Impact Church

Passionately serving God and His people

How Great is Our God

Sometimes we’re so busy working for God, attending to the essentials of church life and grinding out our duties as parents, that we forget to remember and appreciate the innumerable things God has done. And it’s furthermore true that we oft forget or under-appreciate the people that serve and come alongside us in our spiritual or personal journeys. Seems the next big thing on the horizon or schedule so consumes us mentally that we leave the virtues of gratitude and honor in our proverbial “let’s get this show on the road” wake.

But maybe that’s reason enough for occasionally slowing things down and setting aside time for inspection, reflection and celebration!

Such was the occasion at Impact Church, March 17, 2019! Dedicating the Sunday service to remember the 10 years of Impact’s existence felt a lot like a Jewish commemoration of some OT victory, or some miraculous act of God in support of their constant journeyings! But, you know, maybe it’s really not a stretch at all to appropriate God’s infinite power and wisdom in light of the progress of Impact Church! It’s certainly quite a story when you think about the incomprehensible steps taken to bring Impact to its present state!

Remembering, via a short video, the numerous places Impact Church had called “home” in order to properly hold services and do the work of the ministry was obviously informative to the newcomers, but, oh so warmly touching to the old timers! Add a few minutes of ministry honoring the original seven who first met to sing, study, and pray in that living room ten years ago and it’s easy to see God’s divine hand of providence all the way down the line!

Words of appreciation for Impact’s positive influence flowed from all over the congregation today, some from the platform speakers, but many from spontaneous conversations before and after the service. The spirit of love and camaraderie oozed from every song, the presence of God again confirming His grace and favor on a fellowship simply seeking with all their heart to follow His. The atmosphere throughout lent itself to a genuine admiration and appreciation for all that God was guiding and superintending in the scope of Impact Church life.

Inviting the entire church to continue the fulfilling of God’s purposes in Impact Church by offering ourselves to His will, caused us first to recognize the sacrifice and service so many had given to bring us to this celebratory moment. Understanding and honoring then the root and genesis of Impact’s beginnings, we are inspired to place our faith and energies towards the unfinished work we’ve been assigned.

And, if in some strange way the 10 Year Anniversary sanctuary service didn’t carry the distinctive aura of a Jewish-type celebration, then the hospitality team with a full-fledged meal in the adjacent gymnasium did! Should you lay out a banquet style meal and serve it with smiles and grace, you’ve got a setting few will miss! Or leave! Such was the view in that gymnasium! Love was apparent all around; as conversations, prayers, and hugs lingered long after the banana pudding was devoured!

In celebrations such as this, it’s easy to overlook or not give proper honor to those who serve faithfully, humbly, and joyfully. Invariably, something will be left out, or someone is slighted. It’s never intentional, trust me. It hurts forever to miss things that should be highlighted. To those we miss, to those who’ve walked with Impact Church, supporting and carrying diligently its ministries and outreaches, giving and praying and encouraging, and doing everything with Christ in mind as the One you truly serve – THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

Congratulations, Impact Church for ten years of faithful service! Your heart to affect the region in which you are rooted is inspirational, as you bring tangible and visible fruit of an indwelling Christ! Many blessings and many years to you as God continues to reveal Himself through you! 

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for loving us these 10 years, and richly entrusting us with the Gospel of grace! We are grateful! And joyful! And content! With your help we will teach, disciple, and live in view of the One who began such a great work in us, and of the One who’s faithful to see it to its fruitful end!

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More Than Anything

“Do not cast me away from Your Presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11

By the time I turned thirteen I had mastered the art of the “warm-up.” When I desired a specific response from my parents I would spend time with them. If they were watching “Walker Texas Ranger,” so was I. I appeared interested by “oohing and aahing” at all the right moments. I’d ask questions and give the impression of being invested in the storyline. Once the program was over I would make conversation by asking various questions about their day. Afterwards, I would thoughtfully compliment them and then, at last, ask my question; the real motive behind my charade, finally, revealed. Years later I discovered the truth – my parents always knew. I never had them fooled.

My friends, we don’t have God fooled, either. He knows if our motivation for seeking Him is pure. He is aware if we come for His heart or for what’s in His hand. Let’s pause and perform a heart assessment. Do we tell Him we love Him and rehearse His goodness because we want a specific response from Him or because we just want Him? There is a big difference between the two.

Rest assured – it’s not wrong for us to ask God for things. That’s welcomed, in fact. Philippians 4:6 says, “Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.” We have to be careful, however, to not get so consumed with Him meeting our need that we forget He’s not our genie. He’s our Father; as such, He desires a real relationship with His children.

