Our God doesn’t blink off

Our God doesn't blink off
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Our God doesn’t blink off

This afternoon I get to teach a room full of students that our God doesn’t blink off. Instead, he is constantly working to expand the reach of the gospel in our lives.

What has God been doing for 4,000 years?

I teach Lesson 6 of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Perspectives is a fifteen-week class about what God has been doing the last four thousand years, what he is doing now and how to find your place in his plans. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap. But, if you want a bigger vision of how God is working to take his salvation to nearly eight billion people on our planet, you can’t miss it!

Lesson 6 of Perspectives covers God’s work between the end of the book of Acts (sometime before AD 70) and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. That’s a lot of ground to cover in two hours of instruction!

When most of us Evangelical Americans think about church history, we think of God blinking off sometime in the first couple centuries after Jesus and blinking back on when the Reformation leaders left the Catholic church. This, of course, is a misunderstanding of how our God works.

For those fifteen hundred years God worked through his people expanding the reach of the gospel. The message of Christ moved through Roman civilization, then traveled to the Barbarians and then to the Vikings. Rather than blinking off and blinking back on, God’s work built momentum during these times to make us ready for a final push to the ends of the earth.

From the Apostles to the Empire

The expansion of the gospel began with the Apostles. Following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension back to the Father, they didn’t stay in Palestine. Some of them traveled to surprising places. When missionaries arrived in India generations ago, they found churches in areas thought to be unreached. Those churches traced their lineage back to the Apostle Thomas. The Apostle, Matthias likely carried the gospel deep into Ethiopia. And, some stories tell us that Joseph of Arimathea might have found himself on the shores of Great Brittain. (Yes, the guy who took Jesus off the cross and let him use his tomb for a few days. SPOILER ALERT: Jesus didn’t need that tomb for very long!) In February, AD 313, Christianity became the religion of Rome. Then, as Rome drew to a close toward the end of the Fifth Century, God’s work was just getting started.

Greater than outside threats

As the church expanded through Roman civilization, they had decisions to make. Church councils discerned between true faith and errant views of Christ. Offenders were often excommunicated and exiled outside Romans civilization. As they found new homes, they taught people about Jesus. The Barbarians began to believe. Over the next four hundred years, faith in Jesus expanded as Roman civilization collapsed. Then, the next threat and frontier loomed on the horizon.

As Western Europe was coming together under the reigns of leaders like Charlemagne, a new threat arose. People from the north began to raid, pillage and plunder. Unlike the Barbarians who had brought the doom of Rome, the Vikings were seafarers. And, they had no respect for God or his people. We all know how Vikings do things. They destroyed monasteries, stole the church’s treasures and carried captives back to their homelands. Many faithful women were taken. Many of them refused to give up hope in their captivity. So, God continued the expansion of the gospel through captives taken involuntarily to the Viking homelands. Over the course of the next four hundred years, God brought much of Europe — including the Vikings — to hope in Christ.

So, what?

So, what? That’s the question of the Twenty-First Century. What does this mean for us? The God who refused to blink off through the rise and fall of Rome, Charlemagne, and the Vikings is the same God who refuses to blink off in your life. No matter what foes arise or how tough life gets, you will not be deserted. Jesus paid the highest price to prove God’s love to us. So, whatever you face today, don’t forget that our God doesn’t blink off!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 ESV

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How Star Wars should have ended… (SPOILERS)

THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER AND HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (ALTHOUGH, YOU SHOULDN’T NEED A SPOILER WARNING FOR A MOVIE NEARLY TEN YEARS OLD).

How Star Wars should have ended
Yes, it’s bad photoshopping

How Star Wars should have ended (and Harry Potter did)

Last night as I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realized how Star Wars should have ended!

Every Christmas my wife and I pull out the Harry Potter movies. Since the first couple movies were holiday releases, the familiar John Williams score as the big Warner Brothers logo opens scratches a Christmas itch in my brain.

Last night we finished the series again. As I watched the last hour or so of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I realized this movie was how Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should have ended.

Two movies. One story.

After almost eight whole movies of getting to know Harry, Hermione, Ron and their world, the final movie culminates in a battle that leaves Hogwarts in rubble and gives Voldemort the upper hand. After retreating, he makes an announcement that no one else has to die if Harry will give himself up. So after learning via memories from Professor Snape, Harry does that very thing.

