As Christians, we know well the power that God’s people experience when they PRAY! On the first Thursday in May, the United States pauses to observe a National Day of Prayer, and on that day, we as the church in America, have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of PRAYER as a testimony to who God is, what we believe, and the fact that our Nation was founded upon the truths of God’s Word.
We would like to invite you to join with thousands of other Christians across our nation to participate in this year’s National Day of Prayer!
The theme for 2014 is One Voice, United in Prayer, emphasizing the need for individuals, corporately and individually, to place their faith in the unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men.
To further highlight the theme, the Task Force has chosen Romans 15:6 as the Scripture for this year: “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Christians, we know well the power that God’s people experience when they PRAY! On the first Thursday in May, the United States pauses to observe a National Day of Prayer, and on that day, we as the church in America, have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of PRAYER as a testimony to who God is, what we believe, and the fact that our Nation was founded upon the truths of God’s Word.
Have you ever wondered what it takes to really live what Jesus calls us to be? What does God expect and how can we do it? What if there was a life coach who could lead us in that journey toward discovery?
*Please consider joining us Sundays at 11:30 AM for the next 6 weeks as we discover together how the church, through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, can prepare us to discover our gifts, connect with our God-given passions and practice our skills toward discipleship and inviting others into the heart of God.
Following this series, we will explore the apostle Paul’s various “farewell” addresses to the faith communities he started which offer instructions and encouragement for living well, right now, in the Kingdom of God.
Worship at 11:30 am
April 27, 2014 – Second Sunday of Easter: Declare the Resurrection of Jesus
May 4, 2014 – Third Sunday of Easter: Live What You Have Seen and Heard
May 11, 2014 – Fourth Sunday of Easter: Life in the Flock of the Good Shepherd
May 18, 2014 – Fifth Sunday of Easter: Christ as Cornerstone, Way, Truth and Life
May 25, 2014 – Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Mission Field Is Always Everywhere
June 1, 2014 – Seventh Sunday of Easter: 2014 Ascension Sunday – Active Waiting-Christ Reigns Over All
June 8, 2014 – Ordination Service for Pastor Heidi at 9 am at Annual Conference, Grove City College!(For those unable to travel to Grove City, a combined worship service will be held at Riverview UMC at 10 am)
June 15, 2014 – “And Finally, Sisters and Brothers…” – combined worship at Central at 10 am
A farewell Covered Dish Dinner for Pastor Heidi will follow the service.
He has risen!
Jesus’s friend and disciple John recorded this memory in his letter (John 20:19b-20):
I wonder how Jesus felt to know that it was finished. Here He was, 3 days later standing before the people He had just gone to hell and back (literally) to save. Just like before, Jesus moves toward people. He offers Himself to them. He offers to show them the wounds on His hands, feet and side. These marks, born through fierce love, were evidence of the pain and suffering required to break sins power. Yet His first words to the source of that pain are, “Peace be with you.”
No entitlement here. It was love that motivated Jesus – before the grave and afterward.
The peace He offers comes only through a relationship with Him. Like the diamond on the black cloth, as we recognize our need we see His brilliance and perfection all the more.
Will you trust in the finished work of Christ? Will you continue to let the spirit dig up more areas of your hard heart so that He can glorify himself through you more fully?
If we do that, then Jesus’ last words become our act of worship and thanks. Matthew records the scene where these last words were spoken. Just 40 days after Jesus’s resurrection Jesus came and said to them, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
He is with us.
Our risen Savior asks us to, “Go,” help others see how to His finished work frees us from the power and penalty of sin. To demonstrate His love even when people don’t deserve it. Why?
Because we are people who have been forgiven also. His love is what life is all about. His love pursues. His love speaks Truth. His love redeems broken people.
What a privilege to channel my gratitude for Him by helping others thrive in a relationship with Jesus. He commissioned His followers, “Go.”
I’m going. Will you come, too?
Easter Greetings to God’s Beloved Children!
