Category Archives: Jesus

I Shouted in Excitement…

When I was about 12 years old, I went on a month long family road trip across the eastern part of the United States. It was so much fun seeing the different destinations, enjoying the various regional eats, and encountering people of all walks of life. I eagerly tried new things: I made crafts at a reenactment of a colonial village. I shouted in excitement when I dove into a deep lake off of a high cliff. I swung from a tire swing over a river. I stood at a mountain peak where I could see multiple states at once. It was a summer of amazing, unforgettable experiences!

That summer impacted me even today, because I love to travel—it’s fun making lifelong memories and share experiences together with loved ones. Teresa and I try to travel as often as we.

But one thing that I noticed is that whenever we do travel, it seems more fun to be at the end of the journey than the beginning. For example, as we traveled to the Queen City, we didn’t feel like we were “there” yet until we saw that amazing view of the Cincinnati skyline from the Kentucky side (and if you have never seen it, you are missing something special). I mean, driving around was fine and all that, but at the point of us seeing the skyline, our excitement kicked up and our level of enjoyment for the trip shot up. In our minds, we were there! Woo hoo!

Yet it’s so often the opposite when we are talking about the spiritual. It’s a miraculous work if God for anyone to be born again, and we should absolutely celebrate this great moment. But thinking about the journey of so many, here’s a passage to ponder:

A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

Ecclesiastes 7:1

Solomon gave us some words to think about as we make our pilgrimage through life. There are two things he focuses on and some serious points to keep in mind: to be both upright and to finish strong.

First, there’s value in keeping a good name. In other words, character matters. For Solomon to write this is a bit ironic considering his many public moral failures, but the truth he writes is the truth. Clearly he means that fame, fortune, and power mean nothing if the character of a person falls short. Yes, we are sinners, yes, we blow it, yes, we will do it again, but character building is a lifelong process, a consistent growthin Jesus. It takes humility, patience, and transparency, because when a person owns up to his or her flaws and relies on the power of the Holy Spirit, growth begins to take shape.

There’s value in finishing strong. Everyone celebrates a baby’s birth, but unless a life is extraordinary, few celebrate a person’s death. When it does, it’s because the life was well lived, and that most people would recognize that the person cared for others more than themselves. That person sought to become last, in many ways to die to self for the sake of Jesus. Some people in recent memory come to mind: there are plenty of examples, but Billy Graham and Ravi Zecharias are two that I can think of right now. These men lived for Christ, for a greater purpose than themselves, for the gospel. They gave us an example of what it means to both live well and finish strong, and there’s an eternal value in what they have done.

This passage hit me between the eyes as I think about my own life and ministry, but where are you at on this? On your life journey, did you start strong in Christ and are you letting Christ shape your character? Are you focusing on the good things of life, the things dedicated to the glory of Christ? Are you placing Jesus first? Even now?

The journey is great, but the end of the journey should always be an expression of God in you. A celebration. A sweet sacrifice for the glory of God. May the Lord place you on a journey that results in an eternal impact for His gospel!

Fran

Racism, Hatred, and the Image of God

“So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”
—Genesis 1:27

Another significant event. Another senseless death.

We said that many times in the past, too many now to count. We thought that in 2012 with Trayvon Martin. In 2014 with Eric Garner in New York City. Michael Brown in Ferguson. Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. And now, George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Sadly, we fear that this won’t be the last. A recent study shows that 1 in 1,000 young black men will be shot. No pattern of geography. No correlation with crime rates. Not even the race of the officer. Only one major factor: the victim is black.

The controversy is real. The fear is real. It has affected how black people perceive other groups. It has impacted the mental health in the black community. It has caused white people to go from being in denial of the issue to disbelief, and now, to feeling helpless about what to do.

And there’s no denying that a problem exists. But it goes deeper than racism.

The problem is something deeply rooted within each of us: our sin nature. We live in a fallen world. We live with sin in us and all around us. It affects our relationship with God and our relationships with people. It causes us to dismiss others, placing them in categories of “us” and “them.” We effectively, then, dehumanize “them” in our minds. We make “them” faceless, even less than human, when these types of incidents occur. They become statistics, not people. 280-character tweets, not horrific stories of pain and sorrow. People who are often forgotten by the general public until the next incident in the news cycle.

