciple.  The Zealots were people zealous for the political standing of Israel and advocated overthrowing Roman rule.  He also chose Matthew - the tax collector; an individual who was working at the behest of the Romans.  Jesus chose both to follow Him.  Now, they changed no doubt - but the change was not so much political - it was a change that transformed them from looking to one realm to the next.

And I will say this - look at the book of Acts.  What were the disciples doing there.  Here we see the first Christians in action.  And what action were they doing?  What, "acts" of the Apostles do we see?  We see them doing all they can to spread God's Word so that people would be saved.  Period.  

What is my point?  My point is this.  I do think we should work in our government.  Christians need to be involved.  Our Faith should guide who we vote for - amen.  Yet, I still believe that Christian's can disagree over what is the best route for our government.  What we cannot disagree about is this - the greatest way to change our culture is not the halls of Congress - it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and if Christians focused passionately on sharing the message of the love of God in Christ as passionately as they fight politically, we would see the culture change - not through the laws of men - but through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

#8 - Gay Marriage.  "Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate by perversion, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the Kingdom of God."

Now, this one, my 8th installment, may cause some controversy; however, please consider the implications of that which I write.

The State of Maryland [of which I am a resident] is about to be the 8th state that has legalized same-sex marriage.  Unlike many other states, this state is doing so through the legislative process.  The House of Delegates voted last week, the Senate yesterday, and within the beginning of next week our Governor has already declared that same-sex unions will be allowed in the State of Maryland.  This deeply troubles me.  And I want us to take a moment and ask why this decision troubles me and so many others.

I believe that homosexual behavior is intrinsically sinful.  What this means is that the desire for - and lust towards - someone of the same gender is sinful in and of itself.  Unlike the desire for the opposite sex, which is intrinsically moral [it becomes immoral when that desire is geared towards someone you have not been given to in marriage] the homosexual desire is sinful at its very core.

Now, at this point some people, I am sure, will get upset with me.  Where do I get this opinion?  I get this from Scripture.  The above Scripture referenced talks about the gravity of this situation.  Those who practice sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  I cannot make the Scripture say what it does not say - I must confess this truth.  And just as I would call idolatry, drunkenness, theft, fornication, coveting, and swindling sin - so also I must call homosexual behavior sinful.  The Bible does - therefore if I am to be faithful to the Bible, I must also.

Now, some people will tell me that I am being judgmental to condemn homosexual behavior and tendency.  I do not believe that I am.  To be judgmental is to think one is better.  I do not think this.  On the contrary, I believe the church at large has done real damage to those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality.  Many in the church have treated the homosexual like a pariah.  This is clearly wrong.  I could see Jesus going to a Gay Pride Parade - but His purpose there would be to turn people from their sin in order to embrace Him.  He did it with prostitutes, tax-collectors, and, "sinners" of all kinds.  Yes, Jesus loves everyone but He also calls them to change.  My motto at church is, "come as you are but do not leave as you were."  Encountering Jesus Christ means change is going to occur.  When Jesus was encountered by the Pharisees who were ready to throw stones at an adulteress, He said, "He who is without sin cast the first stone..."  They walked away.  Jesus did not condemn her - but He did say, "Go and sin no more."

Which leads me to v.11 of 1st Corinthians 6 which reads, "And that is what some of you were; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ , and in the Spirit of our God."  The Apostle makes it clear that amongst them were former thieves, former drunkards, former adulteresses, former covetous individuals, and yes - former homosexuals - who because of their encounter with Jesus were changed so that they could live a new life.  This is the greatest hope for those who are struggling with homosexuality - Jesus can - and will - help.  We as churches need to invite the homosexual individual into a loving relationship with Jesus - and then bring them to the agent of change.

Which leads me to the next point.  When the secular world puts its approval on a practice that is inherently sinful [like gay marriage] it makes the job of the church that much more difficult.  One will not repent from something they do not think wrong; and when society tells you, "you are ok" then you just might think you are ok.  But if you are not ok - even when society tells you that you are ok - you are still not ok.

Some will tell me that Jesus never brought up homosexuality - so He must not care.  Well, I believe Jesus to be the great, "I Am."  He declared to be that and therefore He also spoke on Sinai.  And there the Lord clearly condemns it.  The Bible is inspired - and yes - in the New Testament the Apostle addresses the sin in Romans, 1st Corinthians, and 1st Timothy.  If the Apostle was inspired by the Holy Ghost [which I believe he is] then Jesus did condemn it.