Rejoice! Christ is Risen! Hallelujah! It seems that throughout the Lenten season we wait so long to finally utter those joyous words. We can only imagine the pain and long suffering of a world that waited so long for Emmanuel, a savior, Messiah to come.
How wonderful to celebrate and to be reminded that indeed Messiah has come and to be able to claim our identity as God’s children and that though we may suffer, we are not alone or dead in our sins. We can be assured that there is one who goes before us, who has given everything and suffered greatly so that we CAN receive God’s grace and a new beginning. Christ strengthens us for this journey of life and we are able to say those words, “Hallelujah! God has saved me. Christ is Risen!”
The resurrection is proof that death and all the dead places on earth have been overcome and conquered eternally. We may have freedom to live our lives as Resurrection People. Grace through Jesus Christ has all power to turn our dead ends into new beginnings. I cannot help but remind you once again this year of Paul’s words from Ephesians:
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Eph 2:4–10).
We have looked together at the power of the Baptismal covenant and its promises this Lenten season. My prayer is that our Lenten examination of self has been a life affirming and perhaps life-changing time of spiritual growth and renewal that has fine-tuned your spiritual location toward your identity in Christ. Let us now go into our community and our world to live out and to be what we have been called and to invite others into God’s heart.
As we look around at the beauty of God’s creation in Springtime (which we have suffered long to experience this year), may we be reminded of the waters of Baptism feeding our souls and bringing new life that enables us to see, with eyes of faith, the possibilities for life in God’s Kingdom.
May you each be encouraged to continually offer up your hearts to be transformed, claiming your inheritance of grace through faith in the Risen Lord. May you be found in Christ-being raised daily in Him, knowing Him and being fully known by Him. There is no greater thing. He is risen indeed!
Grace and Peace in Our Risen Lord,
Matthew 27:45-56 records numerous details about the day Jesus died.
The earth went dark and shook violently.
Tombs opened and godly men and women were raised from their graves.
The moment Jesus gave up His spirit, the thick curtain to the sanctuary of God was ripped in two.
Heaven and earth thundered with activity and then, I imagine, it all felt very quiet.
For 3 days Jesus’ grave was very quiet.
If the story ended there, we would still be lost. It doesn’t.
In a letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addresses the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Take some time today to thoughtfully read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead…For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
We have hope because the grave did not swallow Jesus. He drank the cup our sins created. He ransomed us – bought us back from sin’s power. And then He conquered death – set a heavenly order in motion again. The curse – death, separation from God – had no power over His perfection.
In Psalm 46:10, we are encouraged to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take time today to be still before God. Thank Him for whatever comes to mind. He is good and He is very much alive today. And tomorrow we get to celebrate that Heaven-altering fact.
I wonder what goes through the minds of people in the world who don’t “get” Christianity. I bet they wonder why Christians remember the day Jesus died as “good.”
I hope someone asks me sometime. I don’t know what I would have answered before, but now I would speak honestly about my sin. I would acknowledge that my life is out of whack and I recognize that my sin hurts others and me.
Worst of all, my sin separates me from the one True God who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.
Today, Good Friday, is good because God’s Son, Jesus, drank the cup of wrath that my sin birthed. Because of His perfection, He broke the cycle.
Today is good because Jesus willingly died to bring me Hope. He conquered sin. Death has no claim on those who choose to trust Christ alone.
In light of the Lenten season, I have come think of my sin and my Savior in tandem – like pedals on a bike. It is for my good to live in the reality of my sin and even more vital to balance that by focusing on Jesus and His saving love.
Because His death met a deep need of mine.
He is so good.
Rather than stand up for what he believed to be true – he is, after all, recorded three times declaring Jesus’ innocence – Pilate avoids a decision by trying to push the problem into someone else’s court.
Pilate plays the political game, attempting to please both his conscience and the crowd by offering to beat the innocent Jesus but ultimately release Him.
Pilate ignores truth speakers around him. In Matthew 27:11-36, we learn that Pilate’s wife urged him to release Jesus. “Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night.’”
