Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rejoice! It’s the Season of Lent: Spring Training for Christians
Read Joel 2:1-11

    “Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Saturday, the evening before Easter.
During Lent, we enter into a season of preparation, self-reflection, and repentance when we seek to literally “turn around” and realign our lives and focus toward God. It is a time to give up things as well as take on new life-giving practices, helping us rid ourselves of distractions and our own selfish desires. By doing so, we seek to live and love as more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.” (Book of Worship). 
   So based on the above definition it may sound strange to be called to “rejoice.” Especially considering all that’s going on in the world around us. Lent is a somber season emphasizing the death and suffering of our Lord. In the above Scripture reading, Joel calls for the people to repent. Considering the whole book of Joel, it is apparent that this prophet is not chiding or criticizing, nor is he condemning or even judging the people. Rather, the prophet's concern is to comfort the distress in the hearts of the people as they face the desolation of their land. A plague of locusts has devastated the land.
    Now our concern isn’t a plague of locust but we face a similar desolation (a state of complete emptiness or destruction; anguished misery or loneliness) as we see evil rear its ugly head over and over again. To combat this issue we run to the Capital, we run to our politicians, we turn on the news and we listen to the experts argue over what the appropriate responses should be. On and on we go…
    Evil is God’s enemy and God has a plan—Hear me, God is love and has a plan to destroy evil, (Read the parable of the Wheat and the Tares Matt. 13). I feel it’s important to bear witness to the ultimate victory of God, but also to what God is doing now in the midst of history, in pain and suffering to engage evil. For we have hope that in our distress God hears, God heals and God cares. David Hart affirms, “God hears the cries of the suffering. Yes, God comes with healing in God’s wings. God comes in fact, as a warrior. The suffering and pain…is the enemy of God. From our perspective in the middle of history, we do not know everything about where this evil came from, but we know that it is God’s mortal enemy, and God comes to do combat, comes in the power of the cross, comes in the power of love.”[1] God’s power is at work in the world, even in what doesn’t look like power to us. God comes in God’s way, made known to us in Christ, a warrior in loving weakness. God comes as love to destroy the work and power of evil. I offer this as a word of healing, for God’s love enters every area of our life—past, present, and future, to bring healing.
   The call is to “repent.” During these all too familiar seasons of life, how often do you hear and head the call to “repent?” Repent: to turn - to return to God. Like a drillmaster's shout, "About face!" Repentance is a command given to turn and return to God. It’s a call to turn our entire life toward God. However, within the command itself, there is a reminder that the one, who gives the command, is a God who has never turned away from us. Therefore, repentance is not a "put-down,” it’s an "uplift." We’re to repent not primarily because we have done something bad or wrong; but, because our God has done something very good and will do something even better in the future.
    Now is the time to turn to God. Let us return with prayer and fasting not just to regret our faults or to rehearse our failures but to renew our faith that God is at work creating a blessed future out of the mess that we have made of God’s world and of our lives.
Now is not the time to practice shallow fasting - giving up things we can easily do without. Now is a time to stand with those who are hurting, and with the prophet, Joel in the wastelands, left by the locusts, and to see ripe grain filling the fields. Now is a time to stand before the cross and to see it as the coronation throne of Christ our king.
Now is the time to turn to the Holy Scriptures to study and commune with God in prayer. Now is the time to lift up the cross—high enough to begin to see the rays of Easter morning.

May God richly bless you as you observe a Holy Lent,
Pastor Brian Sanderson

[1] Long, Thomas, G. ‘What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and The Crisis of Faith’ (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2011) P. 147.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter 3 recently to prepare a brief message for my Church's food ministry on Thursday when vv.s 9-16 sparked a special memory.        
I come from a hard-working family. My dad and grandfather built houses together until my grandfather became the county building inspector. Later, my dad emerged as a self-employed painter.  So as you can imagine growing up I had plenty of opportunities to practice building and painting. This practice affirmed my desire to go to college.
Fast forward years later to my point. My wife and I purchased our first home, which as many of you are familiar a starter home is just that--one you can afford which means it is probably older and needs a lot of work and this one met all of the above criteria. So with our parent's help, we begin the renovation process. As a paise to God, I should also mention my wife's father is a very gifted self-employed contractor. So with a grand vision and a great deal of help we renovated our first home.  
As is the case when a house begins to show age as well as wear and tear it is time for a remodel job to take place. The process of remodeling transforms the house or building in order to update it, make it more modern and livable, and save the cost of buying or building a new one. Remodeling takes what already exists and reconfigures it into something different, something updated and upgraded with new life.
Our House needed the floors sanded and refinished, painting--both interior and exterior, new closet doors, the entire bathroom remodeled (yes we only had one bathroom to share), new railing for the stairs, new tile floors for the bathroom and the kitchen, new insulation beneath the house, new appliances, new light fixtures, and not to leave out the exterior: new landscaping: new plants, even a new driveway.
This experience taught me to value the process of transformation. I gained a greater appreciation for the renovation experience.
The Question? Do we need remodeling as people? I think so. Good news God is in the remodeling Business
We are all born needing a remodeling job. All of us are born sinful and full of fleshly desires. As we grow, our sinful nature exerts its influence on our lives. It begins to train us to serve its lust for all sorts of things. It strives to encourage behaviors that are inappropriate, rude and selfish. No matter how good we think we are, deep within the core of our being is the sinful flesh with which we were born. 
The Answer, Yes, of course, assuming one doesn't want to learn this truth the hard way.
During the renovation process, I repeatedly thought of God's work in my life. For example, as I began to paint the exterior I first had to pressure wash the house, then replace rotten wood, SCRAPE and SCRAPE away the old paint before I could apply the pretty new color my wife and I had picked out.
In the same way, God takes special care to build us into the people we are intended to be. First, it begins with Christ as our firm foundation V.11 and then our cooperation to maintain a habitable dwelling place for God's Spirit, v.16. 
May we embrace God's remodeling project in our lives, allow God to take what already exists and reconfigure us into something different, something updated and upgraded with new life. And as a result, we have something beautiful to live in both inside and out and for the world to see.