PEACE MAKERS RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW

Recently this country has experienced great trauma from several acts of violence and murder. A terrorist shot 102 in a crowded nightclub in Orlando, killing 49. Concerns mount when the police shoot and kill those detained. A sniper intentionally picks off policemen protecting peaceful demonstrators in Dallas.

Across our country, there is a level of mis-trust, anger and vengeance that is rising.

We who are members of the family of God and the Adventist Church are called to be peacemakers. We have that calling because we have been invited into and adopted in the family led by the Prince of Peace. While we must work to prevent injustice everywhere, we must also extend grace and compassion right here. Right where we live, right where we worship, right where we stand at any given time.

These acts right now remind us that we are living in a world that is fast falling into chaos. We can’t close our eyes and just hope for the future to fix all wrongs. Yes, Jesus is coming, and that is our hope. But until He arrives, we need to “occupy until He comes.” That means we must bring the values of the heavenly kingdom to each person around us. Pray for the ability to represent Christ to each one you know and meet. And pray that the Lord holds back the winds of strife just a little longer, so that we can share the joy of Christ’s second coming and the power of His transforming grace.

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LESSONS LEARNED IN A GYM – “STRUTTING YOUR STUFF ISN’T ENOUGH!”

Biceps bulge, abs are tight and that walk is very deliberate and obvious. There are a few who haunt the local gym with the purpose of showing off their body building physique. I suppose that they work out sometime, but mostly you see them walking around slowly, just daring anyone to compare their body to the strutting specimen of total workout perfection. You kinda figure these people live in the gym and have nowhere else to go!

Of course, it’s not just in the gym where those with a statement to make about their self-worth strut their stuff. There are those with modified late model sports cars, sporting mega sound systems, and throaty exhaust pipes. There are ladies with the latest fashion in clothes, shoes and make-up. Others seek to top the rest of the pack when it comes to collections, Christmas yard lights, sports gear, fantasy ball teams, and on and on.

Strutting your stuff comes naturally to the human heart that somehow has to scream out that “I am significant. I deserve to be noticed. I have achieved more than the lesser mortals in my universe. I am almost godlike.”

Oh Lord, deliver me, when I am tempted to “strut my stuff.” For “my stuff” is never enough. No matter how I compare myself to someone else, there is no lifting myself up through comparison to ever demonstrate that I have arrived and I am worthy of exaltation in any way.

Jesus knew all about the futility of “strutting your stuff.” He told a story that brought it all home. “He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Luke 18:9-14 (Message)

Next time you are at church and you see someone “Strutting their stuff,” don’t get too discouraged over your personal spiritual physique. Just remember, life in Christ is not a contest to see who can look the most spiritual. It is just a time to say, “Lord, it’s me. Parts of my life are a little flabby. But I am willing to work out in God’s gym. Be my trainer. Walk me through the workouts I need to grow and develop in Your image. And all along the way, help me remember, Your grace is enough.”

CAMPING OUT VS WORKING OUT — LESSONS LEARNED IN A GYM

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The motivation for walking in the door of a gym is to work out and tone up the different body muscle groups. At least, ostensibly that is what people say.

However, I have discovered a unique reason for paying an annual gym membership fee, getting into a car, driving to the location of the gym, going into the locker room and changing into “workout” clothes. All of this is done so some people can don their ear buds, listen to their mp3/iPod and wander to various pieces of gymnastic equipment and just camp out there, blissfully resting still, no motion, no working the biceps, the quads, the deltoids or anything else except the iPod. I guess they like to say that they are going to the gym, they like to have the appearance that they are improving their life. But mostly they sit and occupy space that someone else who is serious about their personal progress would like to utilize.

It kind of made me think, “Why pay the money to go the gym, why show up and then just tune out without working out?” The more I noticed that, it started a little nagging question, “Have I ever showed up at church or a worship service, and just tuned out?” When did I drive to the worship center/church, wear worship clothes, and take up a seat, without fully engaging in the action of embracing God and having the joy of exercising a full heart connection with the King of the universe.

I see people who come to church, but did they come to worship? They walk in wearing worship appropriate clothing, but have they “…Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” as the apostle Paul would say in Romans 13:14? Is it possible to come because I like the atmosphere and sort of think it is a good idea, and yet I take up the time and space there, while missing the potential of truly growing in my spiritual life.

To join in worship is to experience connecting with a personal God in a holy and majestic way. To engage with Him. To bring Him praise, glory, blessing, honor and full attention. And in return we find a reciprocal action. That great God of the universe loves to enter into our life, to build us up, to strengthen us, to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But it doesn’t happen if we just come to camp out.

LESSONS LEARNED AT THE GYM – “I AM A LEGALIST”

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It came as a shock to recently discover in the gym, that I am a legalist. I mean, I thought that after years of growing in an understanding of grace, and inviting Christ to completely be my Lord and Savior, I had experienced what it meant to live a grace-filled life and have a grace motivation to growing in holy obedience to my Savior.