Pilate let public opinion have a greater influence over him than Truth. Then he washed his weak hands in a tiny bowl of water. But at the end of the day he knew he caved to a crowd, sent an innocent man to the cross and released a dangerous criminal back onto the streets.
Like Pilate, I have given away many opportunities to take a stand for truth.
Truth is uncomfortable. It makes a conversation awkward. It might change a dynamic in a friendship or I may be mocked.
Like Pilate, I often try to softly stand up for what I believe through “less divisive” movements. I pass the buck to someone else, I change the conversation or I candy-coat my beliefs by merely implying what I mean, yet making sure not to clearly offend anyone with my convictions about Jesus Christ.
It takes guts to lead spiritually. Biblical convictions aren’t cuddly. Jesus was the Son of the living God and that’s what He told others. That Truth is worth telling others.
Pilate missed a great opportunity to know His maker in a personal, life-changing way. How will you take advantage of the platforms God gives you today – will you tell others the truth about Jesus?
The account often referred to as “The Last Supper” is recorded beginning in John 13:1:
“Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
What a statement: “He loved them to the end.”
The end was not pretty. He was given over to an unjust trial by Judas, one of the men who had served by His side for the last 3 years.
He was abused, whipped, lied about, spit on and publicly mocked.
All done by people whom Jesus loved to the end.
And Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends who claimed he would be true to the end, failed Him by denying every association he had with Jesus.
Yet Jesus loved him until the end.
That’s…I don’t even have a word for it.
After Judas left the meal to alert the Pharisees, Jesus spoke up again in John 13:34-35:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As a follower of Christ, I am to love like Jesus. I see vast room for improvement in my heart.
Yet I’m thankful, again, that this command is not for me to just “do” better, try harder. Instead, Jesus gave me His Spirit to live inside of me and teach me to love better, equip me by His Spirit’s power to do what I cannot.
I am one who wants to live and love others in light of the love Christ has shown me.
The crowd from the feast at Lazarus’ house followed Jesus out into the streets of Jerusalem the next day. In their exuberance and worship they lay palm branches, the Jewish national symbol, down in the dirt like a carpet for their King.
“Hosanna!” they shouted joyfully, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
John notes the crowd’s motives in John 12:17-18: “The crowd that had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign.”
The crowd was looking for a leader. An eloquent, spiritual man who raises people from the dead was a spectacular choice. The popularity vote was strongly in Jesus’ favor.
And the Pharisees hated that. Their plotting continued.
But Jesus remained focused. His ride on a young donkey down the street before the jubilant crowd was a fulfillment of the Prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9, the priest, over 500 years before. Scripture was being fulfilled right before their eyes.
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
The crowd’s idea of a king and God’s idea of a King were different. God is not limited to political parties or public opinions. Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”
God was unrolling a plan that would span centuries. He was in the process of redeeming mankind, not just relaxing the strain on the Jewish people of that day.
Where are you in the crowd? Do you have your own ideas or agendas that you are asking God to bless? Will you choose to lay down your own plan and ask God to reveal His purposes in your life instead?
I imagine that the afterlife was a main topic of conversation. People came from everywhere to celebrate and hear about Lazarus’ experience in death.
In my mind I see Lazarus and Jesus lounging around a center table, talking about what Lazarus had experienced while he was gone from this earth: God’s presence, streets of gold, angels, no tears, peace, complete healing, perfection, life in full.
Lazarus had tasted heaven.
What a contrast to Martha and Mary’s agony. For four days they had mourned the loss of their brother. Four days of chaos, pain and grief. Four days of trying to gain stability in a broken world.
And then a miracle: Jesus conquered death.
We understand Martha and Mary’s joy, but I wonder, was Lazarus sad? He went from perfection back to brokenness, for a time. Lazarus would one day die again.
I’d like to think this conversation among friends was refreshing for Jesus. Maybe this little family understood at a deeper level the power of sin’s curse and what awaits Christians, once Jesus’ work of abolishing the power of sin and death was complete.