I find it interesting [and uniquely troubling] that all other sins the Bible condemns people agree with.  No one says that greed is good.  No one says that adultery is good.  No one says that pride is good.  No one says that theft, murder, lies, blasphemies, lack of love, etc...is good.  So why are we so blatant to contradict the Bible on this?  Because of our false sense of compassion.  If I am about to get hit by a truck and I do not see it - please someone tell me to move - even if that might make me change directions.  We do not want people to feel badly - but, "not feeling bad" is not always love.  People do need to look at their lives, reflect, and repent.  There is so much I have had to repent for; repentance is good for the soul.  Then look to the cross, the blood scarred hands, and receive the forgiveness won for you at Calvary.  But if you will not admit sin, forgiveness will not be granted.  Jesus is not the Burger King - we cannot have Him, "our way."  He is the King of Kings - and we must bow the knee to Him.

And to those who struggle with homosexuality I say this - the Lord loves you.  He wants what is best for you.  You can, by God's Spirit, change.  He will help.  Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

#7 Problem solving.  "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore." [John 6:66] [and no - don't think too much about the 666 thing....]

People loved Jesus...at first.  Jesus' public ministry began at His baptism and lasted approximately 3 1/2 years.  In the beginning most people were enthralled with Jesus.  He spoke with authority.  He cast out demons.  He healed the sick.  He preached the Gospel to the poor.  He rebuked the religious leaders.  Jesus truly set people free.  And there were many times that throngs of people simply surrounded Jesus so that He barely had a place to walk.

But there were times in His ministry where what He said truly upset people; and people stopped following  Him.  John 6:66 is just such a time.  Jesus the day before this verse feeds the five thousand - and the people are ecstatic.  He goes in a boat and goes to the other side of the lake.  The people the next day wake up and do not see Jesus - so they go searching.  They find Him.  They want more, "bread" from Him.  But Jesus does not feed their belly.  He begins to talk about how He is the bread of life.  He tells them in v.53, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day."  This was too much.  Eat His flesh?  Drink His blood?  What is this guy talking about?  The people were confused and they did not like what Jesus had to say.

Then Jesus topped all this off with this statement, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father." [v.65]  Many of the disciples had enough.  They left Him.  They walked away.  Jesus was claiming to be God.  Jesus was claiming to be the source of eternal life.  Jesus was claiming that His blood and flesh were real food and drink.  This was too much for some - so they left.  And the amazing thing is this - Jesus let them leave.  He did not run after them.  He simply looked at the 12 left and asked, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"  And Peter famously answers, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  you have the words of eternal life."

Now, this is all backdrop to where I want to go; which is this.  Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  It is He that came, died, and rose again.  He saves.  He has solved our deepest problem - our sin and our need for eternal life.  And even after Jesus did all this people still walk away.  People still reject Him.  Many people still will not listen.

What does this say to me?  I will tell you.  Being a pastor can sometimes be difficult on the soul.  I want so desperately for people to love the Lord and love each other.  I want so desperately for people to get along and be united together.  This desire is good; but sometimes I take it too far.  I cannot make people   live the way of righteousness.  I cannot make them embrace godliness.  If not even the Son of God got them all....certainly I can't either.  Jesus was content with knowing that all those that the Father had given Him He would have.  He was secure in the love of the Father.

Today I was talking to a wise pastor who said to me, "Chris - you can die for people's sins...but you cannot rise for them."  What he meant was, "the problems of people can kill you if you let them...but you're not the Savior - only He can truly solve people's deepest needs."

I must come to a conclusion as a pastor - loving people does not automatically equate to solving everyone's problems.  I cannot do it.  All I can do is speak the truth in love and believe that the Lord loves me - and everyone else - even more than I do.  Some will walk away from the Lord, and that's not my fault.  They did it to Jesus, and He is supremely better at bringing people to Him than I am.  The same goes for you too.   Do your duty, that is best, and leave unto the Lord the rest.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

# 3 My Struggle. Galatians 5:23, "The Fruit of the Spirit is....self-control."

If you have noticed the last week or so I have posted two different meditations. The reason for this is because I was having a conversation with a friend, and to be honest I was complaining about facebook. Well....he told me that instead of complaining about it, I should do something about it. This is the reason for my recent posts - I have been challenged to bring meditations on the Word of God to facebook; and I thought that Lent would be a good time to do this.

While I understand that Lent has not yet arrived, it was my desire to put 40 meditations on facebook throughout Lent. In order to do this I took a head start:) Some will read it, some will not. My goal is very simple - that I will be drawn closer to the Lord and that perhaps someone else will as well.

Since Lent is a time for self-reflection, I thought that tonight I would write about my own struggle. My weight. For many years I avoided this subject matter in my own meditations. however, I can ignore it no longer. There have been too many times when I have been dismissed because of my weight. A good friend of mine who also happens to be a parishoner once said to me, "Pastor, I was praying for you and I was thanking God for you as my pastor...and I said to the Lord, 'so he has this one issue [meaning my weight]...it's no big deal!" Now, he absolutely meant this as a compliment. He was telling me that he appreciated me as his pastor; however, in this compliment it was also made clear to me that my weight can be a stumbling block to people in the faith. Perhaps never stated this bluntly, but something akin to, "who does he think he is?? He can't even control this part of his life!"

