Cravings

Cravings… we all have them right?  Some of us are into chocolate, others of us apple pie, still others of us are coffee people.  Some of us are not so nice before we have our “fix.”  My sweet tooth gets me in a lot of trouble.  For me, there’s nothing quite like a big glass of ice cold milk with a warm, chewy, chocolate chip cookie.

One of the things I’ve learned about “cravings” is the power they have to drive our lives.  Believe it or not, these hidden hungers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the side effects are felt in various areas of life.  For many people, their craving for “cool” drives them to consume the latest technology or fashion.  For others, the craving for financial independence and superiority leads to millions of dollars won and lost on Wall Street.  Thousands of men and women are incarcerated each year because their craving for drugs and alcohol spilled over into criminal behavior.

Perhaps our desire to satisfy a craving is not the only power that drives us.  The other side of the desire to satisfy a craving is the emptiness that we oftentimes feel when a craving lets us down.  My wife and I had a date night not too long ago.  I stopped by the Red Box to pick up The Green Hornet.  I’m a big action – adventure movie lover… especially if they’re remakes of some of my favorite comic book heroes.  Well, let me tell you, The Green Hornet was a major let down.  Poor plot, even poorer acting.  The only thing good about the movie was the car.

It’s a horrible thing to feel let down… to try and satisfy a craving only to feel more empty than before.  This seems to be a constant state of many people in our world today.  They’re drinking from shallow pools that have no ability to quench their thirst.  They’re consuming food that will never satisfy.  This is the bad news… but praise be to God there is good news!

John 6:35 shares with us, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Let me see if I can re-phrase that in 21st century language:

Only the Savior Satisfies

My son Brennan has high functioning Autism and one of the ways it impacts his life is in his eating habits.  He’s very particular about what food he will eat.  He has about 5 different foods he consumes on a regular basis.  His bread has to be a specific kind and the sandwiches we make have to be cut a specific way.  So what does this have to do with cravings and John 6:35?

I share this because I believe we need to be more “choosy” into terms of what we take into our lives in hopes of satisfying our cravings.  These days we have a whole smorgasbord of options to choose from, but as I mentioned before:

Only the Savior Satisfies

Our Savior offers us a feast of grace in a relationship with him, but unfortunately we oftentimes seem content to be satisfied consuming the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of society and pop culture.  Friends I can remind us of the obvious:

  • Money will be gained and lost
  • Cars will rust
  • Homes will fall into disrepair
  • Clothes will go out of style
  • Technology will become outdated
  • Trips and vacations will come and go
  • The physique which we meticulously maintain will eventually “round” out

But the grace of God,which the Savior offers to us all, is much different.  Our Creator knows the stuff of which will sustain the creation: forgiveness, acceptance, love, mercy and hope.  That is the stuff a relationship with Jesus Christ produces.  It is the grace of God poured into our lives that truly satisfies.

  • The Bread of Life can change an i-generation into a godly generation.
  • The Bread of Life can change a desire to be financially blessed to a desire to be a financial blessing.
  • The Bread of Life can change criminal behavior into Christian behavior.
  • The Bread of Life can change priorities, families, insecurities and worries.
  • The Bread of Life can change the world.

I think that’s what God has in mind.  Would you like your world to change?  Remember… Only the Savior Satisfies

God Stories…

God is working.  I know this seems like a yeah duh statement, but you’d be surprised how many people out there don’t think so.  My Senior Pastor’s sermon today reminded me that there are many who have set aside a passionate and devoted relationship with Jesus Christ for a settled status quo.  For one reason or the other they’ve allowed less wild lovers to take the place of the Lover of their souls and spiritual rigor mortis has set in.

After so long a person actually begins to believe that God doesn’t want to move in their lives.  Surely they’ve committed the unpardonable sin and God wants nothing to do with them.  Nothing could be further from the point.  There is no place so far that God’s grace cannot reach.  Like the love sick Father in the story of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father is earnestly searching the horizon for a glimpse of wayward sons and daughters.