No wonder that Mary, a worshiper of Jesus, demonstrated her love for Jesus by anointing His feet with burial spices.
John 12:1-3 records it this way, “Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Heaven. It awaits all who recognize and worship Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Will you pour out the perfume of praise for Jesus right now? Take a moment to consider heaven and our heavenly Father who loves you very much.
Here’s a quote to consider during your Sabbath rest this weekend.
“… Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves – to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.”
– Tim Keller, pastor and author.
This aspect of His character is remarkable. Other religions worship gods who are unapproachable. But the one True God says words like this:
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” – John 6:34-36 and John 6:50-52.
- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:11-13.
- “I am the good shepherd.” – John 10:11
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” – John 10:7
- “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” – John 11:17-27
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” – John 14:6
There are more identity statements from Jesus in Scripture but this short list is a good start. Choose one of the statements above and ponder its truth throughout the day.
I am pondering: Jesus is the bread of life.
In John 11:1-44, the disciple John records a conversation Jesus had with Martha and Mary upon His arrival to their town of Bethany. The women, two of Jesus’ dear friends, had sent for Jesus to come heal their brother. Lazarus had been dead for 4 days by the time Jesus arrived.
Martha immediately went to meet Jesus upon His arrival. She brought Him her hurt, yet in her pain she chose to rehearse truth about Jesus. In faith she chose to focus on the long view of God’s plan for broken and hurting people like her.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she began. “But even now, I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus asked Martha about her faith before He called her brother back from the dead. Martha’s faith was in Jesus, not the results for which she prayed.
Do you believe Jesus is the answer to your prayers, rather than a particular outcome?
In Matthew 16:21-28, Jesus uses words like suffering and death and makes references to raising from the dead.
The disciples and followers of Jesus had no idea what was coming. The concept of God dying was unfathomable.
Since God’s plan didn’t add up in Peter’s mind, he spoke out against it.
Difficulty, sacrifice, discomfort, pain; these are not words that sell others on following Jesus. And like Peter, I often do my best to convince God that the suffering is not just a bad idea, but altogether unnecessary.
“Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Jesus doesn’t just rebuke Satan. He also draws Peter’s eyes, and mine, back to the bigger picture, albeit counterintuitive and uncomfortable.
I don’t like leaving the safety of my Christian box. But that’s exactly what Jesus requires.
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Sacrifice. It’s part of the Christian life. Our Lord sacrificed everything for us.
Consider writing a statement of trust. I’ll go first:
Jesus, I may not understand my circumstances but I will trust You and obey even when it is difficult.
One of Jesus’s most poignant questions is found in Matthew 16:13-20:
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
How would you answer that question?
The text goes on to say Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ close friends and followers, responded with this statement: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
I believe those words are true. But I wonder how quickly I could come up with a concise statement of faith like that.
In the world, I’m cautioned to handle bold statements with care. Truth is seen as relative, not real, so we are encouraged to ride the fence of popularity.
In contrast, as a Christ-follower, I want to make very clear the issue of Jesus’ identification as Savior for the world.
Today I boldly proclaim with Peter. Jesus Christ, I believe You are the Son of the living God.
Who do you say Jesus is?
This week we have reflected on David’s example of turning from sin and reconciling with God. I wronged a coworker, but I can tell you firsthand that a great weight has lifted because I chose God’s plan of repentance, not my plan of escape. I am on good terms with the people I offended and I know God is pleased with me.
Confession, I’m learning, actually does me good. By confessing my sin to Him and to others, God revealed other areas of my heart that I needed to entrust to Him more fully.
You’ve read the Psalm a few times this week. Today, pray through Psalm 51 adding in specifics from your own walk with God.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me – now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit – with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
What we believe about God’s character plays a huge part in our walk of faith with Him.
In Psalm 51, David’s Psalm of repentance, David lists several of God’s qualities.
- God is merciful – “Have mercy on me, O God…”
- God’s love is unfailing – “ because of your unfailing love…”
- God is compassionate – “Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.”
- God is our judge – “You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.”