We’ve been dismissing people throughout our human history, and we’ve gotten really good at doing this. We dehumanize to do evil things like slavery or an unjust war. We do it to hate the kid down the block or the new boss. We take our perception, profile a person, and then react to what we fear rather than what is reality. We “justifiably” hate because we think that it’s less complicated, and that we think that it’s easier to deal with uncomfortable human interactions in this way.

Yet this behavior is wrong. Even corrupt. Sinful.

Sin is disgusting and horrible. Sin pollutes our human mind. It affects how we perceive others. How we interact with them. It causes us to forget that people are made in the image of God. And when we fail to see the image of God in people, we treat them, well, inhumanely. At best, we ignore them. At worst, death happens.

This is the effect of missing the image of God in people. But there is hope, the hope that Christ died for the world (1 Jn 2:2), that no matter the sin or the situation, and that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13). That Jesus died for sinners at the cross, sinners who include people of every tribe and tongue.

Christian, now is the time. Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” We are the bearers of good news. Better news than what we see today. The best news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus offers a totally different worldview than what we see today, that people who turn to Him see others the way God sees them: not from what is outside but what is inside. He is, as He has always been, our only hope.

And so, we need to repent. We must repent. Christians, we need to be peacemakers, people who speak to the condition of the heart and yet know the dignity of the individual. We can and should make the death culture know that people are created by God, that all life is precious, that all bear the image of God. Our world needs to hear from God in this issue. Our world needs to hear of the hope found in Jesus.

I look forward to the day when every knee will bow before Him. Until then, let us share the hope of Jesus. If you are a believer, now is not the time to be silent. There is no better time to share the gospel of our Savior, the slayer of sin, the redeemer of His people, the King of the New Heaven and the New Earth.

Let’s do this.

Fran

5 Things I Hope for the Church, Post-COVID

It’s been far too long since we met in person. Thankfully, due to technology, many of us haven’t ceased meeting, yet many of us can agree that the online environment just isn’t the same. It’s not.

As churches begin getting back to meeting again, pastors and staff are taking appropriate precautions. As time goes by, however, even those precautions will be loosened up as people get more comfortable and the threat of the virus has passed. That said, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we regain our footing as the church in order to do Jesus’ Great Commission work.

Here are five hopes that I have for the church, post COVID:

  1. People will appreciate and attend worship more often. The fact that we have not met together in person should be a reminder of how precious our gatherings really are. My hope is that believers will not forsake the assembling and worship God with their church more consistently.
  2. Pastors will continue to be creative. One thing that came out of the COVID period is that pastors had to be more creative in reaching out to their congregations and the world. The use of Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube was a new thing for many pastors, but my hope is that they can build on this medium and supplement (not replace) their ministries through these tools.
  3. There will be a return to one-on-one conversations about Christ. Many church leaders have encouraged church members to invite people to come to church. However, this kind of passive evangelism can unintentionally threaten to “professionalize” evangelism, overshadowing the believer’s need to have personal conversations about the gospel. I hope that the church will see how healthy and energizing it is when believers tell others about Jesus’ gospel.
  4. Groups will explode in a new discipleship emphasis. Groups somehow got deemphasized over the years in favor of worship. The thinking is that people can be led to groups after coming to a worship service. This is true to a point, but just like in my previous hope, focusing on outreach through groups such as Sunday School or home study groups will energize a group and create excitement as new people attend and come to Christ.
  5. The church will regain her mission of making disciples. It’s so easy to focus on the business of budgets and buildings, because these things aren’t as messy as people related issues. Yet, we are not called to buildings or budgets, we are called to the work of the gospel. While we need to be good stewards of what we are given, we must never let our attention be taken away from the best gift we have ever been given: the gospel. My hope is that we have a disciple making revolution, where everything is focused not on keeping the aquarium but on fishing for people.

There you have it. My hope is for a changed church, different than where we were and more like the church that existed immediately after Christ’s ascension. Is it possible? Yes absolutely, as long as we hold near and dear Christ’s calling and focus all of our attention on that.