Parent-child relationships do not thrive if the child only communicates with the parent when they are asking for something. The parent, instead, feels used. They don’t feel loved and cherished. Their relationship, in turn, lacks vibrancy and enjoyment. That’s not what I want for us. Especially when Jesus came and died for us to have a flourishing relationship with our
Father.

In Psalm 51:11 David penned these words, “Do not cast me away from Your Presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” He had witnessed the Lord’s rejection of Saul and the departure of His Spirit. He understood that, more than anything, He desperately needed the Presence of God. It was the single most important thing.

Psalm 73:25 says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.” This is my prayer for us. That we would desire Him more than anything. I think it begins by laying our agendas aside and coming to Him simply to be with Him. As we do, we will see and experience the truth – He alone is our exceedingly great reward. Serving Him is not a means to an end with the focus on blessings, but rather on the Lord Himself. He has always been more than enough.

Further

“And he went a little further…” Matthew 26:39

Similar to Humpty Dumpty’s fate, the quippy phrase, “good enough for government work”, has fallen precipitously from its original World War II perch. From its early use describing superior, high quality products or performances, to its unceremonious usage describing things mediocre or lackluster today, the journey of this earthy proverb has undergone radical changes.

Historically, “close enough, or good enough, for government work” spoke reverently, even fearfully, of the federal government’s exacting demands and standards on the production of war related equipment, requirements in manufacturing that gave material advantages to the triumphal Allies.

Today, the adage is viewed with tongue-in-cheek contempt and sarcastic disdain. It’s as if high standards and quality work no longer measure a worker’s worth or respect. “Ah, it’s good enough for government work”, as the yard maintenance contractor bypasses the weed eating and rushes off to the next complex. Or, as long as something passes minimal levels and the wheels don’t fall off before the customer drives the car away from the repair shop – well, payment has been made and the “shady” garage had a successful day.

But attitudes of indifference towards performance or virtue are clearly indicative of low integrity, low expectations, and minimal accountability. So that when weak character is prevalent in any culture, and when sloppiness and ethical apathy are equivalent to the honored principles and advanced skill levels of former times, the ethos of that community assuredly spirals downward.

But in the Kingdom of God spirits of sloth and stupor are nonentities. For where faith and grace are the mainsprings of life, the spirit of excellency and industry reign – developing tangible, distinctive proofs of a divine nature and life. Energy, heartiness, attention to detail, and welcomed accountability exude from every act. Far beyond what’s dutiful and expected, the soul filled with Spirit exceeds the commonplace, stretching and probing joyfully the deeper realms of service and love.

Throughout scripture, we find Jesus pushing the spiritual “envelop”, breaking tradition, ignoring customs, and demonstrating, in a mortal frame, behaviors and acts beyond man’s capability. From His extraordinary teachings to His supernatural works, His words and deeds declared His divinity and holy dedication. No man ever spoke like this man; no man ever lived like this man; neither has any man died like Him; nor has anyone ever resurrected like Him! He always went a little further! To Him, to live conventionally would be to live compromised and give convenience undue influence! Whatever Moses demanded by Law, and whatever sinful flesh craved, Jesus exceeded and overcame through the Spirit of grace!

  • Required to go a mile? Go two!
  • Demanded of your coat? Give your cloak also!
  • Took a hit on one cheek? Offer the other one as well!
  • Being persecuted falsely? Rejoice and be glad!
  • Anxious about tomorrow? You’re ok, today!
  • Need some publicity? Stay low, God sees!
  • Looking for vengeance? God’s better at it!
  • Worried about retirement? Put your treasure above!
  • Keeping up with the Joneses? Forget ’em! Seek the kingdom!

Note then, the “extra mile” people in your life! Notice their daily discipline and quiet confidence! Take note of their impartial love for others and passion for peace! Be provoked by their humility! Be inspired by their generosity! Be refreshed by their authenticity and genuine faith! They are the lights of the world and the very salt of the earth! Their best is reserved only for their King, and what’s been given freely they plant again to His credit and praise!

Their selflessness deflects away any personal glory; their servant mindedness desires no praise or adulation! This people are born from heaven; their purpose for existing has no earthy agenda, they serve no temporal ambition! This tribe rises simply to serve! This family revels in the virtues of love and joy and they have no one to model or please but the One who called them to such privilege!

Mark those who prove that faithfulness to such a calling is a choice! For the temptation to a lesser path is always before them, but for the sake of Jesus they gladly reject it! A servant of Jesus bears the marks of the cross and the marks they carry they do with heaven’s honor! Oh, to carry His name and grace! Blessed are those who embody what Jesus taught and lived! They, dear friends, will live with Him forever!

