Living God’s Creative Story

Today is the first day of spring. For someone who is not a fan of winter weather, snow, or cold temperatures the announcement of spring weather has come brings with it the sounds of rejoicing and celebration.

I’ve always have enjoyed spring. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of Spring Break trips with my grandparents to Florida or some other destination. Maybe it is because it means baseball season will soon begin. Or maybe, too, it is because I can get rid of the piles of jackets that you need in the winter.

Spring brings with it a sense of new life and hopefulness that we all need. Think about what takes place around this time each year. Flowers begin to bloom. Trees begin to bud. The grass begins to grow. Life seems to be restored.

I think about those images and I am reminded of the creative work of God. Throughout Scripture, we are reminded that God brings new life out of what seems to be destroyed, broken, or at the point of death. Where we see what cannot be possible, God looks at does something that impossible in bringing life to what seemed to be dead.

We see this in the very first sentences of Scripture. In Genesis 1:1, we are told of how God is the One who took what was nothing and made something. We don’t have to get into the why’s and how’s of that miraculous truth to simply stand in awe of the fact that where there seemed to be an impossibility – nothing – God made something happen.

Further along in the story of Scripture, in Ezekiel 37:1-14, we receive the story of God breathing life into dead bones. God’s creative life brings new hope to what seems to be beyond the capability of doing anything. Once again, God took an impossibility – dead bones – and made something happen.

We see it, again, with the promise of the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross. He was dead on Friday. He was dead on Saturday. On Sunday, the grave was empty. I’ve been to the grave … there was no body in there. Jesus’ resurrection is the victory over the world’s crippling powers of death and destruction. It is the assurance of hope that we claim at Easter that God can take what seems to be impossible – victory over death – and doing the impossible. God always makes something happen!

Our faith promises us that we worship the God who never gives up and is always striving to make something new out of the ashes of the world. This is the story that we claim and participate in through our faith. Yet, I wonder if it is a story that we truly believe.

I suggest that, because is tempting to always see things at face value. That is what the world teaches us to do by taking things as they seem. If something seems like an impossibility, we are taught to give up on it and to be realistic about the situation before us.

This is a mindset that can be found within the church. When we reflect on where we are as a church or community, it is easy to say things like “we might as well close” or “things are not like they used to be.” In doing so, we are focusing only upon what is in front of us and looking at things through worldly measures. Do we have enough people? Are we doing enough to justify the work? Is it worth it to keep going on?

Our discussions about the possibilities of the church’s mission are often guided by the same metrics we use to make decisions about future investment opportunities within a business. Yet, we are a community that is not a business. We are part of the narrative of God’s creative act in the world, which claims that God can do what seems to be impossible.

To believe that, however, we have to be willing to see the possible in the midst of the impossibility that is before us. That requires a change in our attitude of responding to things not out of negatives, but out of the positives. Being part of God’s creative effort invites us to ask ourselves what can God do, and what is God calling us to be a part of, in the midst of what seems bleak and hopeless.

We also have to change our approach from blaming others when things do not go well. In its place, we have to move into a direction of reflecting on what is God inviting us to learn and how might we do things differently from those lessons.

When we change our attitudes and our approach to difficult moments, it takes away the pressure and stresses that can fill our hearts about the church. It also invites us to be part of the grand narrative of God in a deeper way.

I truly believe that no matter the negative situation that faces us in the church, today, that God is capable and able to do more than we could ever imagine through them. We worship the God who takes nothing and makes something happen, and we are invited to be part of that great work.

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What Does Genesis Really Tell Us?

When I was learning to become a journalist, I was often told that a good story would answer all of the most important questions. Every story and interview, then, would attempt to uncover the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a certain event or topic. As a reporter, I took seriously this role provide all the answers to all of our questions.star-forming-region-1600

Part of the reason reporters are fascinated with getting the answers to our questions is that we wanted to uncover as much truth as possible. There was also another reason for this. We recognized that people have a thirst for knowledge and want answers to their questions. People want to know why things are the way they are or what caused certain things to happen.

This is true for many aspects of our lives, whether it is a proposed piece of legislation or trying to determine if a certain athlete will win an Olympic medal. It is also true when trying to figure out how this universe came to exist and how we got here. We want all of our questions answered about creation and the universe. Continue reading

Why Jesus Matters

If you’ve learned anything about me over these past five months it is probably the fact that I am a little obsessed with West Virginia University. Granted, it is my alma mater and I am very proud of my education there. However, I am about as engrained into the culture of WVU as many of you are when it comes to Kentucky or Louisville.

