BUILD #1-FAITH

There was something eerily alarming about stepping into the small 6 x 8 foot box. It had only a small opening to let in the natural light from a window across the room. It was dark, damp, confining, and seemingly complete as the door was pulled shut! Talk about a blast from the past, standing in the same cell that housed some of the most infamous criminals of all times. Capone, the Bird Man, and the others who had lived in the box. Don’t worry,  I didn’t live a secret life as a criminal mastermind. Instead we were visiting Alcatraz Island. Made famous by movies, books, and a host of inmate escapes it now receives millions of people a year. Even as we took the tour inside the prison, my son asleep in his stroller, listening to the audio tour, there was something relieving about walking out the doors of solitary. I went through the guard station and out onto the veranda, feeling the sun beat down on my neck, as I looked out at the San Francisco Bay and felt the salty air hit my lungs! There was something about being inside a prison that made freedom all that more appealing. With freedom again assured, we had to decide What’s Next?—so we went to Ghirardelli Square and got ice cream.

What to do with freedom? Some prisoners upon their release finally get that home cooked meal they were waiting for or cheeseburger, but after the glow of freedom wears off each person male or female, young or old, has to decide what to do with their freedom—what they are going to build with the time they have left.

Over the last two weeks, we have taken a journey of sorts towards a different type of freedom, freedom from sin and the bondage of slavery. We have been looking at the Building Blocks of Discipleship, the characteristics that allow us to Love God with our entire being and love our neighbors as ourselves. We saw the building blocks of discipleship come together starting with what we believe but also how we belief, as an identity rather than just an idea. We saw last week the need to be transformed, looking at what we are becoming through the power of the Holy Spirit, and today (WITH A NEW HEAD, NEW HEART, WE) turn to the 3rd building block: Trying to BUILD a new life loving our neighbors! In a world of terrorism, unrest, and uncertainty the urge can be to pull back from the world, but what we are going to find today is that changing the world begins with…

Your Conversion, giving your life and allegiance to Christ. Conversion to Christ has motivated for some to stand up against terror and has been powerful enough to change some that terrorized.

Diet Eman who is now 95, was young and in love living in the Netherlands when Hitler’s paratroopers invaded. Separated from her fiancé she focused on her faith in times of flourishing evil. Historians estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 (many, like Eman and her fiancé, motivated by their Christian faith) were active in the Christian Underground—hid or smuggled Jews out of harm’s way and more than 10,000 sacrificed their lives in the cause. Diet helped save 80 of her Jewish neighbors transporting Jews to farms around the country, walking them stolen ration cards and provisions, including having to go into hiding herself.

Fighting terror to the life of a terrorist.

He was a man of action. His superiors turned the dirty work over to him because they knew he would get results, and he most assuredly did. Some he had them dragged out of their houses, others he had imprisoned, still others murdered by the mobs he had fomented. He worked under the guise of governance and God, providing documentation as he had them arrested, others he had murdered, but his goal from the beginning was to cleanse the world of those he hated. Regardless of whether you know it today, you’ve have most likely have bought one of his writings and are familiar with his story even though he has long been apprehended, imprisoned and killed. You most likely have known him as the Apostle Paul.

Galatians 1:11-13, 15- I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it…But when God who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.

From belief, becoming, to building. Saul became Paul, from terrorist to evangelist. He found a new identity and freedom from his fanatic follow through against Christians. Experiencing God’s grace allowed him to be a conduit for Christ. Setting out on a new adventure—deciding that his new life would be dedicated fully and wholly to BUILDING up that which God valued and giving others a chance to meet Christ as he had on the Road to Damascus.

What makes the Christian message so powerful and personal is that the Road to Damascus can run through every city and town, every village or jungle. Paul’s story details may different, the century may change, the continent may be unique, but the conversion isn’t. Maybe you are thinking—this isn’t for me—but if not for you, then who? Christ came for you, died for you, and defeated death for you. Whether it was terror to freedom, confined to fresh air, maybe just self-focused to selfless. It is a story that has been told across the centuries and yet one is never like another—your conversion—giving your life to Christ must be in place before you can build anything that is lasting or be part of anything enduring. What was your life like before you knew about Jesus, before you started walking with Jesus? In one word—Mine was aimless, but now I can take aim at something bigger than myself.