Gyms come in all sizes and with various options. Some are straight weight lifting. Others have the amenities of an indoor pool, whirlpool and racquetball courts, while the premier ones have indoor tennis and an indoor running track.

The gym I chose has two features that appealed to me:  a low monthly rate (even lower if paid annually) and a section set aside for those wanting to concentrate on an express fitness workout. This section has 10 machines and 10 step platforms. The concept is that only those gym members wanting to do the full circuit of all 10 machines and step platforms are to use this section. A traffic light blinks green or red to indicate when you switch from one activity to the next, through all the 20 steps and you can do all the activities from one to the next as directed by the green and red traffic light, in 30 minutes.

There is a breed of gym users that either can’t read, or don’t care. They come to this section and plop their body on just one of the machines, and then just stay there through various cycles of the green and red traffic signal. They don’t even shift to the step platforms, but tie up their favorite exercise machine. So the rest of those doing the Express cycle have to by-pass the tied up machine when it comes time for them to do that part of their routine.  For someone who might be OCD (which I am not), I am sure it can be frustrating.  I came to resent the chronic abusers of the gym rules.  They were getting in “my” way, using “my” machine when it was clearly “my” turn to advance to that machine.  I was down-right  indignant.  They weren’t “following the rules!”  It was clear that the gym management needed to come and enforce the regulations or throw them out.

Besides my physic, my mental self-righteousness was getting a work-out.

Gradually, as my anger built up, there came a still small voice, that began to whisper alternatives to the pent-up emotions.

“Yes, they are not following the rules.  Yes, this is an inconvenience to you. Yes, you are following the rules and should not have to accommodate those members.”  I liked that part of the still small voice!  However, it continued on. “You can be angry. You can even give them disgusted glances. But have you ever listened to the “rules” but then decided the rules didn’t apply to you and you went ahead and followed your own plans?”  Ouch!  “And did the Lord gently work with you and encourage you to a different choice, one more in line with His will?”  Yes, the Lord has been very good in teaching me the folly of my own choices, while extending grace to lead me back within His will.

I am still frustrated by the gym hogs that get into the express section. But the Lord is teaching me to take a breath, plan an alternate route to finish my routine.  Think some “grace thoughts” instead of dwelling on the inconvenience, and remember that Someone else could have written off the entire planet earth over the inconvenience of sin. But instead, Jesus choose the way of the cross for someone like me, who got the entire righteous life routine entirely wrong.

I am a legalist – saved by grace.  So now I am letting the Lord extend His grace through me and my attitude.

THE JOY OF YOUR FIRST TIME

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My oldest sister went sky-diving in her late 60s. It was something she had always wanted to do so family members gave her the experience as a birthday gift. The price included receiving a film of your entire experience, however, the camera failed and there were no pictures, so they gave her a second, “free” sky-dive jump the same day. (Better the camera failing than the parachute!)

Can you remember looking forward to something for your first time?
Your first motorcycle ride.
Your first roller coaster ride
Getting engaged and married.
The birth of a child.
Getting in the first car you ever owned or drove.
Your first trip to a foreign county.
The purchase of your first house.

Just imagine what it will be like when you see Jesus for the very first time. When in the darkest moment of earth’s history and the world seems to be falling apart, the sky begins to open up with the glory of millions of angels bringing the brilliance of heaven. Then Jesus appears, calling the dead in Christ to rise back to life and He sends His angels to gather the faithful family of God.

When we hear of the latest terrorist attack, a massive natural disaster or an outbreak of a serious infection like Ebola or Zika virus, it reminds us of the promise of a world free from sin, disease, destruction and death. So our hearts are drawn to the coming of Christ, when these things will not harm us or anyone else ever again. But the second coming of Jesus is so much more than just finally having safety and security.

The joy of the second coming of Christ is that we finally get to be with Jesus in the face-to-face, eye-to-eye, voice-to-ear, hand-to-shoulder, upfront and personal way like never before. That is the joy to look forward to. Just imagine, this will be the first time in our whole life we will get to see Jesus, talk with Him personally and walk with Him (Revelation 14:1-5). And it won’t stop, we will get to stay with Him.

Having a beautiful home in the new earth, walking on streets of gold, seeing the dazzling glory of the New Jerusalem, never experiencing death is just the coloring in the “icing on the cake,” as it were. The real joy is to be united with our Lord and Savior. Just think, of all the places in the vast reaches of space that God could locate His presence, He will make the restored earth the center of the universe. And you and I get to live with Him here on the new earth.

