Category Archives: salvation

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

The Day Our Church Van went on a Beer Run…

It was the summer of 2006, and a group of members from my church and I were outside of New Orleans to help with the rebuild of the area, recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Our assignment was simple: replace a badly damaged roof of a home that week. The owner of the home was in the military, called out constantly to serve our country while his family’s needs remained. We were proud and honored to serve our Jesus as we served this family.

Over the course of the week, a neighbor kept checking in on us. Usually drunk in the middle of the day, he would shout out comments to us, asking us about how much longer we would be there, and even attempting to climb up to be with us (we stopped him from his climb up the ladder).

On the third day, however, he asked us for a favor. It was mid morning, and he needed a ride to go to the store and asked for one of us to take him there in our church van. I gladly offered to take him and we began to talk about him, his life, and the reason for us being in the community in the first place. We arrived at the store and he went in to make his purchases while I stayed in the church van.

When he came out, I was shocked to see him holding in his hand a 24-pack of beer. Essentially, I had just taken him in our church van on a beer run!

He got in and I reluctantly began to drive, but only after I protested a bit. However, picking up where we left off from our earlier conversation, I shared the story of Jesus with him, about the seriousness of sin, what Jesus did to conquer sin and death, and how he can be changed through his step of faith. We returned back to and parked in front of the house, and he began to share the pain in his life and how he had struggled with this pain during the time after Katrina. I listened, offered to pray for him, and, again sharing the gospel, I encouraged him to place his trust in Jesus.

That moment, in the church van, he prayed to receive Christ, finishing with a sentence that I will never forget: “I don’t need this beer; take it, I don’t need it anymore!” My heart skipped a beat as I realize what had just happened: this man’s life was changed forever that day!

What can we learn from this? That in the midst of crisis, there is a world hungry for the sweet, soothing words of Jesus Christ. People are scared and confused. They want to make sense of the world in order to find purpose and meaning beyond what they see. Sure, some turn to alcohol, drugs, or even pornography, but none of those things bring satisfaction and only make things worse. Instead, they need what we have: the truth of God’s Word and the love of a God who brings life through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this time of a world-wide pandemic, people are looking for answers. Be open to talk, be available, and be ready to help them see the heart of the issue. Most of all, speak the truth in love. People are in pain, and they are looking to fill a void in their lives, so show them that the only true satisfaction is found in Jesus Christ.

You never know how God will be using you next. Things are not always as they seem. May your interactions go beyond the surface and to the heart. May your conversations be Jesus-centered conversations!

Fran

The Answer to the Why

When crisis happens, “why” questions often begin. These are fair to ask, things like: Why would this virus, any virus, be allowed? And why the earthquakes, the tornadoes, the locusts, or even a set of asteroids whizzing by so, so close to earth, and all this week? And where is God in all of this?

The truth is, no event surprises God. Wars don’t. Famine doesn’t. Pestilence, earthquakes, even weather related events are known, seen, and allowed by God. Yet we have this wisdom from God in verses such as Proverbs 3:25–26 (CSB), “Don’t fear sudden danger or the ruin of the wicked when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.”

So why the tragedy, the heartbreak, the fear? Why the wickedness?

The simple answer is that the world is fallen. Sickness, sorrow, and death are all conditions that we have experienced ever since the first day that sin had entered the world. Cataclysmic phenomena, wars and rumors of war have always been with us, even if we have closed our eyes to it. The truth is, pain is a part of our fallen world, and we hate it.

But so does God.

This is why God brings hope in a fallen world. That in spite of the sin which introduced all of this, He has provided a way to eternity where “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev 21:4, CSB).

God is here, with us, comforting us, leading us to a better way. Yet we can’t miss the fact that the events of today are a reminder that there is hope for tomorrow. That all who trust Jesus and His free offer of salvation will receive eternal life and the guarantee that all will be well one day, that soon and very soon, we are going to see the King. King Jesus awaits!