I Am…

For he that comes to God must believe that He is… Hebrews 11:6

There is no scriptural truth greater than God’s appellation of His own divine existence and being. The “I AM THAT I AM”, the name Moses heard at Mt. Horeb when he asked God under whose auspices he’d be sent, that succinct response remains eternally the standard in originality, excellency, and power.

From, “Let there be light” at the beginning of creation, to His final words, “you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit comes upon you” at the creation of His Church – that voice existed sovereignly and supremely before time, prior to anything ever made or created. And before the Son of God lowered Himself to experience our sin-induced, human condition, His presence filled the empty vacuums of space and time.

Yet, we mortals navigate life through the scope and limitations of time, as the clock and calendar confine and record the length of our earthy stay. And intrinsic to the space we’re allotted are innumerable troubles, days and years plagued with uncertainty, pain, and angst. Sadly, remedies from such dread are absent and beyond us. We search solutions only from our own frailty and failed experience. Whether tethered to the traditional antidotes of societies past, or hitched to the starry, futuristic imaginations of other equally earthy mindsets, life is subject to the unkind, heavy hand of time. And with time as a factor in human existence, mankind is utterly mired in constant flux and contention.

And ever so quietly and inconspicuously, time wearies mankind with the constant, subtle demands of decision-making and ever-shifting adjustments. Nothing stays the same. Everything is in motion. Nothing is anchored down. Nothing is permanent. It’s for that reason the, “you only live once, grab all the gusto you can” motto resonates so deeply with the masses. To earthlings, life is fleeting and fleshly pleasures are life’s only reward.

Since “time waits for no man”, the present, or the now, can never be sustained or held over. We photograph our beautiful moments, knowing we can’t relive them again. We can’t camp out in the present, for the present just slipped away to the archives of yesterday. Our only means to live or redo precious moments and poignant times is through memory or remembrance. We find then the present is an impossible state, as “now” is never a static concept. It seems the present becomes simply a vehicle that transitions life between what was to what will be.

But the “I AM” exists independent of humanity’s conundrum! The “I AM” exists apart from the bookends of time, and the nagging changeableness of the human condition! What we as vile sinners could never do or be, ever, He IS and DOES consistently, eternally! And He does so in accordance only with His own character and will! He is free from whims; He knows no lack or need; and He is supported by no other power or force!

May the following truths strengthen our resolve to live by faith, and not by sight! And may our perspective regarding our days on earth be viewed through the prism of eternity, rather than the temporality of a fallen world!

  • God’s will never fluctuates; His Word never mutates; and His power never vacillates or diminishes!
  • God is never in doubt; He never struggles; and to face a circumstance ill-equipped, never!
  • God’s love is beyond words; His mercies garden-fresh; and His kindness super scandalous!
  • God’s faithfulness is shown clearly through creation; His wisdom is etched in Scripture; and ever on display are His mighty works!
  • God’s promises exceed our prayers; His compassions exceed our understanding; and His presence, priceless!
  • God’s sacrifice purchased our salvation; His grace transcended our lawlessness; and His resurrection triumphed over our grave!
  • God’s incarnation and ascension in Christ to man was an impossibility; and His soon return, though decried stoutly by the scoffers, is an incredulous certainty!
  • The unchanging One, the eternal One, the unvarying One, the matchless One, is now come… For Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever has come to be one with us!

What then do we receive when we believe? Well, many things actually, as we receive firstly Jesus Christ as author and finisher of our faith. Through Him, we receive freely the forgiveness of sins, a right standing with God, and undeserved acceptance into the family of God! And as an ever present accompaniment, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as guide and comfort. Everything old is miraculously removed, and everything new is in place! A new birth of spirit is our new reality, thus God’s divine nature now lives in our mortal bodies! In short, we receive eternal life! A life born of the Word, a life that overcomes, and a life abounding in spiritual fruit and good works! Not a better life, mind you, but a new life! A life made in the very image of Christ: a life beyond the changing of years and seasons, a life created for growth and godliness, and a life flourishing in joy, peace, and love! It is for the possession of these indelible truths that Christ lived, died, and rose again!

Paradoxically, we who possess this endless, unchanging, eternal life reside now in temporal bodies and in a world that will soon pass away. The objective then is to think heavenly, to act in alignment with our new birth, seek the will and purpose of Him who called us out, and to find pleasure in the things that have eternal rewards! Blessed are those who find the “I AM” to be their ever present help and joy! Those who believe that He is, that He exists, find Him to be the triumphant same, even in the variance and deviation of our turbulent world! May we experience and enjoy our God now, in the present, forever!

