“You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times…” – Psalm 60:2-3
When I look at the pictures of the devastation in Japan, I am reminded of a speaker I heard last year at a missions conference. He pointed out that many of the world’s recent natural disasters have occurred in areas which are unreached or resistant to the Gospel. He was not saying that God was judging those areas, but rather that a disaster disrupts the status quo and creates an opportunity for the Gospel to penetrate hearts. For example, there are now many churches in Sumatra which did not exist before the 2004 tsunami. That is because Christ-followers brought aid and the Good News in the aftermath, and the people were more open.
Japan has been a spiritually resistant country for hundreds of years. Churches there are small and struggling. Might this disaster create a fresh opportunity for the Gospel?
It can, if we “run to the pain”, as the speaker challenged us to do. Wherever we see pain and trauma in the world, we don’t need to waste time asking why, we simply run to that pain and be the love of Jesus there. It is quite possible God will use that moment to change the eternal trajectory of a people.
You might see some people with dirty foreheads today, because it is Ash Wednesday. For over 1,000 years Christians have marked the beginning of “Lent” – the 40 day period before Easter – by observing Ash Wednesday. (ashes are to remind us of the temporary nature of our lives)
As believers, we can have ashes put on our foreheads and miss the real meaning, or we can ignore Ash Wednesday as an empty ritual. Either way we are poorer spiritually.
The gift of Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, is that each year we are reminded to intentionally embrace the fact that we are not yet like Jesus, and we need his deep cleansing work in our lives. How can we use this time, part of the of the Church for millenia, to allow God to shape us at the soul level?
1. Take some moments today to ask God to show you where you need to repent. It may be a different answer than you think.
2. Fast once per week in Lent. Going without food fora spiritual reason can impact us long after we have started eating again. Use the time you’d eat for prayer and watch God work in and through you. You may notice sin’s grip is a little looser, and your prayer more impactful.
3. Serve someone else secretly during Lent.
Ash Wednesday reminds us we don’t have forever here on earth. Let’s pursue God today.
I have read that physicists have shown that when particles are accelerated to near the speed of light,time slows down. Should a particle actually reach the speed of light, time would stand still. Though that might be hard to comprehend, it can help us understand the nature of God just a little more.
1 John 1:5 says God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
Since God is light, time stands still in God’s presence. In other words, there is really no “before” or “after”. God is always with us, and is not limited by time or space. And eternity may not be a long, long time, as we usually think of it. Eternity may mean no time at all. (which is why we will “sing a new song”- if there is no time there is no such thing as a beat!)
What’s the point? Without being aware of it, we often shrink God down to our size in an effort to fit Him into our reality and thinking. It’s easier to conceive of God as a person dwelling in a place called heaven, which functions just like our world.
Yet God is so much bigger, so much more “other” than we can possibly imagine. Let’s remember that the next time our problems loom large — God is more awesome still.
Peter Wagner once said there are three factors which influence a church’s growth and health:
1. Institutional (ex: adequate parking, budget priorities, right leaders in right places)
2. Contextual (connecting with your community’s culture, who you are reaching)
3. Spiritual (ex: obedience, prayer, spiritual forces in community)
Giving attention to all three is necessary. However, we each have a tendency toward one; that is, we will tend to look at the ministry through that one lens alone. This will produce some distorted images of our church and frustrating ministry attempts because an institutional bottleneck can’t be solved by a spiritual answer, and a spiritual problem can’t be solved with an institutional answer. Which do you tend toward first?
It occurs to me that a similar approach to our individual health and growth. If a guy is spending more than he makes, he might pray that God will provide and that debt will go away, but he needs to rip up the credit cards and make a budget. On the other hand, if a woman’s selfishness is ruining her marriage, it is fine to get counseling, but it is not going to help much until she asks God to change he heart and teach her to love.
Choosing the right answer requires understanding the question.
Steve Cordle is the founding and lead pastor of Crossroads Church, a small group-based congregation with five locations in the Pittsburgh metro area. He also leads a18movement, a non-profit dedicated catalyzing church plants globally. Steve is the author of three books: A Jesus-Shaped Life, Hear it, See it, Risk it, and The Church in Many Houses. He coaches pastors and church planters in the United States and Western Europe. He enjoys running, playing classical piano, and all Pittsburgh sports. Steve is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary (M. Div) and United Theological Seminary (D. Min). Steve and his wife, Linda, have three grown sons, three daughters-in-love, and three grandchildren.
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