So let me encourage you to have hope, because Jesus brings hope. In fact, He is hope. His love for you and for the world will never fade, even when things look bleak. Hold on to His promises that He is with us, even to the end of the age.

For those who don’t know consider yourself a Christian, let me tell you: come to this hope. No matter where you have done, He lovingly forgives you and invites you to a better way. He proved it when He paid the price for you on the cross, becoming a substitute for your life, exchanging His death for your life. Your response is to ask Him to be your Savior, your Lord, your God. That begins your new life in Him, a life that is all about Him, a life of worship to Him.

And that new life is freeing from the circumstances of today or any day. When you live in a closeness to Him, He is your guide. So that even in the midst of a confusing time or a cycle of seemingly endless tragedies, Jesus is your “why,” your new purpose in life. He is here. Always.

Stay holy and healthy, my friends.

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.

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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!

Dad, here’s your legacy…

Years ago, my dad had a deeply life changing experience. He was at a small church in a new community that he had just moved to. There to see my sister get baptized, he heard the gospel, responded to the invitation, and received Christ. He was baptized that same day, along with my mom and sister.

I thought he was crazy. I knew it wouldn’t last. I figured he’d be back at his usual routine, shopping the flea markets on Sundays. I was wrong. Dad loved Jesus, and Jesus was clearly his center point of his life for the rest of his life. He was being changed daily before my eyes.

As time went on, the prayers and the faithful witness from my mom and him had an effect on my wife and me. Though I had learned religious things as a child, still, I knew of Jesus but didn’t know Jesus. Teresa received Christ before me, but I was so hardened and stubborn, I just could not see how Jesus wanted a relationship with me, not for me to merely change my religious traditions. Again, I was wrong.

God got a hold of me at that same small church in that new community in Central Florida. The gospel spoke to me and I was forever changed. My wife and I were babes in Christ, and over time, God grew us. Long story short, our entire family was changed, forever changed because of the gospel. And yes, though we’re not perfect by any means and flawed in every way, we see that we are loved by the Creator and forgiven through His Son. My kids know this and I pray that my grandkids see this as well.

Dad, this is your legacy. Your first faith steps to respond to the gospel change this. You showed me and other men that when a man follows Jesus, his family sees his example and can be changed as well. We’re not perfect, we’re flawed, yet we show them that we’re loved by the Creator and forgiven by His Son.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven, dad. You are missed but your legacy of faith in Christ lives on.

Fran

The God of the Possible

The fruit and potential of the land was amazing:

When they came to the Valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes, which was carried on a pole by two men. They also took some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut there.” Numbers 13:23‭-‬24 CSB

Now think about it: The vine of grapes was so big, two men had to carry it! The land was beautiful, rich, and flowing. The Lord had promised it, and He came through big! All they had to do was follow God and do His will. No enemy, no inhabitant would stop God’s will for His people. They simply had to take a step. A step of faith.

https://unsplash.com/@rohittandon

But they didn’t. They forgot the God of the possible, and instead created a god of the impossible. They ignored His miraculous work of the past and looked at the obstacles before them. But seeking to save themselves, they lost it all. They made a horrible, deadly choice and in a business meeting, individual by individual voted a resounding, faithless “no.”

Their “no” would change some of them forever. All if that generation would never see the promises of God fulfilled. Death would follow them when they could have had life and loss abounded when they could have seen gain. Most of all, the chance for God to be glorified by all Israel would be delayed for 40 years.

Have you been voting “no” to God’s work in your life? Has God challenged you to step out in faith? A year ago, I did something that made no sense to people (still doesn’t) and God has amazed me as I have seen Him working in many places I visit. He gets the glory!

And so, let me encourage you to do the same, to walk by faith, to fear nothing, to step out…and let God get the glory!