I can name our greatest wins and losses with ease. The discontinuation of the Brackyard Brawl, to me, is the elimination of a great Thanksgiving tradition. I’m doing everything I can to teach Noah how to do the “first down cheer” and how to chant “Let’s Go Mountaineers.” And, yes, I may have purposely worn a gold and blue shirt to church the day after WVU defeated Kentucky to go to the Final Four in 2010.

I’m so obsessed with WVU that Abbi might be right to question if I can imagine life without the Mountaineers.

All of us have something we are obsessed with. It could be a football game to be played this afternoon. It might be some hobby we find relaxing. It could be our favorite piece of technology. It could be our jobs. It could be any number of things. What all these things have in common are that we are willing to schedule our lives around them. We even give these things a lot of influence over how we live our lives and relates to others.

So, imagine some of those things that take up much of your time. Can you imagine what your life would be like without those things? Now, let me ask you another question. Can you imagine your life without Christ involved in it?

This might seem like a simple question. We know and love Christ. However, the question really is not that simple. So many of us, in our churches and world today, live as if Jesus does not matter after 12 p.m., on Sundays. We live as if the life of Jesus Christ is not important to how we live and love others. Authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola touched on this in their book “Jesus Manifesto.” They wrote, “Something is wrong when it is easier for some Christians to think of the world without Christ than the world without Bach or the Beatles or Bono.” In other words, it is easier for us to be more concerned about losing the cultural influences in our lives than it is about wondering if Christ is truly at the center of who we are and seek to be.

This happens when we allow the things of the world to take the place that Christ deserves and must have in our lives and in our communities. Sweet and Viola say something else that is equally challenging. They write, “When we dethrone Jesus Christ from His rightful place, we tarnish the face of Christianity and redefine it out of existence.” This happens when we remove Christ from having influence and saying that Christ simply doesn’t matter to us.

So often we forget that our first love is Christ. We forget why Jesus matters in our lives, our families, our churches, and our world. True, we may recognize the importance of Christ in our head, but we sometimes forget the power and transformative hope of Christ in the depths of our soul. When this happens, we have a difficult time proclaiming the very hope that we seek and need to be defined by.

Indeed, we need to refocus ourselves, our communities, and our lives around the person and life of Christ. We must be willing to remember who Christ is, so that the depths of Christ’s love will be life changing for us and those who we encounter each day. On this Christ’s the King Sunday, we need a refresher on the majesty of Christ so that we might seek a deeper relationship with the Lord in our lives.

Colossians 1:15-20 gives us the words to refresh our memories of why Christ matters. These words are a hymn from the early church that likely predates this letter. It might have been an early confessional hymn, similar to the Apostle’s Creed we recite each week. Paul or one of his associates, it is believed, edited the hymn in order to bring a deeper focus onto the fact that Jesus Christ’s life and ministry has a purpose for the church and defines who we are.

The hymn starts by starting the Christ is the “visible image of the invisible God.” Jesus is God personified. He is God. We’ve allowed this fact to get diminished over the years, Sweet and Viola point out. Our focus on the human aspects of Jesus – his love and care for others – has come at the weakness of our attention of his divinity – the power behind his actions. Jesus did the things that he did in his earthly ministry not to make us feel better about ourselves, but so that the name of God may be known and glorified. We must remember that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. We cannot separate Jesus from the divine, so that when we see Jesus we do not just see a human, but we also see the Son of the Living God.

This is important for us. John 1 points this out. In Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God came down and resided with his very people. We do not worship a distant God who is absent from us. We, instead, worship a God who humbled himself by taking on humanity’s weaknesses, so that we might experience renewed life through Christ. Truly, God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

As we regain a focus upon Christ’s full nature, we are reminded that Christ existed before the beginning of time. He was present at creation and had an active role in seeing the world come into existence. Christ was the wisdom that guided creation into being. Not only that, but everything was created for the Lord. We were made to be in a relationship with our Lord. We were made for worship and to give praises to God, not just on Sundays but everyday by how we live. Since all things were made to relate with Christ, it is Christ who holds the world together by being the reconciler and offerer of hope into our world.

Jesus is everything. For this and more, Jesus Christ is our Lord. This is something we cannot forget, but it is something we often ignore. We place a lot of attention on the fact that Jesus is the author of salvation. This is true, but he is also the Lord of all things and every thing. Jesus is not just the one who saves us from our sins, but Jesus is also the one who seeks to have true rule and guidance over our lives. This is a powerful claim, because it reminds us that all the things in this world that we place our trust in will fail us. Only Jesus will not let us down. When we claim Jesus as Lord, we see that Christ leads us into what it means to love our families, to care for our world, to be centered on the hope and peace of Christ, how to share it with others, and so much more.

