Fearful people need good news

Recently motorcycles backfired near New York City’s Times Square. People thought it was gunfire and panic quickly ensued. Some people got trampled as crowds tried to run for safety. Fortunately no one suffered life-threatening injuries.

The same evening at a mall in Utah a sign fell and made a sound that people thought was gunfire. They also started fearfully running in panic.

People throughout our country are in bondage to fear. The tragic mass shootings that keep happening have caused many to fear any loud noise they hear. Other fears grip people as well. Some fear anybody who looks different than they do or speaks a different language. Some are scared of what will happen if this law gets passed or that candidate gets elected.

Fear can cause people to run in panic and trample others in the process. It can also cause people to trample others with harmful words. Fear of those who are different can result in looking at them as threats that need to be avoided and enemies that need to be defeated, rather than seeing them as creations of God and souls that are loved by the Lord.

This terrified world desperately needs the good news of Jesus. Sadly, however, some Christians are joining the crowd that is running and hiding in fear. Jesus did not save us so that we might cower in fear until He returns. To His disciples, who also lived in a violent, scary world, “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (John 20:21).

When the motorcycles made the backfiring noise in Times Square, most ran from the noise. Police officers, however, ran to the noise to find out what was going on and how they could serve. Those who follow Jesus are to respond in a similar manner to the problems of this world. We do not throw up our hands and say, “It’s too hard. It’s a scary world. I’m just going to look out for me and mine.” Followers of Christ are to courageously go to the world with God’s promise of hope. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk asked some of the same questions we ask. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds” (Habakkuk 1:2-3). It sounds like our day and the Babylonians of Habakkuk’s day sound like the people of our day: “… they all come bent on violence” (Habakkuk 1:9).

We wonder why God doesn’t stop the shooters before they pull the trigger. Habakkuk wondered why God let the violent, evil Babylonians harm so many people. But he still trusted God was in control and eventually His justice would prevail. He waited patiently and trusted that, though all kinds of tough things might happen, “… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

We mourn with those who mourn. We weep over the violence that is so prevalent in our land. We call for each human life, no matter the color of their skin or the nature of their opinions, to be valued as a priceless treasure. We plead for people to use gentle words, “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:2). And we share the good news that we can be set free from fear and find peace in Jesus.

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Name that building

Nick Saban is the very successful football coach at the University of Alabama. He is also a devoted Catholic and regularly attends Mass at the St. Francis of Assisi University Parish. Three years ago the parish built a new building to be used in reaching out to and serving University of Alabama students. The new building was named the Saban Catholic Student Center. On the church’s website it says the Sabans’ “financial support and fundraising made the $2 million project possible.”

Saban’s Catholic faith appears to be quite sincere. It’s great that he cares about the spiritual life of students. There is something ironic, however, that a church named after St. Francis of Assisi names a building after somebody because of how much money they gave and raised.

Francis lived in Italy in the 1200s. His father was a wealthy businessman. It was an era when pursuing money was becoming a primary goal of many people. People were buying costly things, especially clothes to show off their status and wealth.

Francis lived with that materialistic mindset, until he was converted to Christ and felt Jesus calling him to rebuild His church. Francis thought at first the call was simply to rebuild the sanctuary of the local church, which had fallen into disrepair and neglect. He used some of his father’s money to pay for the repairs. When his father found out he was quite upset and thought Francis was crazy to waste money like that. He had his son put in prison, hoping that might straighten out his thinking.

Francis realized he shouldn’t have taken his father’s money without asking. He resolved to forsake all claims to his father’s wealth and his inheritance. In a dramatic courtroom scene, Francis took off all his clothes – the sign of wealth in that society – and returned them and all the money he had to his father. For the rest of his life Francis pursued Christ and service rather than wealth.

It wasn’t only his father who thought Francis was crazy. Throughout the centuries many people have looked at him as being eccentric. Somebody who said life wasn’t found in how much you have, and who lived that out, seemed strange then and seems strange now. We name buildings after ones who can raise $2 million. We get confused by ones who have little interest in acquiring wealth, but choose to be poor, humble servants.

The most confusing one is Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). Jesus willingly became poor, so that we can find the true riches of His love. That kind of grace is confusing because it is so different from our selfish old nature and such a contrast from the materialistic world around us. But that grace is amazing, freeing, enriching and life-giving to those who receive it.

God is always taking care of us

We were expecting the shuttle bus to be there any minute. There were 15 of us who had been in Estes Park, Colorado, for the Free Lutheran Youth convention. The bus was suppose to come and take us to the Denver airport, which was about two hours away. It was 15 minutes after the scheduled time for picking us up, so I gave the driver a call. “I’m here at the Denver airport. Are you ready to be picked up?” “We’re in Estes Park, needing a ride to the airport.” The cell service up there in the mountains wasn’t good, but I did hear enough to know we had a problem.