That is why we can look with great joy for the soon return of Jesus. He is coming for us! God wants us to be with him! The promise of John 14:3 rings in our hearts as Adventists, where Jesus said, “…I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Jesus Himself is longing for the day when He can come and take us home. Hebrews 12:2 shares that when Jesus was enduring the agony of the cross, it was “for the joy that was set before Him” that carried Him through. I believe that joy was the anticipation of coming to welcome us to the home of the redeemed. By His grace, keep looking with joy for the second coming of Jesus.

THE GREATEST GIFT

Beyond all the lights, decorations, holiday music and retail shopping madness, what a joy to step back and contemplate the great gift of God to the human family at this time of year. Immanuel, God with us. Just think that the very Creator God, the One who holds and guide the entire universe. The One who is loved by unfallen created beings and who experience the glory of heaven, choose to come to this earth, be born as a helpless, dependent baby. That mighty God choose to experience all the difficulties and issues of life, . . . in order that He might lift us up and restore us to a place in the heavenly family. Jesus is God’s gift to us. He came, right on time, and the angels filled the night sky over Bethlehem with just a small fraction of the glory of eternity to announce His coming to some sincere shepherds.

Today, I invite the Pennsylvania Adventist family, to be revived in the memory of Christ’s coming some 2000 years ago. And to also be excited as we eagerly anticipate His soon return. Just as certainly as Jesus came and entered the world in Bethlehem that night, so He has promised to come again. And this time, just when the condition of the world may seem very dark, He will come with the glory of all His angels, and all His glory, and all the glory of His Father. That is what each of us joyfully looks for. Let us join as an Adventist family across Pennsylvania, in sharing that joy, and reminding everyone who lives here, that there is another coming to be ready for.

The Only Effective Ban that Answers Gun Violence and Terrorism

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Paris, Columbine, Sandy Hook and now San Bernardino. Images of terror, destruction and death are becoming way too common in our present experience. We tremble to hear where it devastates families and neighborhoods next. Helpless is not the answer we want. Lowering flags to half-mast and offering prayers and thoughts doesn’t seem to solve the pervasive epidemic that only seems to be growing.

In the urge to feel like we as a society can do something that will solve this wave of senseless violence before it comes to my neighborhood, my workplace, my family, we desperately think that before another person gets caught in innocent murderous rampages, surely we can do something that will prevent this from ever happening again!

So the chorus is becoming louder and louder to ban assault rifles and automatic types of weapons. I will be among the first to agree that the general populace does not need keep and bear the arms of assault weapons. What we need to do is keep and hold safe in our arms our children and our neighbors. But then after banning certain types of weapons, where else will the ban go? Once assault weapons are legislated to be illegal, will that prevent the terror assault on innocent Americans? Other weapons will be chosen since the desire to harm and destroy is so strong in the minds of the enemies of those who disagree with the American values and cultures and those mentally unbalanced , that they think they have enemies to remove, or that they need to seek notoriety. What do we ban next, when we find that evil marches on in the hearts and actions of men and women determined to destroy the peace and lives of everyday citizens?

Timothy McVeigh used a Ryder rental truck for the Oklahoma bombing of the Federal Building. Do we ban Ryder Rental Trucks? He used basic fertilizer products to produce the explosion. Do we ban agricultural fertilizer? The middle east terrorists of 9-11 used airliners. Do we ban jet airplanes? The Palestinians right now in Jerusalem and parts of Israel are stabbing innocent Israelis on the streets with kitchen knives and scissors. Do we ban sharp kitchen knifes and household scissors? The Boston Marathon Bombers used a kitchen pressure cooker—no guns. For heaven’s sake, should we ban kitchen pressure cookers? The San Bernardino terrorists had also constructed pipe bombs from basic materials readily available. Shall we ban pipes?

No matter what we ban, either terrorists or criminals or the mentally unbalanced will find something to continue their evil actions to destroy life, create mayhem, and call attention to their cause.

There is only one ban that will work. You won’t find it being mentioned in the halls of congress or governmental leaders. It will be scoffed at by the secular media. The only ban that will ever counteract this growing terror and loss of life, will be a lifetime ban on evil.

As long as there is evil in the hearts of men, there will be new and innovative methods to continue to take life in order to advance a group cause or a personal agenda. The issue is the very basic evil resident or chosen, in the human heart. And the only antidote to that, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ into one’s heart and choosing to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven is the only answer to this present world.

Until that happens, more acts of brutal murder and terror will increase. No matter what you ban, a method, a tool and a weapon will arise to fill the hand of those to determined to bring evil on the world.

The government can legislate a ban on weapons, assault rifles and automatic guns. But legalism never has purified the human heart and ultimately changed behavior for the better. It only happens when we choose to have Jesus Christ completely take over our hearts, minds and actions. Only when we surrender our will and our desires to that of Jesus Christ. Only when we become sons and daughters of God and enter right now into the kingdom of Heaven, then and only then, is evil itself banned from our life, our hearts and our motives. With Jesus at the center of our life, the world is then safe from us. And then we are safe for eternity.

“Lord, create in me a clean heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10