Jesus is our Lord, and that is especially true within the life of the church. We can never forget that Christ is the head of the church. Often we have the tendency to believe that it is our favorite program, or agendas, or tradition that truly shapes and guides the church. None of those things, like the things that seek to have power over our lives, can truly define what it means for us to be the church in our world. We must allow Christ to define how we seek to be the church today in our communities that surround us.

To refocus on the fact that Jesus is the head of the church reminds us that everything we do and say as a body must reflect the character and love of Christ. What we do must be to the glory of God, to build each other up, and to proclaim the hope of Christ in places of darkness. To claim Christ as the head of the church means we must be willing to go where Jesus leads and to be challenged by Christ’s desires for us and his church.

We can do this, as the hymn states, because Christ is the offerer of true reconciliation. Nothing else in the world can offer hope. Only Christ’s love and grace can do just that. It was a love that was evident upon the cross, when Jesus took our place and died our death. The resurrection sealed the promise of hope for all who would believe. Only when we trust in and claim Jesus for who he truly is can we experience the life-changing and life-giving hope of the Lord and reflect the image of Christ in our lives and the world.

Without a doubt Jesus matters today. Jesus always matters. There is a depth to Jesus that is beyond the understanding of words. Jesus is not merely a teacher. Jesus is not merely a friend. Jesus is not merely a guide. He is all of that and more. He is our Lord. He is our Savior. He is our Shepherd. He is our Everything.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we have an opportunity to refocus our lives and communities around the love of Christ and what Jesus desires for us. Jesus is truly all that we need. No other Lord or Shepherd will bring us towards the desires God has for us. We need Christ. We must be defined by Christ’s love, not just in our personal lives, but also in how we seek to be the church here in Latonia and in how we engage the world today.

No matter who we are we all need this reminder of who Christ is and why Jesus matters. We must daily focus ourselves and claim Christ as who he is for us and our church. The season of Advent, which begins next week, is a great time for this type of renewal. Advent calls us to slow down in the busyness and reflect upon why Christ matters and why it matters that in a sleepy town known as Bethlehem a child was born that changed how we relate to God and each other.

In a season that can so often be about the things we buy, what if we were to say “not this year?” What if we said this Advent and Christmas that we will slow down and focus ourselves on our love of Christ and the hope found in his words? What if we said that this season would be more about being re-centered on why Christ matters than about being the first in line for sales?

What would happen if a community of believers said that we would be about daily renewal and life-long yearning for Christ and to allow our love of Christ to define everything about us?

What if we said from this moment forward by our words, our actions, and our deeds that Jesus matters?

Becoming Something New

There are some things I’ve grown accustomed to in my life. I may be 33 years old, but there are things that I prefer simply because it’s what I’m used to or how it’s always been.

For instance, I rarely eat cereal with milk. Most of the time I eat my morning Cheerios dry. It’s just something I’ve always done. I’ll pour my bowl, take it to the couch, and slowly eat my breakfast while watching “Sportscenter” or “CBS This Morning.”

I know that sounds odd and, I am sure, there are several dairy farmers who wish that I would more regularly pour milk into my cereal, but it is just something about myself that I’ve grown used to. It is part of who I am. I like it and I don’t see a reason to change this trait.

We all have things in our lives that we’ve grown accustomed too. They range from the serious to the silly. For instance, we might have certain ways that we prepare for the day, or why we only shop at a certain store, or why we drive a certain brand of automobile. No matter the reason, the things that we’ve grown accustomed to help to bring a sense of consistency into our lives, especially in an ever-changing world.

There is nothing wrong with having certain things that we are accustomed to. They tell us something about ourselves and gives us a glimpse into our personalities. It is really is acceptable to enjoy some things simply because it is “the way things are” or “have always been.”

I say that recognizing that there are some things in this world, and even in my own life, that I don’t want to be accustomed to. There are some things that I refuse to accept as “the way things are” or “have always been.”

I refuse to accept the violence that exists in our world and communities as just “how things are.” I don’t want to get used to the fact that so many of our families are broken. I don’t want to accept that there will always be people who struggle for food, to provide for their families, or to even have a basic education. Even within my own soul, and perhaps yours also, there are things I don’t want to accept as “how things are.” I don’t want to be used to feelings of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or many of the negative emotions that can define how we see ourselves and others.

There must be something better. I yearn for this. I yearn for something new to be created in our world and, truly, within our lives. Something deep and holy that recognizes that they way things are are not as they were meant to be. I yearn for the image of a renewed and deep life that Isaiah paints for us in our passage from Isaiah 65:17-25.

Isaiah’s words come at an interesting point in Israel’s history. Israel has returned to Jerusalem after spending years in Babylon. This happened after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Scripture says this was because of Israel’s continued disobedience towards God. The people of Israel had experienced their worst defeat and were now returning to Jerusalem to start over.