Fran

Making the Imperfect, Perfect

Life is messy, at least it is this side of glory. We as sinful humans are really good at making a mess of ourselves. We blow it. We screw it up. We step in it. Well, you know what I mean…

And while life isn’t perfect, it’s perfectly imperfect. Nobody is perfect. We’re full of imperfections. We are broken, and we as broken people in a broken world need that perfect, merciful Savior who can take us just as we are and make us new in Him. It’s all grace, and it’s wonderful, and it’s offered to us freely.

This is why I’m so grateful. I mess things up and Jesus forgives me when I repent. I deserve nothing, but God offers me everything. And it cost Him everything, because it was on the cross that Jesus died, all to make the imperfect, perfect in Him. It’s all Jesus, all the time.

How about you? Have you received that gift Jesus has bought for you? If not, it’s never too late: “for all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13).

Fran

The Day Between the Days

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.”
Mark 15:43

It was a toiling day and a grueling night. The Savior had died, confirmed by the Roman centurion. Jesus’ followers, distraught and scattered, had no plan, no focus, no unity, and little hope.

congerdesign / 2682 images

Yet one unlikely man would be bold enough to lead out. Joseph of Arimathea, a man who Mark called “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin,” courageously asked for the body of Jesus for His burial. Pilate granted his request.

The place where Jesus was buried, a tomb cut in a rock, had never been used before. The clothing, linen freshly bought and carefully wrapped around Jesus, was His attire. Roman soldiers sealed the entrance and then guarded it against intruders. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead and there in the tomb He was buried.

This was the day between the days. It was a day of silence, a day of waiting between the first and the third days. For the disciples, it was likely the longest day of their lives as they waited and wondered about what was to come next in their lives. But God was still in control, His power ready to be miraculously displayed the next day. As we now know, the best was yet to come!

Fire From Heaven

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Luke 9:54 CSB

What would cause these followers of Jesus to want to call down fire from heaven? Was it anger? Hatred? Pride? Yes, to all of the above. Add in the fleshly, prideful racism that existed at the time, and such a request was certainly possible, even likely.

They probably thought that those Samaritans, those “half breed” “semi-Jews,” well, they had no right to refuse to give a place to Jesus in their town. This ultimate insult, a violation of the courtesies of the day, was the worst possible slap in the face. Someone had to learn that this was unthinkable! Someone had to be taught a lesson!

Photo by Marcus Löfvenberg on Unsplash

Yet while the Sons of Thunder (that is, James and John) wanted fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans into submission, Jesus did something even more unthinkable: He turned the other cheek! He was not worried about the squabbles over protocol and custom, the blow to the ego, or the mean spiritedness of clueless people. No way! Jesus was more concerned about the work He was doing for the Father. He came to serve, after all, not to be served. And yes, to give a ransom for many, including those “pesky” Samaritans.

Today, let me encourage you to imitate Jesus in this way. Forget those petty, ego crushing words of poison from others or a perceived lack of respect from a person without a clue. After all, does all that REALLY matter in the big picture??

How Dare He?

“They laughed at him, because they knew she was dead. So he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’” Luke 8:53‭-‬54 CSB

This child was dead. They knew dead. They were well aware that the 12 year old girl in front of Jesus had passed away. So when Jesus proclaimed that she was only asleep, they laughed in mockery. How dare He say such a ridiculous thing?

Yet as they were chuckling and talking among themselves, Jesus focused on the girl. “Get up!” Jesus commanded. What came next was, well, miraculous: this girl, this dead girl in which all had been mourning over, this cold, ashen faced girl arose from the dead!

Luke, a doctor, knew full well that this type of work did not happen naturally. Dead is dead. Yet Jesus has the power over life and death, sickness and health, heaven and hell. He is God, and His power overcomes anything we see as an obstacle. We are not, and we need to trust Him for everything, from the seemingly impossible to the tiny things we think we can handle ourselves. It all belongs to Him!

How are you trusting Jesus with all things in your life? What do you hold back on?

Relief is coming

This morning, I continued my reading through Nehemiah and one thing that stuck out to me was his complete dependence on prayer. When he dared to approach the king of Persia, he prayed. When people tried to discourage him, he sent up a short prayer. When he saw injustices by the nobles towards the people of Jerusalem, he prayed a simple prayer that he is righteous with God and not self righteous. And when he called the people out on their sinfulness, he prayed a long prayer of confession and repentance. Nehemiah was one of the most successful leaders of his time and his prayers to the Lord are consistently recorded. The prayers were often nothing fancy, but they were usually simple, direct, and meaningful to his situation on a daily basis.