- God desires honesty (Truth) – “But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.”
- God purifies us from sin – “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”
- God forgives – “Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.”
- God is present with us through His Spirit – “Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.”
- God’s salvation brings joy – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”
What other truths about God do you see in Psalm 51?
“At least one indication of unbelief is the tendency to measure life’s challenges against our own adequacy instead of God’s promises. To enter our Sabbath rest, we must put an end to self-reliance – trusting in our own abilities to overcome difficulties, rise above challenges, escape tragedies, or achieve personal greatness.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
To learn more about your identity in Christ, try this simple experiment to help you find your true identity:
One afternoon in sixth grade, a boy stood in the aisle of our yellow school bus as I walked up the dirty rubber steps. He put his arms across the rows, blocking me from walking past.
“No chinks on the bus,” he said. I swung around, exited onto the sidewalk and walked 15 minutes to the public bus station. For the rest of the school year, I intentionally missed the school bus and used public transportation. I have never forgotten that 20-second scene, that boy’s swinging legs or the other students’ laughter.
“Chink” is a derogatory term used against Asians, targeting the shape of their eyes. My eyes. Over the years, I’ve heard different, appropriate phrases for the appearance of my eyes, like “almond-shaped.” None have been able to fully pacify the flurry of emotions I felt that day the boy stopped me from taking our bus home. This is what I heard: Because of my race, my identity, I wasn’t worth a bus ride.
We claim our identity from different places. When asked, we would identify ourselves by name, race, country of origin, job and abilities. Some would include religion. We strive to mark ourselves as unique, so we often want to be identified by what we wear, drive and do.
Let’s try something. Write down 8 identifiers about yourself. Write down things positive, negative and neutral. These can be what you do, a personality trait, your appearance, etc.
I’ll do it too. Here’s what I came up with: creative, Asian American, completely disorganized, dog owner, math illiterate, daughter, journalist, short.
As I sit staring at this list, I think God recognizes these things. In fact, I’m sure of it. After all, He designed all 5 feet, 1 3/4 inches of me. But, thankfully, God does not identify us in these ways. The Polis Institute’s study, “Dignity Serves,” helps me remember that the Heavenly Father uses Jesus as the standard. Let me explain.
In the original Creation, God made us in His image, in His likeness, as described in Genesis 1:26. When we accept that Jesus Christ took our sin, died for it, and then rose again victorious, the Bible explains that we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we are Christians, God sees us through Christ – He bridges the gap between us, but He also shapes our identity.
Imagine a bracket. At the lower end of the bracket are all the bad things ever used to identify you, either by you or someone else. Overweight, poor, lost, ugly. Maybe a loser. In my case, a chink.
In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul explains very clearly that Jesus, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (New International Version).
Jesus made Himself nothing. So essentially, He, being God, took the very bottom end of that bracket, taking on all of our sin and shame and, in obedience to God’s desire to love the sinners and hate the sin, He took all our punishment. His identity became nothing. The lowest of the low. There are theologians who believe that because of the sins of the world, Jesus literally was present in hell during the three days before He rose again. That low.
At the top of our imaginary bracket, list the good identifiers. A+ student, married, successful, parent, prayer warrior. In the next part of Philippians 2, verses 9-11 we read, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (NIV). Jesus, by right, deserves everything in the universe to bow to Him. He’s that high. His identity is that He is the strongest, most powerful, most acknowledged being in existence.
Our identities, as believers, fit within that bracket of Jesus Christ.
We cannot be lower than Jesus. God made it clear there is nothing so low within us that is outside of His saving power. Nothing, says Romans 8:38-39, “will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).
We cannot be higher than Him, either. We are not better; we cannot play God, we are not as capable, we do not deserve the worship He does.
Jesus Christ’s life, death and life again is God’s grace manifested. He bestows on us an identity impossible to acquire on our own. Rather, He gives it – and that’s much more a reflection of Him than of who we are.