Missional Motherhood

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

This past November I put my little ones in the car and drove to Starbucks for a midday caffeine boost. I ordered a venti iced coffee and two petite vanilla bean scones for the kids. There was a large sign with pictures of various drinks and sweet treats to the left of the drive-thru line. As we drove around the corner my daughter caught a glimpse of the pink cake pop. She sadly said, “I wish I had ordered a pink cake pop instead.” We arrived at the window, I paid, and we received our ordered items. Once we got home I opened the bag and found two petite vanilla bean scones and one pink cake pop. I easily could have rushed past the moment of holy opportunity and chalked it up to chance. Or I could pause and tell her how wild her Heavenly Father is about her. Admittedly, I haven’t always made the right choice. There are plenty of moments I am sure I’ve missed. But on that day I got down in the floor and said, “Harper, look what’s in this bag.” A huge smile spread across her face. I said, “Mommy did not order this for you. But you are so favored by the God of the universe that when He heard His little girl say she wanted a pink cake pop He made sure she got one. God loves you so much.” For the rest of the day she rattled on about how God bought her a pink cake pop.

In Matthew 28 Jesus issues this command, “go and make disciples.” We are given a job that has eternal significance. We did not stumble into this task by accident. God is sovereign, after all. He’s placed us where we are on purpose. We were created by the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus and are now empowered by the Holy Spirit. He saved us then placed us on mission. Wherever we find our feet planted in this season is our God-orchestrated mission field. As mothers, specifically, our mission is to share Jesus with the ones who call us mommy.

If our commission requires that we make disciples within our own homes, we must first ask ourselves what the word disciple means. In studying the New Testament we discover that a disciple was, simply, a follower of Jesus. They followed Jesus everywhere He went. They ate meals and served together. They learned from and were corrected by Him. Jesus taught them how to pray. They were instructed on how to love and live for God. They were trained so they could one day be sent out to duplicate those efforts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you see similarities to your own life? We, too, have little people who follow us around. We eat, sleep, and serve together. We correct and instruct and die to self and all of it is for the purpose of one day sending them out. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” Many of us will never get the chance to stand in front of 1000 people and see change but we don’t have to. Not in order to glorify God and see miraculous Kingdom expansion.

You see, there’s no such thing as “just a mom.” Despite routine tasks and mundane to do-lists, being a mom is wildly significant. God designed motherhood as part of a much larger plan to draw people to Himself. We are gifted with the unique opportunity to pour into each of our kids and have the confident expectation that one day we will see a ripple effect. We pour into them and they, in turn, pour into those within their sphere of influence and so on. Our largest opportunity for impact and influence is these precious people God has placed in our lives that bear our last name and resemblance. We are making disciples who will make disciples.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us notice every opportunity to proclaim the goodness of God and immense joy it is to follow Him. Making a disciple is as simple as that. When I told my daughter, upon receiving her pink cake pop, that she was favored and lavishly loved I was speaking biblical truth that God will use to draw her to Himself. Mommas, God has not asked us to be more than who we are to be used by Him in the lives of our children. When we feel ill-equipped to raise up followers of Jesus let’s remember that it’s God’s capacity in us, not our own. We do not have to over-complicate the assignment. The best way to make a follower of Jesus is to be a follower of Jesus.

Adverbially Speaking

“Where unto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.”  Colossians 1:29

The recent Word ministry of Impact Church has been both spring-like refreshing, and introspectively provocative. And it’s not that previous teaching was sub-par. No way! It’s always been biblically sound, delivered in love, understandable, and free from reproach. Maybe it’s more like the Holy Spirit found us hungry to grow in Christ… And He’s leading us into some very interesting and intimate ways! And that’s a good thing! Yes, a very good thing!

It’s one thing to know and teach academically the historical Christ. That’s a must for both evangelism and discipleship. And it’s also essential that we understand who Christ is – His lineage, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the Kingdom over which He presides. And it’s important that we know and believe the amazing work He’s done – in creation, in the miracles, in the teaching, and in the unimaginable work He accomplished at Calvary. And to know the amazing promise of His soon return is an imperative in sharing the Good News.

Yet, there’s an equally important area of Jesus’ life that’s taught and received only by a more “mature” class! That teaching centers on the intensity and passion in which the Son of God lived. That ministry addresses the drive, the zeal, the earnestness, and obedient devotion that set Christ’s journey apart from all other men.  Delve specifically into “how” Jesus lived, and search the “degree” in which His ministry flowed, and you’ll find an uncommon life that separates the milk drinkers from the meat eaters!

