Ash Wednesday

Welcome, friends! For Christians all over the world, today begins a 40-day journey to Easter. Click the videos below, and together we will start that journey toward Jesus…

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Pastor Tim

Forgive, almighty God, those things we have done which have caused you sadness, and those things we should have done that would have brought you joy. In both we have failed ourselves, and you. Bring us back to that place where our journey began, when we said that we would follow the way that you first trod. Lead us to the Cross and meet us there. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-20 – Grateful for Grace

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So, he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the biggest sinner of all. But that is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me, first. So, I am an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.

Timothy, my child, I am giving you these instructions based on the prophecies that were once made about you. So, if you follow them, you can wage a good war because you have faith and a good conscience. Some people have ruined their faith because they refused to listen to their conscience, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander. I have handed them over to Satan so that they can be taught not to speak against God. (CEB)

Toward the end of his life, the Apostle Paul reflected upon the grace given to him by God. In writing to Timothy, his protégé, Paul distilled his reflections into one short succinct phrase: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 

Before Christ got a hold of his life, Paul actively opposed Christians as much as he could. He had the persecution of Christ’s followers down to a science. But God had mercy on Paul and delivered him from his misguided and tortuous ways.

Paul was forever grateful for the grace of God. He well knew that he deserved no good thing from God. Paul knew firsthand the words of the Lord Jesus:

“I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, CEB)

Once one’s heart has been captivated by God’s mercy, that person is never the same. Grace results in a new and wondrous perspective. The soul is filled with love. The mind is changed and charged with the realization that God is not only good but has given you a status as his beloved – a privilege and a position which you neither earned nor deserve. Gratitude erupts from your lips: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to save me, the chief of sinners!”

We need not have a past like Paul’s to know God’s grace. Whether you are now a follower of Jesus after having lived a life far from God; or, you cannot remember a time when you didn’t know God; or, you grew-up in faith, walked away from it all, then were captured by grace and came back to Christ – from whatever backgrounds we all come from, it is the saving grace, the delivering mercy, the infinite love, the abiding compassion, and the undeserved kindness of Jesus Christ which makes your world spin the opposite direction on its axis. 

Take time throughout today to utter that simple phrase over and over: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. What does this mean for the world as it is right now? What does it mean for you?

Loving Lord Jesus, there are not words to express my gratitude for your salvation given to me. I was once lost, but now am found by the boundless mercy of God. May sinners be saved, as was your servant Paul, so that the world will be undone and changed forever by grace. Amen.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 – The Sweet Scent of Salvation

“When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.  But I was worried when I did not find my friend Titus there. So, I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.

I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death.

No one really has what it takes to do this work.  A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s message. But we are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.” (CEV)

God is the One who calls and empowers people for service in the church and the world. God is the powerful sovereign ruler of the universe who prepares the way for people to proclaim the good news of deliverance in the name of Jesus. God is the Being who dominates Holy Scripture. God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption in the Bible.

God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout every era. God is the diligent and careful farmer who enables the knowledge of Jesus to spread across the earth and cause a bloom of grace to flower.

God is the divine florist who produces the sweet smell of salvation from a rancid past of relational separation.

You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates self-revelation to others, you and I will muck around this world trying to live the Christian life in the misguided notion that leading others to Jesus Christ is on our shoulders – that somehow our ability, or lack thereof, determines whether another person is delivered from their brokenness and finds God.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are estranged from God, like vulnerable lost sheep in the world, are called by the shepherd, not us. We simply go in the enablement of God’s power and blessing to pick up lost sheep and carry them back to the fold. 

You and I are messengers, couriers from God with a life-giving message of forgiveness and deliverance for all whom the Lord calls – and God’s voice can be heard across the entire world.

We are field hands who enter the harvest and enjoy the gathering of fresh grain into God’s great storehouse of grace. You and I did not make anything grow. God was really behind the planting, the growth, the rain, the sunshine, and the harvest. In many ways, we are just along for the tractor ride.

Many Christians put far too much emphasis on themselves – what they should and could be doing, as if the salvation of others depended on them. But God is behind every good and beautiful thing in this earth. Learning to trust the Lord’s leading and power makes all the difference in a world needing Jesus. 

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I might be an instrument in your grand orchestra of salvation, giving off the sweet scent of salvation and blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.

Galatians 5:2-15 – Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers, and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (NIV)

Faith, expressing itself through love, is the grace others need from us. I did not grow up committed to learning the Bible or following Christ. I pretty much went my own way throughout childhood, and especially my teenage years. I still remember what it feels like to not be a Christian. 

I have found throughout my Christian life that folks with a past in which they did not live by grace, but only looked out for themselves, have a temptation to embrace strict rules when they become Christians. They know what it feels like to not have Jesus in their lives, so they sometimes go beyond Scripture and impose standards on themselves, and then others, to keep on the straight and narrow.

If, and when, that happens, the Apostle Paul has something to say about it. Embracing certain practices to obtain or maintain righteousness mean nothing in God’s kingdom. For the Galatian church who went down the path of strict outward rule-keeping, Paul had strict words. Here is how one version of the New Testament puts it:

“You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.” (Galatians 5:4-6, CEB)

Any Christian tradition or individual believer which ignores God’s grace in favor of controlling one’s own faith through certain rules is no Christianity, at all. Paul would have nothing to do with it. His position was clear and pointed. We are called to freedom, and we are to use that freedom to serve others through love. Freedom is not something where we do whatever we want without regard to others. That is selfishness, not freedom.

“Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.”

karl barth

Freedom is a gift of grace. It is given to us so that we will live freely into who we are meant to be as humanity. In other words, there are to be no obstacles of extra-biblical or unbiblical rules impeding us to realize our full potential as Christians saved by grace through faith. Our possibilities include full unhindered expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the benefit of ourselves and the entire community of the redeemed.

Grace is the currency of God’s kingdom, flowing freely through love. God has your back. Grace forgives, and never runs out. Love endures and never withdraws. When we grab hold of this essential and beautiful truth about God with spiritual gusto, then the only rule we want to keep is the continuing debt to love one another.

Are there any practices, rules, beliefs, or doctrines you impose on yourself which are burdensome to you, or others?  Why do you do them?  Do you expect others to keep them?  What would change if you threw grace and love into the mix?

Gracious God, your love has extended so far as to give your one and only Son on our behalf.  Through Jesus, I embrace the faith and love gifted to me through his redeeming work.  Help me to daily die to myself and my propensity for outward rule-keeping, and to live the gracious life you died to procure for me.