On the way to the Forbidden Forrest to give himself up, Harry opens the snitch he received from Albus Dumbledore following his death. Inside the snitch, he finds The Resurrection Stone. As he clutches the stone in his hand, the heroes and mentors who have gone before surround him. They tell them they are with him. Then, he lets The Resurrection Stone fall from his hand because it’s done its job. That moment was when the lightbulb went off!

As I watched Harry talk with Serious Black, I realized I was watching the scene from the end of The Rise of Skywalker when Rey heard the voices of all the Jedi. Then, Harry sacrificed himself to defeat Voldemort. That was what Rey did, too. I’m not going to comment on who did it better. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s the same story! But, it’s the same story — not because someone at Lucasfilm stole Rowling’s story — because it’s THE STORY (more or less)!

THE STORY is God’s story

THE STORY — the metastory — is the one God has been writing for the last four thousand years. After creating the world, watching it fall, rebooting it with Noah and his family (see The Matrix Reloaded for more on that part of the metastory), choosing Abraham and his descendants, giving them a home, watching them turn to idolatry, sending them into exile, giving them a home again and letting them be conquered by the Roman Empire, he sent his only Son to be THE The One.

The night before Jesus sacrificed himself for us to win the victory by receiving the punishment we deserved for our sin, he spent the night in a garden preparing for his sacrifice. He met with his Heavenly Father, not all those who went before him. The Apostle John taught us that there was no one before him (John 1:1). Then, he surrendered himself and died on the cross.

However, just like Harry and Rey, that wasn’t the end of his story. He rose from the grave victorious. He defeated sin and death. Jesus fulfilled the law with his sacrifice. Everyone who trusts in him and his sacrifice for us receives eternal life. Yes, this means life forever, but it also means knowing our Creator and our Savior. This is the metastory that writes all the great stories for us. So, why does this metastory feel so real to us?

The metastory is our story

The metastory about Jesus is real to us because every one of us has experienced it ourselves. For all of us there has come a moment when we had to give ourselves up. Our sacrifice doesn’t save the world. When we repent of trying to save ourselves and trust in Christ, we die to ourselves join with him in his resurrection. This happens the moment we trust in him, and it happens every day the rest of our lives.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus told us:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

This metastory feels so real to us because it describes the story we faced when we trusted in Jesus as well as every day of our lives. And, we don’t’ just die for ourselves. When we give ourselves up every day, we follow in the footsteps of the faithful before us (Hebrews 12:1). We also die for the people we love most. Our sacrifice shows them our hope is in something bigger than us. Then, we use our words to tell them that something is Jesus!

For more thoughts on Star Wars and the story of the Bible, check out Matt Whitman’s video on The Ten Minute Bible Hour.

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Time to give things away

Time to give things away
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

A dream convinced me it’s time to give things away

Recently, a ridiculous dream that convinced me it’s time to give things away. I’m not the kind of guy who reads a lot into dreams. For the most part they are just our brain’s way of dealing with all the ideas and data floating around in our heads. However, this dream had an important message for me.

In my dream our church was doing a musical?!? (Apparently, there were several levels of ridiculous in this dream!) I was directing this musical. I was in the middle of working with individual actors on their parts. (As with most dreams, there was a sense of continuity — I understood why I was directing and what was going on even though I was just dropped into the middle of it.)

The next actor to walk in to work with me was Olivia Wilde!?!

Of course, this made perfect sense in the dream. I took a few minutes to tell her how appreciative I was to be working with her. I began sharing with her my grand vision for that scene…

Then (you guessed it), I woke up!

I would love to have a chance to talk with Olivia Wilde — or just about anybody — about what Jesus has done for us. I could probably do a pretty good job at that. But, of course, I have no business directing her, or any other Hollywood and Broadway star, in a musical!

Doing things I’m not best at

As I thought about my dream, I realized I have made a habit at our church of doing things I’m not the best at. I’ve been pretty good at a lot of them — sometimes by just working harder. However, if I take myself and others seriously, I’m doing some things that are probably as silly as directing Olivia Wilde.

This afternoon a group of musicians was rehearsing at church for an event we have coming soon. I showed up to see how their rehearsal was going. They played part of one of the songs they are working on. They sounded GREAT!!! I couldn’t have added a thing. When they finished and I told them how impressed I was, I was reminded that I need to find more responsibilities to give away.