For starters: the Christian life is a life born, not for passivity, but for action! Thusly, verbs that describe the Christian’s daily routine are abundant. Believers simply do what Jesus did. They believe. They listen. They pray. They disciple. They give. They love. They teach. They fast. They obey. They minister. They hunger. They prophesy. They suffer. They humble themselves. They deny themselves. And they carry their cross. These verbs depict in part the multifaceted lives of Christ’s followers, lives that demonstrate the things Jesus inaugurated.

But for every verb that describes an activity, there’s an anxious adverb waiting to describe in detail that verb! And, oh my, do the Scriptures possess a treasure house describing the deeds and actions of Bible characters! And be warned, there is no politically correct editor softening or exaggerating the lives found within the holy script! It just is what it is! If a ruler or prophet mismanaged or misspoke, the adverbs called him out! If a person or nation repented and turned to the Lord, the writers gave them due credit.

For example, the Bible records the life of Amaziah, a king of Judah, with an unvarnished epitaph that should humble every Christian. 2Chronicles 25:2 states: “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.” It wasn’t that Amaziah’s deeds were all evil, as he accomplished much good in his 29 year reign. Yet the record reflects that in his latter years, his heart was also given to idolatry, displeasing the Lord greatly!

Fast forward to the Messiah of Israel and Redeemer of all things, for the standard of all that is good and acceptable. Consider well the degree, or intensity into which Jesus lived out the short years of His ministry. His reign was, and is, a ministry of superlatives! As we read the scriptures, notice that the placement of adverbs is critical, and they tell His story best! It’s not enough to merely know what He did, it’s vastly important that we also know how He did what He did!

For example – though love is a beautiful noun and God is love, let’s consider love as a verb in the ministry of Christ. Let’s have love as a verb defined simply: “to have passion for, to feel devotion and care for another.” With that in place, how then did Jesus love?

How deep was His love?

To what measure did He love?

What standard did He use in pouring out His love for us?

Was there a limit or condition in His love?

No, in no way at all! His love for us was as pure as His Father’s love for Him! Unsullied, otherworldly, and eternally perfect!

The Apostle John wrote intentionally and extensively on the love that was demonstrated in Jesus. And, oh, the depth and magnitude of our Savior’s love! Here are few verses from the Gospel of John that depict His love for us!

  • “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
  • “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.” John 15:9
  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15: 12/13

How intentionally and purposefully did the New Testament writers exhort us in how we should live our lives as Christ followers! The Apostle Paul to the Colossians also is a veritable goldmine!

  • “If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1
  • “And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” Colossians 3:23
  • “And let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom… Colossians 3:16
  • “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer every man.” Colossians 4:6
  • “Children obey your parents in all things: for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:20
  • “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: …. Abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6/7

What life then should we seek to record and leave as our testimony?

What degree of passion do we exercise in doing the things we do?

According to the recent sermon series – Are we intentionally, cheerfully, and purposefully satisfying the intense longings of God’s will for our lives, families, and church?

The answer to each is self-evident: As Christ has been to us, so we will seek to emulate Him in all we do and say!

May God bless each and every one of you as you seek to please Him in all that He’s purposefully placed in your hands and hearts!

Go Back Home

“Go home to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you, and has had compassion on you.” Mark 5:19

The man, Legion, the guy who lived in the graveyard, got a lot of print in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke are extensive in describing him, elaborating at length on his irrational behaviors and diabolical influences. And that’s understandable. For anyone living under the violent impulses of multiple demons will have bizarre, hair-raising stories worthy of recording.

It’s not every day that a demon possessed man is loose on the streets and centered in the nightly news. And it’s not every community that has to deal with a man so fierce and uncontrollable that neither prison, shackles, nor chains can restrain him. As for Legion, “atypical” would be the grandest and softest of understatements. Consider a town’s dilemma regarding peace and safety to its citizens- knowing that an incorrigibly crazed man might saunter at any time into City Hall, McDonalds, or the local Gadara Elementary.

Such was the town-held-hostage demoniac and Gadarene countryside that Jesus boarded a ship toward which His ministry would take. It was this Sea of Galilee journey that a violent storm arose, the one that had the disciples fearful of death and screaming, “Wake up Jesus! Save us!” It’s also the trip on which the Master at the very outset said, “Let us go to the other side”. Consider well that Jesus was boarding alongside disciples who had no clue what the “other side” was going to look like. And, boy oh boy, did they ever get up-close-and-personal to a side of life none could have ever imagined.