Now, please do not take this as me fishing for compliments or ideas about, "don't worry pastor - we love you!" That's not why I am writing. I am writing to simply inform that I too struggle in life - and for me my weight is a serious struggle.

Recently I have lost weight. For the first time in a long time I am eating what I consider to be in a healthy way. And I must tell you that spiritually, not simply physically, I am renewed. In Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. Within that list comes one word that was always a conviction to me, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." It was self-control. Some issues are hidden - mine couldn't be. I literally wear it every day.

Those that are not overweight do not understand the stress that those of us that are go through. Picking a chair in a restaurant. Getting on an airplane. Going to an amusement park. One of the most difficult days in my life was going to Kings Dominion with some of our youth and absolutely knowing that I could not ride on many of the rides...it was utterly embarrassing.

On top of all of this, I knew that I did this to myself. There was no one to blame but me. Many times I asked for forgiveness; and many times I received it. Then, many times I fell off the wagon.

The comments simply kept coming. I recently went to an evangelism conference where I was given a speaking responsibility. Many people that I did not know came up to me and thanked me for the words that I spoke; and yet many of them also came up to me and said something along the lines of, "pastor...those were powerful words...and I really think you have to deal with your weight. Remember you have a family...." Oh the pain such statements bring. Not because I think people are being cruel - I don't. They are simply making it clear to me that they see the glaring problem in my life. And they care enough to tell me.

So what is this all about? Well, for the past four months I have eaten differently. I have lost weight. I need to lose a lot more. This is my struggle. It helps me understand others' struggles. It gives me empathy. But it also gives me determination. I pray that the Lord will give me the strength to exhibit the self-control that He has already granted me in His Spirit. Amen.
#4 Selfishness. Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. [1st Corinthians 13:13]

This is my fourth installment of my forty day Lenten devotionals. [Yes...again I know it is not Lent yet - but I know that in order to get to forty I am going to have to get a jumpstart!] What I wanted to talk about is selfishness.

Being selfish is something I am apt to be. I think that if we all took one day, and honestly thought about how much we think about ourselves, we would be shocked. How does the behavior of my wife [or husband], my children, my neighbor, my government, my church, my job, etc...affect me? We often vote on the basis of our pocketbook. We often pick churches on the basis of what they, "offer" for me. We even pick out spouses on the basis of, "how they make me feel."

I will often ask in pre-marital counseling a simple question, "why do you love this other person?" And their response will often vary but typical answers are something along the lines of, "because they make me feel good...because he makes me laugh...because she makes me feel important, etc...." I then ask the question, "well, if he stops being funny and you feel less important does that then give you an excuse to no longer love them?" Do you see my point? We often interpret this world in which we live through the lens of how it affects me. Too often our attention is on ourselves - instead of on God and others.

Which leads me to my latest bout of selfishness. The stomach flu has run rampant through my house. 1st it was Hope. Then it was Faith. Then it was Beth. Then it was my cousin Monica. So far me and Olivia have remained unscathed....but the clock ticks.....

The problem is....though many in my family are sick I have not spent a lot of time thinking about them...I have spent too much time thinking about me. Something along the lines of, "ugh...another one down...now I will have to do this, that, or the other thing..." I was looking at my family's illness through the lens of added work to myself. [Lysol is now my best friend] My selfishness was making me miserable.

However, the Lord showed me this level of selfishness in my life. I asked for forgiveness. The focus should not be on how their illness affects me - but instead how my wellness can affect them. I should focus on caregiving. I should actively love my family. Care for them. Thank God for them. Be with them. As soon as this attitude shifted in my spirit [by the power of God's Spirit] my attitude changed. It was no longer taxing to serve, but a joy.

Jesus came to this earth to serve, not to be served. He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, died, and rose again for us. We were sick - and His joy was bringing us back to Him through faith.

Oh how I pray that I can further allow the Spirit of Christ to work through my attitude whereby I truly focus on love.
#6 - Forgiveness "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?" - Job 4:11

Jonah is a popular story.  We tell it to children all of the time.  A man did not listen to the call of God and he was swallowed by a giant fish.  That is about the extent of what most people know about the prophet Jonah.  However, I believe the main point of the book of Jonah has to do with the compassion and grace of God upon both Jonah and his enemy.

Jonah was given a commission by the Lord, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." [Jonah 1:2]  Jonah avoided this commission and fled the opposite direction.