It was a new day for the people, but it would have been easy to assume that they way things were were how they would always be. It would’ve been easy for the people to live in fear and to accept that they would always be dominated by outside forces. Anyone in Israel would’ve been excused for living in a perpetual state of fear and hopelessness.

However, Isaiah desires for Israel, and us, not to live in fear, but to cling to our hopeful promise. That promise is that God is creating something new. God is working to create something new  where brokenness, pains, and hurt exists. This is our hope. A hope that the way things are are not how things have to be. Isaiah expresses this promise, truly, beginning a verse earlier than our passage. In Isaiah 65:16, he writes that God will “forget the evil of earlier days.” Truly, God will forget the brokenness and bring about something beautiful and holy in those places.

This is truly the work of transformation and bringing creation back to its original purpose. Genesis tells us that God created everything perfect. Creation was made to be in a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord. However, we know this is not the case today. We can see that the world is not as God intended. This is because of the choices that we make every day that distance ourselves from God. From our spiritual ancestors of Adam and Eve, to the people of Israel, and down to us, we each have made choices that have distanced ourselves from God and harmed how we relate to each other. The brokenness in the world is not because it is how things are. The brokenness in our world exists because we choose to maintain broken relationships with each other and our Lord.

Yet, the good news is that even though this brokenness exists God never stops working to redeem creation. God never stops reaching out to us. Even though we distance ourselves from God, our Lord took it upon himself to bridge the gap and redeem creation. It was an act that began once sin entered the world, and has its fullest expression through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When brokenness shattered God’s creation, God began the work of creating something new, something holy, something loving, through what Christ did for the world and for each of us.

What is doing is remaking us into the people that God desires us to be. God wants to take our hurts, our pains, our wounds, our brokenness, and transform them. He wants to move us from being defined by our hurt and make us into a people who are defined by our hope and love. Truly, God desires for us to be transformed and to reflect what it means to be a child of God.

That is the something new that God desires and it is reflected in much of Isaiah’s imagery. We see that Isaiah reflects on some of the characteristics of God and says that this new creation will look just like that. The new creation will reflect the holiness and love of God. For instance, where there was once brokenness and pain there will be joy. Where there were once enemies there will be connection and a deep relationships. This is the reality that God is working to bring about in our world and in each of us.

It is a reality that will come when Christ’s returns in final victory. That is our hope. We claim this hope that when Christ returns that life will be restored. Revelation builds off Isaiah’s image and gives us a beautiful picture of what this will look like. This is the hope that we remember as we move into the Advent season in a couple of weeks. Advent is about waiting for this hope of new creation to come. It is about trusting that Christ will come again. It is about our hearts truly yearning for Christ’s return and this new creation to come when we sing songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

We live with that hope each day. We live with the promise that God is not done building something new where there was brokenness. But, we do not have to wait for tomorrow to receive this hope today. While God is at work redeeming creation for the time to come, we can experience a taste of that new creation in our lives today. We do so by allowing Christ to transform us and to do the work of guiding us into what it means to reflect the love of Christ each day.

This happens when we allow God to do this work of transformation in us. We are called to a daily life of renewal and of being remade daily into the image of God. It only happens when we are willing to put aside our expectations of “how things are” or “how they’ve always been” and allow God to do something new within us. It is the work of allowing God to shepherd us into a deeper relationship, to let go of our fears and doubts, and to be willing to be molded by the love of Christ. This is true spiritual growth that comes as we reflect more of the humility and love of Christ. Becoming something new in Christ is about becoming something less, about letting ourselves go, so that Christ can become more in our lives and the world around us. God never stops desiring for us to reflect the love of Christ and shows us the way forward through the peace of the Holy Spirit working in us.

In his work in India, Ghandi once said something that I believe is appropriate for us today. I’m paraphrasing, but he said if we want to see change in the world then it must begin with us. If we want to see brokenness eliminated in the world, then the work must begin in us by allowing Christ to redeem our brokenness. If we want to see hope in the world, then we must allow Christ to speak hope into our lives. If we want to see growth in our churches, then we must allow Christ to help us grow closer to the Lord so that we may reflect Christ’s love into the world. If we want to see something new in this world, then the work must begin in us and allowing God to do something new in us. We must allow God to do the work of recreating us to reflect God’s holiness and love.

We do not have to grow accustomed to how things are today and accept the way things are. We can hope in something better and that is that God is doing something new in us and it is available for each of us today. What if we refused to accept things as they are, today, and seek the way things could and should be in Christ? What if we did this in our lives and as a church?

God has something beautiful for us. Will you allow God to show you this today?