Regardless the disciples’ innocence in situations requiring spiritual confidence and power, suffice it to say the Master was present and in His element! To the storm they were blindsided with while sailing, His words were succinctly powerful – “Peace, be still!” Immediately, the winds ceased and the seas were calm. And to a man, the disciples were astounded and fearful at the exhibition of His power! Why, even the winds and waves obey His commands!

And to Legion, the maniac for which the trip was constituted, the possessed-by-many-demons and man all others feared- He unceremoniously demanded, “Come out, you unclean spirit!” And the demons being cast out entered a herd of two thousand hogs, which all went furiously down a steep place to their certain death in the sea. To the swine herders viewing this miraculous feat, utter fear and incredulous shock had them hightailing it back to town to report their unbelievable story! But when the townsfolk went back to verify the story, well, the notorious raving lunatic was at the feet of Jesus- clothed and in his right mind! Yet, strangely, fear gripped the heart of the townspeople, and the strange effects of His power had them urging Him to leave their region! Please! Leave! Go away!

Well, He left. No hard feelings. No self-pity for their ingratitude. No concern for their open disrespect. He left. Jesus simply left.

He left, but the story didn’t end there. What He left was a far more illustrative testimony and provocative witness than the One they demanded to depart!

Though the delivered man begged to go with Him back across the Lake, Jesus required he go back to his home and show the great things God had done for him. From there, instinctively, Jesus knew His mission was complete. To stay would be wasted, as their lack of faith would not have accepted Him personally. His unique humanity, clothed in fearless grace, was more than their estranged hearts could absorb. Yet, what they could not deny and ignore, was a living, transformed demonstration of redemptive power walking right before their very eyes, every day!

So bash Him and say what you will of Him- the One who seeks and compassionately transforms. Go ahead. It’s ok. You’re free. Speak evil of Him. Be callous towards His presence. Yet, with all that, what you cannot do is not see what you’ve seen in those He’s touched and transformed! They are the resident fruit of a God who came to seek and save the lost, heal the sick, and destroy the works of the devil!

It was the Gadara region then (and Jesus’ first intrusion into Gentile territory), that the healed man was to return. It may be politically incorrect and socially unkind, but the demon possessed man that was healed likely typified the state of the non-Jewish populations of those cities. Paganism and heathenism ruled the Decapolis region, and it was in those ten cities that the healed demoniac was to testify of God’s power and compassion. Thus in ministry, it’s not a small feat at all to go back home, as our former haunted grounds coupled with those closest to us are oft the most difficult to revisit and reengage.

There are times then where those made whole by Christ are better at affecting the hearts of the sick than those that lay hands on or teach. There’s an anointing on everyone transformed by grace. And that anointing may not be visible through special gifts of power or wisdom. It may be found in those who simply live as an example of thankful deliverance. To others, as a model of consistent love. And to others, as a compassionate carrier of hope, pointing all to the One who gives hope. But when Jesus demands one He delivers to go back home, He knows the universal power of a living testimony!

So going “back home” may not be the mission field of our dreams, but it may well be the one we’re found most fruitful!

And “back home” may not be the place we gain respect, but we may be the only ones capable of going there at all!

And it may be that in our thinking “back home” revives too many hurting memories to hurdle and navigate, and maybe we think it’s not worth the effort; but we may find that our promised wholeness is better realized when we try!

Gift Giver

“Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change.” James 1:17

On Christmas Eve, I wrapped gifts for our children and carefully arranged them beneath the tree. I couldn’t wait to give the gifts we chose especially for them. I could hardly sleep from the anticipation of watching smiles dance across their faces upon unwrapping their treasures.

My friend, God feels that way about us every single day! Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, imperfect as you are, know how to lovingly take care of your children and give them what’s best, how much more ready is your Heavenly Father to give wonderful gifts to those who ask Him?” He sits on the edge of His Heavenly seat anticipating the day we unwrap everything selected specifically for us.

God is the ultimate giver. From the beginning of time until now, God has been giving gifts to mankind. He gave us the greatest gift when He gave His Son Jesus. Jesus, then, gave us everything He had by selflessly laying down His life for our redemption. “For this is how much God loved the world- He gave His one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in Him will never perish but experience everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Furthermore, in Ephesians 4 we are told that God has given us spiritual gifts. All of the gifts are provided, ultimately, to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12) The spiritual gifts we’ve received were carefully thought out by our Father. When we recognize and utilize what we’ve been given we can successfully run the race we’ve been assigned.