This was the case for two of our guys at Raleigh First Nazarene.  I had the privilege of capturing their “God stories” on video for presentation in our services today.  Though their backgrounds differed greatly, their stories were very much the same.  Their lives lacked something that only a relationship with God could provide.  They both came to a point where they made a decision concerning the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Their decision to take God at His Word has changed their lives.

God is still doing great things…

Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s I’m Amazed

All Things Are Possible

It’s Not Over Today has been one of those days.  Oh, not that it’s been horrible.  I’ve not been cursed at or publicly humiliated or attacked.  Today I’ve been reminded through two individuals that life can be hard.  Situations in life are not always easy and I guess that makes sense, especially in light of Jesus’ words, “In this world you will have trouble…”  Each of us I suppose has our share of impossible situations in life.  Situations that require us to have faith in the unseen and hope in the promises of God.  As I reflect upon the situations I heard about today, both “impossible” in their own contexts, I’m reminded what the angel said to Mary upon her reply to his announcement that she would become pregnant:  ”For nothing shall be impossible with God.”

I’m so glad that God is into impossibilities.  He’s not thrown by them, nor is He anxious about His ability to handle them.  It would seem that God has a heart for the most hopeless cases because its in those scenarios that “his strength is made perfect.”  I don’t know what impossibilities you’re facing right now in life, but I want you to be encouraged…God is there…and it’s never over until He says so!

Grace and peace-

Pastor Jeremy

Blessed are those who are at the end of their rope

The end or a new beginning?

The end or a new beginning?

 

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of God is given to them.” ~Matt. 5:3; NLT

A wonderful promise and startling revelation is given to us here.  Without a deep-seeded awareness of our need for God we’ll never enter into the real life and real transformation offered to us via participation in God’s Kingdom.  We can’t even begin to live the Kingdom life apart from a complete dependence upon God.

This is the entry point of the life God desires to give me, yet it’s also the foundation for it as well.  As long as I live in a deluded sense of my own self-sufficiency, I’ll believe that if this life is to be, its up to me.  Experience has proven time and again that I’m not strong enough, smart enough, saavy enough or spiritual enough.  My best efforts fall so far short of the longings for transcendance that God has set in my heart.

I believe I’ve found the rub: without recognizing my need for God, I’ll never know the life of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I’ll live my life by my own set of standards, which are more times than not, opposite of God’s.  Without “coming to the end of my rope,” I’ll never see the new beginning that awaits me.  I’ll never see God at work because I’ll be looking in all the wrong places.  But if I get on board with God’s estimation of myself and my life apart from him, I’ll begin to see Him at work…providing comfort, serving the least, suffering with those who suffer, offering mercy to those who deserve it the least.  

I’ll start to see the invisible God in the midst of a Kingdom that’s right-side up in an upside down world.

Only then will the Kingdom of Heaven come into view.  Only then will I receive the blessing that comes from recognizing my absolute dependence upon God…

Amazingly graced-

Pastor Jeremy

Bread from heaven…

I am the Bread of Life...

I am the Bread of Life...

I recently finished a devotional by Pastor Bob Coy that struck my interest.  In it we were led to consider the words of the prophet Micah in chapter 5, verse 2:

“But you, Bethlehem…Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel.”  (NKJV)

Bethlehem.  The City of David.  I’d not stopped to consider much about the significance of Jesus’ birthplace, but Jesus considered it essential to understanding who He was.  Bethlehem literally means “House of Bread.”  Later in Jesus’ life He would refer to Himself as the:

“…living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”  (John 6:51 NKJV)

This is quite astonishing to me, but especially in context of the larger Biblical story.  There was a time when the Children of Israel were literally fed “bread” or “manna” from heaven on a daily basis.  (See Exodus 16)  Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “give us today our daily bread,” and in overcoming His temptation in the wilderness He testified that “man does not live by bread alone.”