The driver apologized for the mix-up and said he’d leave for Estes Park right away. I had allowed extra time in the schedule, but I knew there wasn’t much chance he could pick us up and get us to the airport in time for our flight. But God was already at work, taking care of us. I went into the building next to where we were waiting and they had a landline phone we could use. We got the number of a local shuttle company. They said they would see if there was some way they could help us out. In about 10 minutes, in one of the rare times I had cell service, I got a call back saying they had two vans and drivers available. I found out later one of the drivers had just finished taking people to the airport and was on his way out the door for home, when he was asked if he could do another trip. God provided and his schedule was free to help us out.

Our new ride to the airport picked us up in about 15 minutes and we were on our way. Part way into the trip people in the van I was in started getting texts from the other van. The latch on the back door of the other van came undone. A wall between the luggage area and the seats caused it to not be noticed right away. One of our students thought something sounded strange and said something to the driver. They stopped and found three suitcases had fallen out. Amazingly more hadn’t fallen out. They turned around and went back for the missing suitcases. They found them a ways back up the mountain, but still in good shape. The trip to go back for the suitcases also resulted in the thankful retrieval of a cherished blanket.

The second van got to the airport less than 30 minutes after we did. The check-in and security lines were quite a bit shorter and quicker than some of my previous times in Denver. We even had enough time to grab some lunch on the way to the gate. There were some storms on the horizon but our flight was able to take off on time. The rest of the trip went fine and we got home to Astoria 15 minutes earlier than the estimated time of arrival we had told the parents.

It all ended up being a teachable moment as we saw evidence of God’s grace and God demonstrating He is in control. It was a little miraculous we found vans and drivers in Estes Park who were able to go right away and take 15 people to the airport. That’s grace. Only three of the many bags that were in the back of the van fell out the open door. They were found, undamaged. Even the blanket was found. That’s grace. The lines at the airport were shorter than usual and the storms held off till after we left. The God who controls the thunder and lightning is also gracious and looks after us.

“The Lord watches over us” (Psalm 121:5). If our main focus is on bus drivers that misunderstand directions and doors that don’t get latched properly, we’re going to be frustrated and angry a lot. People often go to the wrong place and things break down. But the Lord is always good. He is always watching over us. He is always graciously blessing us beyond what we deserve. We don’t need to get upset and worried. We can rest in God’s loving care.

A calming presence

A calming presence: That’s the phrase that came to mind as I thought about my dad on Father’s Day. He was a commercial fisherman and he would be out in the ocean fishing for a few days at a time. Sometimes when he was gone, there would be tension in our home for a variety of reasons. All stress did not magically disappear when he returned. But life was always more peaceful and calm when Dad was home.

Our world could certainly use more people who are a calming presence. Sadly, some people cause the stress level to rise as soon as they enter a room. Their critical words create tension. People worry about making them mad. There is anxious anticipation that anger and conflict will soon rear its head.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Trying to make peace between people is hard work that is often discouraging. But Jesus promises those who desire to make peace and who work toward that end are blessed. When our heart’s desire is to bring peace and calm to relationships we show we belong to God. We are children who look like our Father in heaven when our priority is not getting our own way but creating peace.

To those who have faith in Christ, God is the ultimate calming presence. Jesus, by sacrificing His life on the cross for our sins, brings peace between us and God. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The separation because of sin is no more because of the cross.

The payment for our sin has been paid for by Jesus, so we no longer fear judgment. We don’t worry that one day God may get angry with us and decide He doesn’t want us anymore. Instead, we calmly rest in God’s love and grace.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Calm down. Relax. Know that God is on the throne, now and forever. He is in charge and He has everything under control. “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7). Your soul is invited to take a deep breath and rest in the goodness and grace of God. The Almighty God has been good to you and He will continue to do what is good and right. Don’t fear. Be still.

My dad was a calming presence because I knew he loved me. I trusted he would keep me safe and handle whatever came along. Because of his calm nature I didn’t worry about him getting mad. Instead I expected an invitation to get ice cream and watch a ball game. In a similar but much greater way, when we know Christ we peacefully live with the confidence we are loved and cared for by God. We can calmly live with the expectation that God will be gracious. “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul … put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3).

Set free from the to-do list

I often start the summer with a to-do list on my mind. The list includes projects I’d like to get done, places I’d like to go, people I’d like to see. Summer offers the potential of better weather, a little more free time and the chance to get things done that get put to the side during the school year. But often the end of August comes sooner than expected. The list never gets completed. I don’t expect it to be different this summer.

The to-do list is a harsh taskmaster. No matter how hard we try, the list never tells us we’ve done enough. It makes us feel guilty. The list tells us we can’t afford to rest and relax. The list keeps reminding us of all the work that still needs to be done.

The list doesn’t include some things that are nourishing to the soul but not valued by the taskmaster of the list. Things that should be on our summer to-do list but often aren’t include: playing with a child, visiting with a friend, enjoying a sunset, praising the Creator while watching ocean waves roll in, marveling at a majestic mountain, listening to some relaxing music and reading a good book.