This is a big year for our church. We just signed a two-year lease. We want to be ready to find a new home that can really reflect who we are at the end of 2021. If that’s going to happen, it’s time to give things away. I am going to have to give many of my current responsibilities away to people who can do a better job than I can. I think me working harder has accomplished just about as much as it can. Now it’s time to be the body of Christ.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul wrote:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (ESV)

Working hard not to work so hard

The last thing I would ever do is say that anyone at CrossRoads has not pulled their weight. We have one of the most dedicated, hard-working churches around. That’s why our church of about one hundred people on Sunday mornings has touched lives around the world in ways that many churches ten times our size have not. But this year I am working hard to not work so hard because my working hard is holding us back. Instead of working harder, I’m going to follow Paul’s advice and work at getting more people working. And, I’m going to need your help doing that!

As you pray for CrossRoads Church this year, ask God to give us wisdom. We are going to be intentionally deciding what is most important to us as we move forward. Then, we are going to be finding the best ways to involve ALL of us in doing the important things we need to do to bring God’s kingdom.

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Just love somebody

just love somebody
Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

Just love somebody and tell them about Jesus

Sometimes we overcomplicate it, don’t we?

Yes, what we believe is important. Yes, there are distinctives we hold to about God, Jesus, faith, sin and salvation. Sometimes, though, we need to just love somebody and tell them about Jesus. We worked on that yesterday.

What did you do yesterday?

What did you do yesterday? Yesterday we loved people. At least we tried. I’m not sure we always get it right.

Yesterday was our third I heart My Neighborhood event. This one was pretty simple. We got together at one of our members’ homes and knocked on doors asking three simple questions:

  1. What is something a church might be able to do to make your neighborhood a better place?
  2. Do you know someone in your neighborhood who needs some help?
  3. How can we pray for you?

It’s always interesting to see what kind of response we will get. I’ve noticed that the nicer the house, the more likely the person who answers the door is going to be grumpy. I’ve also noticed that the number of people who answer their doors is inverse to the number of Ring doorbells on a street. And, people over 65 and under 35 are way more likely to answer the door and talk cordially with us. (Gen X-ers, what’s up with us?) And that’s all OK because we really just want to talk with people who want to talk with us. (Life’s just easier when mean people don’t answer their doors.)

One great response makes it worth it!

What I’ve noticed as we have worked to just love somebody is that one great response makes it worth it! Yesterday, the group I was with got to meet a couple ladies who invited us into their house, talked with us about some needs in their neighborhood and let us pray for them. That was a lot of fun.

The other group met some people who thought it was really interesting that a church was knocking on doors. They found out as they talked with people that there were not many unmet needs in their block because their block takes care of one another! What?!? I want to move to that block! What a great place to live! (If you live in that block, I impressed! Keep it up! And let us know how we can help! We want to support neighbors caring for one another! Seriously, we want to be that kind of neighbor!)

Just loving somebody will cost you something (or, maybe, a lot)

You’ve probably noticed that loving someone always costs us something. Yesterday it cost us about two-and-a-half hours of our Saturday morning. Saturday morning is prime family time. That’s expensive.

Jesus told us that loving people is not cheap. In Luke 10, Jesus sent his followers out to prepare the way for his teaching. When they got back, he listened to their report. Then, he told the story of The Good Samaritan. You are probably familiar with the story, but let me give you a little refresher (You can read it for yourself here.)

Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. (That’s putting it mildly.) A Jewish man was mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As he laid there on the side of the road, a couple good Jews walked by without helping him. Then, a Samaritan tended to his wounds, put him on the animal he had been riding and took him to the nearest inn to be cared for — in a world without CareNow, inns were the closest thing to urgent care. Then, the Samaritan paid the bill for the man’s stay and medical bill.

To be fair, the Samaritan was not a poor man. He had an animal with him. Feet were the cars of the day, so he probably had some wealth. But, he understood at least part of the purpose for his wealth was to help someone else. And he did. Generously! A lot!

…and tell them about Jesus

It’s funny. Once you have met a real need in someone’s life, they will let you tell them about Jesus. Of course, you can’t be judgy or fake. You have to continue to love them. (Your love has to be the real thing. They will figure it out if it’s not.)

What do you tell them about Jesus? That’s pretty simple really. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul told us what our message should be:

  • Jesus died for our sins and was buried.
  • He rose from the grave (proving death and sin were defeated).
  • When we trust in him, we receive a place in his resurrection.

Even though it’s not a tough message, sometimes it can be hard to share. But, you’ll find it’s a lot easier when you really love the person you are sharing it with (and they know it).

Come love people with us

If you live near us and want to make our cities better places to live, you are invited to come love people with us. This time we were just knocking on doors. We often have people doing the work of loving people by doing odd jobs or small construction projects to meet real needs. You are welcome to send me a note and let me know you are interested.

How do you need to just love somebody this week?

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