So what’s so important about all this “bread” stuff anyway?  Well for Jesus’ original audience, bread was their “go to” food.  If there was no bread, they wouldn’t eat.  It would seem that Jesus wanted His original listeners to get the picture that the only thing that would truly satisfy their “spiritual hunger” was a relationship with Him.  It would also seem that He was trying to get them to understand that He was their source of life and that life was contained within a relationship with Him.  Perhaps this is why He encouraged them not to worry about what they would eat or drink…  He was trying to get them to understand that He was their source of their satisfaction in all areas of life.

Maybe we could use a helping of this type of bread today.  We seem to do well at stuffing our lives with things that promise to fill and fulfill us, but with each passing day we go back to the trough of the world hoping to find something else that will curb our appetites.  As Pastor Bob Coy stated in my devotional:

“Substitutes for the Bread of Life abound and none of them will ever give us the nourishment that we need in order to mature spiritually.”

Maybe what we need this Christmas is to pull away from the ham and pies and lights and trees and presents and make a trip to the “House of Bread”.  I hear the “Bread of Life” is still available to all who would come seeking…

Grace and peace-

Pastor Jeremy

Take Me As I Am

“When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men.” ~Mark 2:1-3 (NASB)

“There are two things you cannot do alone: marry, and be a Christian.” ~Paul Tournier

I’ve got let you in on a secret. When I was younger and in school I hated going shopping for clothes. Now you might say, “Well, that’s because you are a guy.” And I might agree with you on that if it were not for the fact that the reason went far deeper. When I was growing up my folks, like many of yours, didn’t have a lot of money. When we went shopping I couldn’t look at the nicer clothes or even the 20% off rack. No we went straight to the “Clearance” rack.

Some of you may not be familiar with the profundity of the “Clearance” rack. The first thing that goes through one’s mind is “man I’m going to get a deal.” But typically what you find on a clearance rack, especially the ones marked down severely, is a hodgepodge of out of style clothes and a variety of items with “As-Is” tags on. If your growing up experience was anything like mine, you grew up with a lot of “As-Is” items.

You know, one of the things that I’ve discovered about people is that we all have “As-Is” tags on. Oh, most of us don’t have them on our clothing anymore (well, I still have a few)…but what I’m talking about are our “less than desirable” qualities and characteristics that we try and hide from others. Some people have anger problems. Others struggle with addictions. Still others deal with fear in a variety of circumstances.

All of these and more generally keep us from opening our true selves up to others and so we attempt to hide our “tags” as it were so that everyone thinks we’re normal. We think that if we can convince others that we’re just like everyone else then everyone else will like us and want to engage us in community. What “hiding behind a mask” actually does is disables us from allowing others to truly know us and love us for who we are.

When I look at the story of the paralytic and his four friends I see a picture of true community. The paralytic did absolutely nothing to deserve such radical commitment and relationship from what is shared with us in the Bible. Maybe it was because his “As-Is” tag was so obvious that it freed his companions to share the natural love and compassion that flows from real relationships. The paralytic was who he was and there was no hiding it. It makes me wonder if it gave his friends the ability to be real with who they were with him. I kinda think so. Most people who only have “surface level” relationships with others don’t make a habit of crashing through the roof of someone’s house to see Jesus.

This all gives me pause to consider how I can foster this kind of community. What is it that I can do to encourage others to show their “As-Is” tags to me and let them know that I love them anyway? Each individual will require a unique strategy, but perhaps there is one universal method that we can all employ:

Carry them to Jesus.

When we carry others to Jesus in prayer we enact upon them one of the greatest demonstrations of love possible. We know that prayer is the answer, but how often do we really move beyond the “knowing” to the “doing.” It is prayer that will give us insights into how we can demonstrate God’s unconditional love in a person’s life. It is prayer that will be the key to unlocking a deeper and more intimate “knowing” between those living in community. It is prayer that will bring down the masks and bring about the emotional and spiritual healing that we all so desperately need.