Fran

…SDRAWKCAB

Ez 37:3, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” 

The entire scope of the Word of God was written so that you can see God’s story as one big act of grace. Yet we often don’t get that and reduce faith to do’s and don’ts, right and wrongs, and even shrink theological concepts to something that might fit on a bumper sticker (see WWJD). Even worse, when the Ten Commandments are seen and studied, there’s a sense that this is what one must do to be a “good” follower. Is this true?

Well, yes and no. The truth is, most have it backwards. Often, people look at the Ten Commandments (or the Beatitudes, Great Commandment, Great Commission, etc.) as the bar to strive for, when God meant it to be the opposite. Rather than simply raising the bar of the Law so that you and I can strive for and achieve it, God raised the bar so you and I can rest in the One who can. God’s grace is magnified in your failures, His strength is made perfect in your weakness.

boat-2333648_640Look at Peter walking on water. Could he have done this without Jesus? Not at all. But when He was focused on Jesus, even running to Jesus, Jesus made the impossible, possible. This same work of grace happened much later when 3000 came to Christ in Acts 2, or when the beggar was healed in Acts 3, or when Peter was released in prison in the chapters beyond.

The same for your salvation and daily walk. When you rest in the One who calls you, He gives you daily strength to do greater things in Him than you could ever do without Him. Rather than striving to fit some legalistic imperative in Him, then, how about doing all as an act of worship first, then let the work of the Spirit change you from the inside out?

You might have gotten it backwards. Don’t worry, repent and be restored. He’s got this. Your dry bones can live again.

Fran

6 Thoughts on the Power of the Resurrection

  1. Christianity without the resurrection is dead. Literally. Paul wrote plainly, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Death without a raising of the dead would have made Christ a liar and a fraud, however, life after the cross makes Him Lord.
  2. The resurrection resolves the death of the Messiah. This is why we place so much effort on Resurrection Sunday. Good Friday must have Resurrection Sunday, for Christ’s victory over death is shown to the world. Just as the second to the last note on a song needs to be resolved by the final note, so did the cross.
  3. The resurrection fulfills prophecy. Our Jesus was predicted to bear our stripes and atone for the sins of the world. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22-24, and others point us to the cross and the resurrection. No one could intricately plan these events apart from God.
  4. The resurrection is our power. We have a great High Priest in heaven preparing for us (see John 14:1-6). He was raised by the power of God, will be returning in power, and will raise His people as He promised by this same power. Imagine this: if you are in Christ, God’s power is graciously going to raise you to be with Him!
  5. The resurrection is our hope. Our hope is entirely dependent on the resurrection. A few days ago, I got to speak with a dear saint in her 90’s just before she passed. Her words: “I’m at peace and waiting for my golden chariot to come get me.” She is now with Christ. Without the resurrection, none of us can have this hope as we have no example of the raising of the dead.
  6. The resurrection is our life. While pagans serve dead gods made of stone, wood, or their imagination, our God is a living God. Over 500 witnesses saw Christ after He arose, and these eyewitnesses were willing to tell of what they saw, even if this meant death. Because for them and hopefully for you, death means life.

Think over these things as you enter worship this morning. His resurrection is powerful as He is risen, indeed!

Pastor Fran 

Four Ways You Can Connect with God

Jesus, in answering a lawyer’s question, affirmed in Luke 10:27 that you are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” These two great commandments, He would also say in Matthew 22:40, “depend all of the Law and the prophets.”

bible-2167776_640This is huge, to say the least! I see so many different dimensions to these commands. First, we interact with God on the four levels of heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the same way, we interact with people on these four levels. For example, when one of these four levels in a marriage relationship is broken, the relationship suffers like a four-cylinder car running on three. This is why every relationship should be healthy emotionally, spiritually, physically, and even cognitively (the mind).

For my next few posts, I am going to spend time on how you can love God and people more in each of these areas on a daily basis. Keep in mind that no one is going to perfectly love God and people, but if you sincerely desire to put on love, you can do this greater today than you did yesterday, and tomorrow more than you did today!

Next: Love with All Your Heart

Fran