We’re welcomed, also, to ask God for gifts. We get to not only desire spiritual gifts but to actively pray for them as well. James 4:2 says, “And all the time you don’t obtain what you want because you won’t ask God for it!” God is worthy of pursuit. I believe there’s so much more we could walk in if we’d just be bold enough to ask Him.

Moreover, while His good gifts abound in our lives some may not be packaged the way we expect. Earlier this year I walked through serious health scares with both my daughter and mother. Initially I wouldn’t have called either one of them a gift from God. But now that they are both in my rearview mirror, I have the clarity required to know they were. I’m more convinced, now, that every Word of the Bible is true. That His presence is more than enough. That peace that passes all understanding is real. That He has the power to radically heal. I know Him more intimately than I did before and knowing Him better is the best thing that happened to me this year. The hard, uncomfortable places were a gift in disguise. Perhaps your hard and uncomfortable places are too.

So let’s graciously dance into 2019 rejoicing over all the gifts we received in 2018 and anticipating all the ones still to come. This is going to be an incredible year seeking and serving the giver of every good and perfect gift!

Hope of All the World

“And his name will be the hope of all the world.” Matthew 12:21 NLT

A bizarre, World War 1 ceasefire on Christmas Day 1914 remains one of the great oddities of modern military history. Mythical in some part due to exaggeration, yet authentic in large part due to reputable eye witnesses, the bloody trench warfare on France’s western Front between British and German troops came to a brief halt on Christmas Day 1914.

Unshouldering their weapons and easing out of protective trenches, soldiers from both sides of this grim conflict traded cigarettes, sang carols, kicked soccer balls, and took photos. And in a rare display of mutual compassion, the impromptu ceasefire provided precious time for attending to the wounded and supplied a somewhat sacred space for the dead to be buried.

It’s unbelievable and inconceivable that trained killers could arrive at such a moment, that war and violence could be forgotten and good will toward sworn enemies be a reality!

Though the bloodshed resumed with a vengeance shortly afterward, the strange agreement between bitter combatants to cease hostilities and experience the calm of a Christmas Day speaks volumes to the innate desire of fellow image bearers to experience peace, no matter how elusive or short term that peace may be. To halt a deadly war, not at the sign of victory or defeat, but at the mere impulse of humanity’s hunger for peace (even when that peace is certain to be fleeting and futile), signifies at least, conceptually, the possibility of the whole of creation at rest.

Though human quests for a cosmos without strife and tension exist, the eerie pallor of discontent, hate, war and violence have marred creation’s symphony since Cain murdered his brother, Abel. From the first family’s dysfunction to the present, remedies for peace have been extensive, varied, and costly. The goals have undoubtedly been noble, and the “ought to” civility taught among differing civilizations is honorable, but any consistent peace among the nations of the world has been woefully scant.

Some thought harmony among the brotherhood of man was possible through religious practice; others deemed the answer to be through advanced political process; while others felt a just and peaceable world was available through military might. At the other end of the human effort spectrum others chose philosophies of passive, non-violence as a means to restoration; others promised togetherness among the nations through economic strategies and expanded educational pursuits. Some have believed wise legislation and virtuous statesmanship possessed the ingredients for equitable and just societies. Historically, all have proven to be ineffective and unsustainable in quelling the turmoil that infests mankind.

Had there been other means whereby nations could reside in peace, and had there been a place where wolves and lambs lay down together, and if a land existed where snakes didn’t strike at the legs of passers-by, then Bethlehem would not have supplied the manger where the Hope of the world was born! But those efforts were proven time again fruitless and vain, nothing more than mere strivings born from troubled, unknown, and ungoverned hearts.

But the God of peace could no longer remain aloof and distant from His creation’s dilemma! It was from the Father’s heart and from the beginning of time that the Hope of the world would be found in Jesus and the realization of that Hope would be fulfilled the day the Lord Jesus Christ was born!

Merry Christmas, then, to all the world! Hope for a restored creation is no longer a mystical, distant thought, for peace and harmony have come in the form of a baby boy! The Messiah, the One prophesied by all the prophets- Immanuel, God with us, the Savior, has arrived! He lived, died, was buried and has risen from the grave, and He accomplished all His Father assigned Him to do! And equally gloriously, He now resides in the souls of those who trust Him!

No longer is peace confined to a temporary stay formed by unstable minds. No longer are we disillusioned by the fickle, unreliable promises of men to halt harsh words and end bitter strife. No longer are truces of peace enacted upon conditions concocted by human standards, nor is unity determined by mere behavior modification!