Can you imagine what life would look like if we as Christ-followers were truly demonstrating this level of intimacy? Can you imagine what life could resemble if we provided a loving and accepting environment in which everyone could put down their masks and reveal their “As-Is” tags? Lives would be changed forever. We’d all experience the kind of relationships and community we were designed for. We’d step onto holy ground as we entered into a divine “knowing and being known” and practiced a “self-giving and other-receiving love.”

We’d have as-is tags everywhere, but we’d also find that instead of devaluing the person who had them, it in all actuality made them priceless. Let’s follow the example of those four friends who “carried” their friend to Jesus. The paralytic’s life was never the same and I just have to believe so was his friends.

Grace and peace-
Pastor Jeremy

A Forgetful God

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12)

Of all the gifts that mankind has been given, the gift of memory goes directly to the heart. With it we remember the love of a family member, the care of a friend and the happiness of shared experiences. Memory is a double-edged sword. On one side we see the past and consider its joys and fond moments, but the other side cuts with painful partings and wounds that never fully heal. Memory, it would seem, is a blessing and a curse.

We all have memories of our lives before Christ and if we’re honest, some of those memories make it difficult for us to believe that God could truly love us unconditionally. God can forgive us of those sins, but look upon us with unconditional love and acceptance? Well, maybe on our good days.

Charles Wesley once penned the following words, “He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin, He sets the pris’ner free. His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.” (O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, hymn #147 in Sing to the Lord hymnal)

It’s an amazing thing for me to consider the words, “He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin…” The pow’r of canceled sin can come from our memory and oh how Satan loves to throw our past “canceled” sins in our faces. But the good news today is that God breaks the pow’r of canceled sin! And how so?

In the truth of Hebrews 8:12, “…I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Our God not only forgives, but He forgets. I guess you could say that God is a forgetful God!

When it comes to memory…His is awful in regards to canceled sins. The Bible tells us that there is a sea of forgetfulness into which God deposits our sins and though I’ve no Scriptural basis for it, I believe that He posts a sign that says, “No fishing allowed.”

Friends, we need to embrace the freedom that is our’s in Christ. God not only forgives, but He forgets! Praise the Lord!

Co-operation in Life

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:27)

There’s a story of a lifeguard on a beach who heard a woman cry for help. He swam out to the frantic woman and grabbed her by the hair. He then swam back to shore only to discover that he had a wig in his hand. He swam back to the woman and grabbed her arm and upon reaching the shore saw he had brought back an artificial arm. He swam back out again and grabbed a leg. You guessed it–it was an artificial leg. He swam back out to the screaming woman and said, “Woman, if you want to be saved from drowning, you had better begin to cooperate with me!”

Friends, we get nowhere fast when we detach ourselves from the people in our groups and fail to unite our hearts and hands in cooperation. As Reuben Welch is found of saying, “We really do need each other.” We can do so much more together than we can do individually.In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduced a new word to our vocabularies and conversations: “synergy.” The basic idea being communicated by it is that the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. Synergy takes place when two or more people together produce more than the sum of what they could have produced spearately.

As Christians we’re not called to be lone rangers. We need to seek out other Christians in the Body and become involved in the ministry of their lives. We also need to allow others to become involved in our lives as well. In Phil. 1:27 the apostle Paul encourages us to stand together in one spirit. We’re to live with a spirit of cooperation. We’re to stand side-by-side as soldiers. We’re to stand united as gladiators striving against a common enemy for a common cause. We’re to join together heart-to-heart and hand-in-hand for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as we work together, God works in powerful ways.