After a time of serving people the disciples returned to Jesus and “reported to him all they had done and taught.” They hadn’t gotten it all done, though. So many needy people were coming “that they did not even have a chance to eat.” No matter how much they got done, their to-do list kept growing. Then Jesus did something surprising. “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:30-32).

Jesus told the to-do list, “You’re not in charge any more. You don’t say what has to be done and what can’t be done.” Jesus is the Lord in charge. His word to His children is much different than the never-satisfied demands of the to-do-list taskmaster. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The to-do list is like the law of judgment. We can never keep it perfectly. It humbles us and shows us our sin. We fail to do all it demands. But Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law. He completed every part of the to-do list that is necessary for our salvation. We are set free from the to-do list, “free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his own Son … in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (Romans 8:2-4).

It is good to be active in service this summer, but do so not because the to-do list says you have to. Actively serve the Lord and others because Jesus loves you and has set you free to serve in a whole new way.

Jesus is the name to remember

IMG_3135The baker was told three times the initials on the cake were to be CJ. But when the cake was picked up it said JC. It kind of worked out better that way than if the baker had got it right. It served as a reminder that we ought to focus on JC – Jesus Christ – and not on CJ.

The world tells us to get our name out there. Proud business leaders, politicians and celebrities want as many things as possible named after them. When we’re ruled by sinful pride we care a great deal about whether they get our name right and we want our name remembered.

Those who follow Jesus should want a different name than our own to be given prominence and remembered. We want the name of Jesus proclaimed everywhere. We want the name of Jesus to receive the attention and praise. Getting His name right is what matters most, for it is His name that is above all others. “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” (Philippians 2:9-10).

Jesus’ name is to get the most attention because it is Jesus who loves us and gave His life for our sins. His name is given the greatest honor because it is the name of the One who conquered death. It is the name of the only One who can save us. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

In a song of a few decades ago, “Fame,” the singer cries out, “Remember my name.” She longs for recognition and for the crowd to notice her talent and ability. The song might be old, but in this day of the selfie and social media and concern over how many likes your Facebook status receives, the longing to be noticed and the desire to have people “Remember my name,” may be greater than ever.

A recent Christian song speaks of the temptation to “Make a name the world remembers.” It is a temptation to pursue dreams that are empty and won’t satisfy. The song calls for people to have different, counter-cultural type of values. “I don’t want to leave a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. … Jesus is the only name to remember.”

Even when they get your initials right on the cake, it still only lasts a short time. That is how it is with the world’s praise and attention. It is as lasting and filling as frosting on a cake. True significance and the filling of your soul is found when you stop trying to get your name remembered and instead you remember how great and glorious is the name of Jesus.

Trust the power of the cross

If you come to a room with piles of junk that need to be discarded and much cleaning needs to be done, you probably wonder, “where do I start?” We ask that same question as we look around us at problems in the world. Things can seem like such a mess. All kinds of clean-up work is needed. Where do we begin?

The New Testament congregation in Corinth was a messed-up place in need of cleaning. People in the congregation were fighting with each other and even taking one another to court. There was sexual immorality among them that Paul said was “of a kind that does not occur even among pagans” (I Corinthians 5:1). Sometimes their worship services were so full of chaos and disunity that Paul said, “your meetings do more harm than good” (I Cor. 11:17). Where to start in cleaning up such a mess?

In his letter to the congregation in Corinth Paul addresses the issues going on. He appeals to them that “there may be no divisions among you” (I Cor. 1:10). He calls them to “Flee from sexual immorality” (I Cor. 6:18). He urges them to conduct their worship services in an orderly manner. But most of all Paul writes to them about Jesus and the cross and the resurrection.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). Paul was convinced that the best way to clean up the mess in Corinth was to teach them about what Jesus did at the cross for them. Helping them to know the sacrificial love of Christ was the best hope for helping them unite together in love. He believed if their hearts were truly gripped by the good news that Jesus died for them, they would turn from sexual immorality.

The proclamation of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the most effective way to bring cleansing to messed-up lives. It is tempting to think we’ll clean them up with the verbal equivalent of a power washer, blasting away at them for how wrong we believe they are. We may think arguing and reasoning and piling on guilt will cause them to clean themselves up. Nobody can clean themselves up in their own power. It is Jesus alone who can do the cleaning that is needed.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (I Cor. 1:22-23). Preaching Christ crucified may seem like a simplistic answer when the problems are so complex and some people are so deep into sin and so far from the Lord. The good news of Jesus is the power of God. The message of Christ is of first importance. Jesus died for our sins. He rose to life again and conquered sin and death. That is the truth people most need to hear. That is the truth with the greatest potential for changing lives and changing the world.

What do we do about all the problems around us? We start with telling people again and again about Jesus’ amazing sacrificial love.