As a sinner, one of the things I’m most capable of is placing people below me. I’m an A+ student and you aren’t. That means you’re stupid. I’m a prayer warrior, so I hear clearly from the Lord and spend much time in prayer. You probably don’t.
Here’s where Christ, fortunately, catches me again: All of us are within His bracket. His death causes everyone else to have that same identity as I do: no lower than Christ, outside of God’s saving grace. Christ died for that. And no higher than Christ, that I should ever consider to know better than Him; that my ideas are better than God’s.
Last year, the word “chink” surfaced in my life again, in conjunction with an ESPN story titled “Chink In The Armor” about NBA star Jeremy Lin. For the first time, I told multiple people how the same slur was used on me. One friend responded to my story confidently: “You are worth a seat on a bus,” he wrote to me, “and FAR, FAR more.”
With Christ, we are awarded a humanly unattainable identity. Our value and importance comes directly from God. He is the standard of goodness and truth, and He claims us as His own. Do you believe it?
As a young boy, David was chosen to reign over God’s kingdom. He walked with God and lived a life of great faith for many years. But David was human and he eventually failed, spiritually and morally.
Specifically, he had an affair with another man’s wife, and when she became pregnant with his child, he arranged for the death of her husband, just to hide his sin.
This is the stuff of soap operas, except we’re talking about the man after God’s own heart. Now new words were true of David.
Like me, David first tried to cover his tracks. God, on the other hand, wants more than a quick cleanup of the exterior mess our sin caused. God wanted David’s heart to be soft and repentant toward Him.
In this context, David wrote Psalm 51. David humbled himself before God and repented.
His first cry out to the God of Heaven was for MERCY. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love.”
Someone who knows their guilt cries out for mercy. David knew his sin was spiritual as well as physical. He had sinned against the God he loved.
“For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against You, and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just.”
How do you respond when you consider the context of Psalm 51?
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Over the next 12 hours I tried to wiggle out: avoidance, blame shifting, hiding, pride. Anything to stop feeling my guilt.
Does this sound familiar? It’s a default pattern all humans have in common.
Yet in David’s prayer (recorded in Psalm 51) I saw a marked difference between my idea of saying, “I’m sorry” and God’s call to repentance. “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being,” David wrote, “and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
I just wanted to sweep up the mess my sin had created. God wants me to clean out my motivations, heart attitudes and selfish pride.
Instead of hiding, David prayed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
So I confessed my sins to God, thankful for the wisdom and power to then make things right the hard way (God’s way) with my co-worker.
I was unsure how he would respond. But now his response was secondary. I wanted to be made right with God.
My heart desired the same thing David penned in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
In faith and humility, I met my co-worker; God guided the reconciliation conversation for us. My eyes did get teary but my co-worker was gracious.
It was a sweet moment for me.
- I once again came face to face with the fact that I am one who has been forgiven of much.
- I also remembered that I have a Savior who drank the punishment my sin deserves.
- Lastly, I experienced what it means to live in a community of people who reflect His truth and grace to me.
Read all of Psalm 51, start to finish. Which verses are helpful for you to claim today?
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” –John 11:25-26
From The Pastor’s Desk:
Grace and Peace to You my Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
I can hardly believe that even as I write this, a couple of weeks after the official beginning of Spring, it is snowing outside. Life can be curious like this sometimes. Things just aren’t as they are ”supposed” to be. The expected promotion falls through, a job promised just doesn’t materialize or our health unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse.
All the things that define our seasons our lives just don’t seem to be following the rules. What is going on?
As much as I wish I could provide answers for these things, I can’t. I don’t know why good things happen to bad people and vice versa. I only know when this kind of stuff goes on, we want to know what to do. Our world is shaken and turned upside down. God is often called upon and even called into question.
We can see that this is exactly what happened with Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. Where were you Jesus?, they asked. We needed you, he needed you.