There is a peace that begins in the heart, from a heart that’s forgiven and a mind that’s cleared! There is a place where wars no longer exist, and there is a place where joy, peace and goodwill towards all mankind spring as naturally as mountain streams flow southward! That place is personal, powerful and productive- a glorious experience and possession possible only through faith in the Prince of Peace!

Will the nations of the world ever experience peace? Will the peoples and tribes of the earth ever live in harmony, be free from injustice, be loosed from envy, or be delivered from discontent? Will governments and rulers of the world ever lay down their arms and despise violence as a means of control? Will manipulation and emotional coercion forever be banned? Will equality among the diverse image bearers of God ever be realized and enjoyed? Will the masses of humanity ever experience economic freedom- content and confident, free from fear and lack?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes to all of this!

How then is this indescribable reality possible? How will these conditions be fulfilled? It seems so beyond hope! Well, the answer dwells in the hope gurgling from the souls of those born of Peace! One person at a time, one human heart opened to the Gospel, one friend telling another friend of this grace – that’s how “as it is in heaven so shall it be on earth” arrives! Quietly, unadorned, and oft unexpectedly, the King of glory takes His place in human hearts, and with His glorious redeemed Church, promises to rule the earth with righteousness! There will be no end to His peace, His government, and His provision! A concept of this sort is not of this world, but rather originates from God and revives, filling in entirety the emptiness of fallen creation!

And with that hope springing now from purified and enthused hearts, we celebrate forever the very Incarnation of God! Peace was made possible through the birth of the Son, and the entrance of that light has given eternal hope to all that believe!

Are all things He promised now fulfilled and readily visible? No. Not yet. But surely goodness and mercy shall follow all those who’ve received Him! With hope being shed abroad now in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we boldly declare with joy – Merry Christmas to all!

Heart Growth

Admittedly, I haven’t seen The Grinch movie that was just released in the last few weeks. The computer-animated retelling of one of the most beloved Christmas stories is sure to be fun and light-hearted (this is not a movie review) but will undoubtedly never reach the classical influence of the original. I do not know Dr. Seuss’ (Theodore Geisel) spiritual inclinations or beliefs or his exact motivation for writing the book “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” However, I can never read through this 1957 classic without being reminded of some foundational truths. 

In this children’s book, the author zooms in on the mindset of an isolated, grouchy character who developed a scheme to put an end to Christmas by stealing Christmas-themed items from the home of the nearby town of Whoville on Christmas Eve. He plotted to take their feast food, gifts, decorations, and even the Christmas tree all in an attempt to keep them from being excited and joyful on Christmas Day. He especially hated the noises of Christmastime, particularly the singing. Dr. Seuss gives the reason for the Grinch’s hatred of Christmas; the Grinch has a heart that is “two sizes too small.” 

Isn’t it amazing to consider that the way the Grinch looked at others was not a reflection of their goodness or wickedness but rather a reflection of the size and condition of his heart? Therefore, he was unable to join in the celebration and participate in the festivities with everyone else. In fact, it caused him to resent and despise the sounds of joy in others not because they were wrong for celebrating but because his heart was darkened. Here are just a few characteristics of the Grinch that were byproducts of his small heart: 

  1. He compared himself with his neighbors. The people in Whoville became his enemies rather than his partners. 
  2.  He became a taker. Anytime comparison is given place, it immediately ushers in the attitude of lack and lack always removes the heart of generosity and replaces it with a heart that takes. 
  3.  He became materialistic. He thought that joy came from their possessions! He assumed that if he could steal their possessions then he could quiet their rejoicing. 
  4.  He wished misery on his neighbors. Because he was miserable, he did not want anyone else to celebrate. Misery loves company! The Grinch was not just stealing the items, he was attempting to steal their reason for rejoicing. 

Dr. Seuss drives home the simple lesson of this book as he illustrates the Grinch looking with anticipation at Whoville after he had stole their goods. He expected them to be sad, gloomy, and miserable but when he turned to listen the opposite was actually occurring. The people of Whoville started singing! They sang louder and louder until the noise covered the town. The Grinch thought that without the items they would be discouraged and disappointed. However, it was never about the items that made the people of Whoville sing, it was about the condition of their heart. Your song says more about your heart than it does your possessions! 

That day the Grinch’s heart grew and he ended up returning all the items and enjoying Christmas with the people of Whoville. He even cut the roasted beast! 

My prayer for you this Christmas is that your heart grows. That materialism, bitterness, and comparison are all dethroned and the purity of this season can be enjoyed. Your song is not dependent upon your possessions or your neighbor. God has been good to YOU! Rejoice!