(This devotion adapted from Devotions for Sunday School Teachers 2 by Stan Toler, John C. Baldwin and David Graves)

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A Static Cling Relationship with God

“You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.”~Deuteronomy 13:4

Have you ever had the embarrassing experience of walking out in public with a dryer sheet hanging to your nicely pleated pants? Ever pulled your favorite shirt out of the dryer only to discover that one of your kid’s socks was adhered to the back? Such is the joy of static cling.

Crazy as it sounds, God desires for our relationship with Him to be something akin to static cling. He desires for us to “stick” close to Him…so close that we hear His voice as we stay in step with Him throughout the journey of life. He desires for us to “cling” to His Word, for it will be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm 119:105) If we will “cling” to the Lord, our God, we will surely come to reverence Him for who He is and hide His word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him. (Psalm 119:11)

Our passage from Deuteronomy is only one of many Scriptures that share this idea of “clinging” to God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 63:8, “My soul clings to You;Your right hand upholds me.” This passage brings up images of my children clinging to me when they’re scared, insecure or just needing some loving. I believe God has this in mind for us as well.

The roads we travel in life can sometimes be scarry. They can be uncertain. Sometimes they can be immensely gratifying and at other times quite mundane. Sometimes God seems so close that we can feel the strength of His presence next to us. Sometimes we wonder if we’re holding on to anything at all! But in all situations we can take comfort that God is closer than we think. In the words of Paul, “The Lord is near,” and He desires for us to “cling” to Him that we might find that our source of life and living truly is found in relationship with Him.

In the good times it will keep us from becoming boastful and arrogant of our own abilities to manufacture the “good life.” In the bad times it will keep us from despair, knowing that our Father in heaven knows how to care for His own. In the mundane times it will keep us from straying from the path of God onto rabbit trails that will lead us away from God. At all times, it will provide our lives with purpose and our hearts with the assurance that we’re not alone.

Be encouraged friend. God is near. And don’t be afraid to be “clingy” with Him.

Shalom,

Pastor Jeremy

Ministers of Reconciliation

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18-19 NASB)

I truly believe in these two verses we find the heart of the gospel and the heart of God’s identity and character. The word reconcile or reconciliation essentially means “re-establishing relationship.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the relationship between God and man was reconciled. The sin that had started in the garden was anulled and now we have not only forgiveness in Christ, but full access to God. As Paul writes elsewhere in the New Testament, “The Lord is near.” This is the word of reconciliation that began in Jesus’ proclamation: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2 NASB) A way has been made for the re-establishment of the relationship between God and man. “This is the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23 NASB)

However, the work of reconciliation did not end at the cross, or even at the empty tomb. It continues today through the work of everyday, ordinary people. The Kingdom of God advances in the world today through the Church of Jesus Christ as it has for the last 2000 years since Christ was walking the earth physically. We have gone forth into all nations, yet there remains a people group to which the “keys of the Kingdom of God” have been withheld. They, for the most part, have had the “key of knowledge” withdrawn so that they might not enter in the gates of the Good Shepherd’s fold.

The people group to which I am referring is that of the community of men and women with physical or mental handicaps. Their numbers are growing at an alarming rate, yet the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole has not opened our doors to them. The percentage of children born with Autism has grown to 1 in 150 children and truly has reached epidemic status, yet if one were to survey the number of churches who had a special needs ministry and/or class we would likely find the number to be more like 1 in 150,000. Couple this with the general prevailing attitude towards families with special needs children and you find that they are not only isolated from Christian community, but they are isolated from Christ.

We must do better. We as ministers of reconciliation must take initiative to elliminate those barriers which Christ has destroyed by His death, resurrection and ascension, “for you are all one in Christ.” We must take the news that “God was in Christ” reconciling the world to Himself. We must bind up their hearts with the earth shattering news that God did not cause their children to be born with disabilities, but He can cause good to come out of it. We must share that the character of Jesus Christ and His ministry contained in the words of Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

This is a word of reconciliation that must be worked out in the lives of those to whom the Kingdom of God must go…

Shalom my friends,

Pastor Jeremy