If only you had been here sooner none of this would have happened. Those famous words. : If only…
In this Gospel story found in John as well as in the others we have studied in worship the past few weeks we can see it comes down to a matter of belief as to how we live through these times of brokenness-even death. We are not here talking about a thought or feeling but action. Action that shows we can let go of an identity bound up in brokenness and one rooted and grounded in the heavenly reality of Jesus Christ. This is no easy or light undertaking. We will have broken hearts. Yet in being willing to allow the love of God to transform these same hearts we can receive all that Christ offers-life eternal. The real difficult part is not hardening those broken hearts, but allowing the change Jesus offers us to open us to new possibilities for life in an eternal realm that we can experience here and now through Christ.
Again no easy undertaking. We must let go of our fear and accept these new possibilities for sight beyond what we can see and feel . Jesus mourns the real and painful loss of Lazarus right there in the moment with Martha and Mary, acknowledging human loss while also providing healing and a new life. Jesus provides real presence in suffering. This is an ever-present and eternal reality for Christians. Not that we will not have real suffering, but that in it all Christ will sustain us and be with us. We have hope!
As we move toward that glorious Easter celebration we recognize our faith journey is shaped by and, in many ways, mirrors the journey of Christ to the cross. We experience the death of our old, sin filled life and we are promised new and everlasting life because of what He accomplished there. Because we know the tomb was empty and Jesus appeared to the disciples in the flesh-not in merely some spiritual or altered state-but eating and breathing, we see how it will be also with us. We are freed from our sin and from death! We can accept Christ and have our hearts and our lives transformed by God’s amazing grace. This is my hope for our faith community: that all will know Him and shout with acclamation, “He is alive-in my heart and in my life!”, and then go and share our joy with those who have not heard and experienced this good news.
As we come together to worship and seek to grow deeper in faith this Lenten season, we realize that we are people filled with hope and a future. We can truly celebrate Easter knowing that we are resurrection people because of God’s love. This future begins with the grace of God, and its perfection is begun through the life, death and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let us come together in worship and mission to share this great gift of God’s Kingdom with all those who hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God and desire freedom from oppression in a world that is not yet perfected, loving God, loving neighbor and discipling the world.
May Easter joy and everlasting hope fill your hearts this Easter season.
Instead, I emailed a one-line reply. Several minutes later, an email thread was building and I was fighting mad.
I don’t get visibly angry very often but this short interaction sent me through the roof. I went in search of sympathy and advice from two trusted friends who graciously pointed me toward resolution. Each friend listened.
Truth began to shine when one of them thoughtfully read the original email out loud to me. With a few sentences and a more levelheaded reader, my basis for my anger dissolved.
I wish my sin and the effects of it could dissolve as easily.
I had caused a conflict because I was lazy and did not read what my co-worker had originally written. My sin created mayhem and it influenced several around the office that day.
This week’s passage is Psalm 51, David’s prayer of repentance. Already I identify with his opening line:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
The psalmist says his sin is ever before him. That can feel discouraging unless we really believe the line beforehand – a plea that God might cleanse him entirely and thoroughly blot out his sin. What does that mean for you today?
Today, if you have surrendered your life to Jesus, take some time to think about the love of God that stepped into the cursed mess of your life and redefined you as victorious, as God’s child.
How do you respond to Jesus when He says to you: “Neither do I condemn you.”
Don’t quickly answer and then emotionally or spiritually walk away. Stay with Jesus and talk about a few specific reasons why you are in need of His mercy.
When you have a few concrete things in mind, consider lifting your eyes to our Holy God in prayer and gratitude for the forgiveness He offers.
Maybe a prayer like this will get your conversation with God started:
You see my mess.
You know the depth, complexities and power of sin in my life. Today I recognize that You are stronger than these strongholds, attitudes and lies. You drank the cursed cup my sin deserves. You died in my place.
I worship you today recognizing that You alone are perfect, just, merciful and loving. Help me to love you and love others more – and to more fully understand and appreciate the mercy You show me. Surface sin in my life, Jesus. In darkness, it will only fester and grow, like a tumor undetected or a fungus unseen. Jesus, You are the Light of the world. I find my hope and my freedom in a relationship with You alone.