Few know why.  The reason is because Nineveh was the chief city of the chief country that was the enemy of Israel [Jonah's country].  Jonah did not want to bring God's Word to Nineveh.  He reasoned to himself, "they might repent...and then God may not destroy the city...and then I will have to live with them!!!"  So he ran away.

It was then that he hopped a vessel and a storm arose; he jumped out of the boat and he was swallowed by a giant fish.  There he spends three days and nights.  He cried out to God for mercy - the Lord heard him - and he was vomited on a beach and given the commission again.  "Go to Nineveh."  He went.  And he preached against the city.  His message was simple, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown by the Lord!"  And guess what happened?  The Ninevites listened.  [This is simply my conjecture.  It is not implicit in the text of Scripture.  However, I have often wondered what the digestive juices of the fish would have done to Jonah's skin and complexion.  He probably looked very strange.  His look, along with of course the Spirit of God, may have made the Ninevites pay attention to him; thus his disobedience was used by God to do the very thing he did not want to happen - their repentance....I don't know - just a thought] They acknowledged their sin.  They turned from wickedness - from the greatest of them to the lowest - and God forgave them and did not bring the promised destruction upon the land.

Jonah is the most successful [if we're judging success by converts...which I'm not sure is what we should do; but I think you get the point] of all the Old Testament prophets; but he is also the most negative Nelly.  Nineveh's repentance does not please Jonah.  He is upset by it.  He goes outside of the city in the hopes that God will change his mind and perhaps still destroy Nineveh.  So he plops down out of the city and looks at it.

A plant grows up and gives Jonah shade.  This makes him happy.  Then a worm eats the stem of the plant and the plant dies.  This makes Jonah angry.  Then God speaks.  "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.  And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" 

God was making a point to Jonah - "you like compassion and grace when it is given to you...just not when it is given to those you do not like.  But Just as I love you - should I not love them too?"

Jonah is a story about God's amazing grace and how He desires to give it to anyone; and how He desires that we are used by Him to offer that grace to everyone - even those that have hurt us.  You see, the simple fact of the matter is that God loves us.  He loves us very much.  If God had a fridge our picture would be on it.

But we must keep something in mind - God loves the people you and I do not like too.  He wants to have compassion and grace upon them just as He has had on us.

Jesus died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and will come back for you.  But not only you.  For all who trust in Him; and He wants all to trust in Him.  Therefore we need to realize that God did not see something good in us that made Him say, "oh....look at Chris...he's so special and cute..I think I'll save him!"  No - He said something more along the lines of, "whoa....look at Chris....he's pretty nasty...I better save him!"  Your enemies and my enemies and ourselves all have something in common.  We equally need saving.  And Jesus wants to save them.

During this time of Lent, forgive.  Offer grace as it has been offered to you.  Amen.
‎#5 Carrying the Cross - "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Have you seen the recent DirecTV commercials? I think they are hilarious. There is more than one, but the most recent I have seen has the cable going out. A man throws a controller because he is upset about the cable going out. An announcer then says, "people who throw controllers are seen to have an anger problem...people who are seen to have anger problems do not get phone calls...people who do not get phone calls are all alone....people who are all alone grow long straggly beards....people with long straggly beards often take in stray animals....people who take in stray animals are seen as strange....do not seem strange and take in stray animals - get DirecTV..."

I think the commercials are really funny. And they help illustrate an important point. I am a man who can, and does, worry. I know that it is a sin; yet I find myself often doing it. I find myself worrying about parishoners. I find myself worrying about friends. I find myself worrying about finances, the church, etc....really it can be anything. And what I will often do when I worry is take the situation that I am worrying about and then project that situation into the future - almost like the above commercial. I will say to myself, "well if, 'A' happens, then this will be the next step....then if that happens, this will be the next step....well if that happens, this will be the next step....oh my goodness, if that next step happens, that will be a catastrophe!" Then I begin to attempt to carry the anxiety of the catastrophe. This is pure silliness.

I recently had to call a friend to, "talk me out of the tower" over a situation like this. Jesus does not want us to attempt to carry the cross of future possibilities. One of the things that I love about the above verse is that He says, "He must deny Himself, and take up his cross daily..." He just wants us to carry the cross that He has given us today. He does not expect us to carry a future possible cross. And the silly thing is that it is almost impossible that all the future possibilities could all happen; and yet we begin to worry about all those possibilities!

The simple answer is this - Jesus loves me. He carried the ultimate cross - the one at Calvary. He died. He rose again. He ascended into heaven. He is coming back on the clouds of heaven to receive me. If He forgives my sin, defeats the devil, creates a new heavens and earth for me to live in for eternity, He can - and will - help me through all things. Just do not be silly and attempt to carry the crosses of the future. Carry only those He actually gives us today. Those will be hard enough - and God will give us the grace to get through them.