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Eyes on Easter-2 Thieves, Part 2

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As we take up part two from our text in the Luke 23 account of the two thieves, one on each side of Jesus, we remember that the first thief very clearly condemned Jesus. His mocking words demanded power through performance rather than as displayed through restraint. Jesus in restraining his power fulfilled the unchanging plan of the Father, rather than meeting the temporary preferences of man.  The second thief instead of embracing the stubbornness of ignorance experienced CONVERSION in our text from Luke 23:40-42:

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Why bother changing now after an entire life lived in sin? It was with death quickly approaching, the pain of the nails pulsing through his body, each breath more difficult than the last that the impact of sin was never more real. In our own lives sin is never more real than when we are hurting as a result, time seems to slow down, the clock stops ticking! Instead of mocking, he approached in reverence. Confessing his sins and recognizing his condition he saw Jesus for who he is, rather than simply where he was (The Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world). With that clarity he called on to be part of God’s plan rather than just demanding a performance. He asked that the consequences of sin be overshadowed by the compassion of the Savior! Even when I don’t deserve it, remember me! It is the same call we make, “God, I’m going through a difficult time–watching a loved one wither away–Remember me! I’m falling short fighting sin–Remember me! I’m struggling with loneliness and depression–Remember me!

Of all the days he stood in formation, a young private remembered one day in particular. As the emperor Napoleon rode on horseback among the troop lines, reviewing his army his horse, seeing a snake in the grass suddenly bolted out of control, putting the military genius and emperor in jeopardy. Risking life and limb, the young private jumped from his ranks, grabbing the reigns of the horse quickly calming him. Napoleon without hesitating said, “Thank you, Captain!” giving him an instant promotion. As the private turned captain walked to the tent with the captains and officers, the group began to rebuke him, “You don’t belong in here. What makes you think you can come in here private? Who do you think you are breaking ranks?” In that moment he realized he didn’t have the uniform of a captain, nor the insignia, nor fulfilled the duties, so he simply pointed to the emperor and said, “He said it!” Instantly their demeanor changed, “Sorry Captain, we didn’t know!” All he had was the word of the emperor, but that was enough!

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, in many ways we don’t look the part or fit the rank, and yet Hebrews 4:16 calls on us to have confidence, not in the word of an emperor, but in the Word which was from the beginning. With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Like the 2nd thief when seemingly everything is against us—the bigger the trial, the great the testament to God’s power! In our weakness we are pushed away from what keeps us comfortable towards what makes us healthier. Not just close to Jesus, but finally confident in what Christ has done for us on the cross!

In the final installment, part 3, we will finally hear the words of Jesus in response to two men who responded differently to death! 

Radical Conversion

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Earlier this week, we looked at the necessity for radical repentance, which allows us to harness the power of the Holy Spirit, not just possess the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t like sports memorabilia that we hang on the wall it is the very power that raised Christ living inside of us. While radical repentance helps us turn away from the sin which Paul makes clear will kill us, we need something to turn towards- a new direction or destination.

Mark Burnett the producer of Son of God said recently something to the effect that, “I use to think that the Bible was just a book of laws, but after reading it I found out it was a book of love.” Paul lays out the love of God in Romans 8:13b-15  …but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.”

The History Channel’s recent mini-series the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s,  didn’t surprise anyone with the blowout conflict over a pig, Civil War sentiments, rights to land, and intermarriage, but the ending sure did. Instead of ending with a blowout  battle between the two forces it ended with a baptism. “Devil” Anse Hatfield at 71 years old, weary from over 15 lives lost in the prolonged conflict, gave his life to Christ during a revival meeting. His family attested to the fact that for the last 10 years of his life he had experienced a Radical Conversion. “Devil” became a servant to the one even the angels bow down in reference to, Jesus Christ. Anse went from Ring-leader to reborn, from self-focused to selfless sacrifice. Matthew 10:39 from the Message helps clarify the process:

“If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

It is when we convert to following Christ, which we become less, so he can become more. In so doing we find who we were always meant to be through Him. Instead of leaving the warriors in our spiritual warfare to die of their  wounds, through radical repentance and through radically converting to Christ, not once, but each day–we find that God can restore the most broken into the beautiful witness of his victory on the cross!