Even more, we can see how much he depended on God’s leading through his time in prayer. Praying for him was like breathing. As he prayed, God led, and as God led, he followed in prayerful obedience. As others attacked verbally and politically, he stayed focused and firm on the calling God had burdened on his heart. His principled leadership was only going to move in a different direction IF God moved him. Nothing more, nothing less. Either way, he knew that as he followed God, relief was coming to him in some way, shape, or form.

photo-1448550603489-a7e43b0da4d2Today, we have church leaders all over who are facing attacks. Some attacks have come from persecution and through threats. Others have come from some of the supposed sheep of the flocks they shepherd. I too have experienced this sort of man-centered garbage, yet I know that any response less than biblical is amounting to repaying evil with evil. Pastor, leader, deacon, friend, don’t respond with evil, respond to evil with good. Relief is coming, and it’s coming through the workings of the Lord.

You have a calling that God has burdened on your heart. Stay focused, stay firm, and stay prayerful constantly. The greatest tool you have is not your own words of wisdom or cunning man-centered politics, but your dependence on the One who fights your battles for you. Relief is coming, relief to continue your calling as you fight the battle for the souls of men. Stay encouraged, my friend!

Fran

Want to be Close to God?

Let me start by saying that we have rebellious hearts that make closeness with the Creator of the Universe just flat out hard to do. Oh sure, I know that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that we’re not coming to the Father except through the Son. Our prayers mean nothing until we know Him. I get that, and if you don’t know Christ in a personal relationship, you need to.

The closeness I am wanting to discuss is the way that a Christian interacts with the Father on a constant basis. I mean, is your intimacy with God a consistent, growing walk, or is it at an arms length, cold almost as, say a Facebook friend or work acquaintance? God did not intend for you to say “yes” to Him yet wave at Him from afar. To use some biblical metaphors, God wants the seedling faith He gave you to grow to be a tree planted by the water, with roots deep in the ground and fruit being produced.

And this happens through an intentional, intimate relationship with Him. So how? How can this be done?

To start, get close to Him through His Word and prayer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, you can stop what you are doing (like reading this) and take a moment and pray. It’s okay, this blog post will still be here. 🙂

Let me also mention this: Prayer is to be based on the Truth, the knowledge of Christ. We cannot have intimacy with the Father if we are not in His Word. Our prayers would be based on ignorant ramblings of a sinful, fallen heart rather than focused petitions of the Spirit. Therefore, start reading the Bible. Again, nothing fancy- read a Psalm a day as a start, then work up to a chapter or two of a gospel, or a reading plan available online. Start small, work to more intake and prayer.

Let me encourage you: Know Him, love Him, talk to Him, and interact with Him. Fruit will come of that. Your mind, heart, and spirit will be changed in Him daily and the wisdom of God will convict and change you. I am with Paul in the encouragement that you are strengthened in Him:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles —  to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ — to him be the glory forever! Amen. Rom 16:25‭-‬27 CSB

Even not knowing who would read this, I prayed for you before I posted this. My prayer was simply that you will be closer to God today than you were yesterday. Let’s start there and see what He can do. To God be the glory!

Fran

The Harvest

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2, NIV).

harvestJesus saw what we are now seeing- that the fields are ripe for harvest. Millions of people are coming to faith in Christ annually and the mission fields of places like central Africa are now fully reached with the gospel. In fact, estimates show that almost half of all Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2060. Needless to say, the gospel is exploding around the world!

What does this mean for you? First, you can see your life differently. What you are doing can be a part of the Kingdom work! Whether you are a shoemaker or a carpenter or a doctor or a manager of a sales team, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your willingness to claim it for the gospel.

Second, get involved through your local church. Your Kingdom work should be done through the Bride of Christ. Pray for your pastor and for more workers. Be active in your church, serve others, and look to do things not for your own benefit, but for the benefit of His gospel.

My friend, you can be a part of the harvest. You are a part of the work of Christ. Now, take ownership of that and use whatever you do, for the glory of God.

Fran