Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Time is Now

On July 23rd back in 2006, I attended a concert in Birmingham on a Sunday night which most likely wasn't the greatest of ideas given I had to be at work early the next morning. The concert lasted a little bit longer than expected which meant for an even later evening getting back home; at least I had the company of my friend Megan with me. Heading down I-65 South around midnight, I was hit from behind while driving approximately 75 mph. Naturally, my reaction was to hit the breaks which (make note) is apparently the worst possible idea. As I hit the break, my car began to spin out and spin towards the shoulder of the interstate. My breaks eventually caught but at the speed I was going and the momentum of spinning out carrying me in another direction, the next move for the car to take was to begin rolling. A trucker that witnessed the accident estimated that the car flipped 3-5 times before we eventually came to a stop in the woods off of the interstate.

As we came to a stop, all windows had been blown out of the car, the car battery had been thrown about 10 yards away from where my car came to rest, the front bumper was laying on the ground next to the driver's side door, and for a little humor, some boxers that I had in a duffle bag from the weekend were hanging 20 feet high in a tree above the car. The trucker that witnessed the accident came running to the car and when Megan responded that her foot was hurting, I clearly remember the trucker saying, "Darling, if you could see what you just went through, you are fortunate your foot is the worst thing hurting you right now." Though obviously severely banged up, Megan and I were both very alert and just ready to get out of the vehicle which we were now pinned inside. The fire department had to come to pop the doors off and pull us from the vehicle and from there, I walked away with nothing more than several scratches, mostly above my left knee, and the typical bumps and bruises.

What if something worse would have happened that night? As the witness seemed to describe it, something worse should have happened.

None of us know when our time here on earth will end. I can't even guarantee that I will finish this blog. In James 4:14, he writes, "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." The problem with this is that we live our lives as if we are invincible, as if we are guaranteed a tomorrow.

To be honest, had the worst happened that summer night, I would not be spending eternity with my Heavenly Father. My years of living as a "Sunday Christian" just wouldn't have cut it for me. Knowing that there are no guarantees for tomorrow, the scariest thought that could cross my mind is not spending eternity in heaven. And I can't thank God enough for the second chance he has given me.

Guys and girls, we don't need to hesitate to have that loving relationship with our Lord. We have to seize that opportunity immediately. As I titled this post, the time is now.

Many of you may have heard the song "In Christ Alone". Two of the lines from the song say, "No guilt of life, no fear in death...This is the power of Christ in me." What perfect words to live by. We should not fear death if we have the relationship with God that is necessary to spend eternity with him. If my time were to end today, tomorrow, or 50 years from now, I know where I will be heading.

The movie "The Bucket List" opens with the following narration:

"Edward Perman Cole died in May, it was a Sunday afternoon and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It's difficult to understand the sum of a person's life, some people would tell you it's measured by the one's left behind, some believe it can be measured in faith, some say by love, other folks say life has no meaning at all...Me, I believe you measure yourself by the people that measure themselves by you..."

No matter how you wish to measure yourself, life here on earth is too short to live for yourself rather than live for an eternity spent in heaven. The time is now to start living our lives for the Lord.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Five Truths About God

Through the first few chapters of Crazy Love, Francis Chan sets the stage based on where we are now and exactly where we need to be. First and foremost, in order for us to be in love with God, it is so important to understand who He is. As merely human, we can never understand fully the majesty of our Lord. But look around you at all the beauty and sophistication of the world and imagine the complexity for which God created all things. Through this, we can catch a glimpse of His greatness as we marvel at the uniqueness of all that is around us. And though we can never fully comprehend, we do know some truths about God that are there for us to grasp as we seek a closer relationship with him.

I. God is holy.
The word holy can be translated into something that is set apart. Isaiah 6:1-3 says "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings; With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'" For the Jews, saying something three times meant ultimate perfection. So to say the Lord is "holy, holy, holy" means that the Lord is perfectly holy, perfectly set apart. In other words, there is none like Him. And to understand that God is perfectly holy means that words cannot contain who He is. Chan puts this into perspective for us by asking the question: Isn't it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?

II. God is eternal.
"Each of us had a beginning; everything in existence began on a particular day, at a specific time. Everything, that is, but God." For me, this is evidence enough to look past all the theories science wants you to believe about the creation of the world and us. Think about it: Some being had to make all of this happen at one time or another. That being is our eternal God. Psalms 102: 12&27 says, "But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever, your renown endures through all generations...But you remain the same and your years will never end." Though God is perfectly holy and eternal, He remains the same loving Father for us always.

III. God is all-knowing.
This can be a really scary and a big reason we should fear God. As Chan says, "Each of us, to some degree, fools our friends and family about who we really are." But God certainly knows every bit of who we are. In Psalms 139: 1-4, David shares the following:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
And he continues in verse 13 saying, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."

IV. God is all-powerful.
Colossians 1:16 tells us, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." The key words in this verse are that all things were created for Him. Not for us, but for God. He has power and control of all things and we should not question that authority. I am reminded of Louie Giglio's DVD series "Prayer A Remix". The idea of Giglio's series is that God has blessed us with everything, so lets turn around and bless him and thank him FOR everything. After all, all things were created for him. We are on this earth to be stewards of his blessings.

V. God is fair and just.
In Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14, Solomon tells us, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." Simply put, God hates and must punish sin. However, I do feel that there is a caveat for us and that is God's love and his grace that He sent His Son to die for our sins that we may be forgiven. So the real issue is unrepentant sin. It is our responsibility to accept Christ and what he did for us on the cross and then to ask God to forgive us of our debts, allowed by what Christ did.

Even through (or should I say "especially through...") this greatness and majesty of God, He cares for each and every one of us as his own. Even though God is perfectly holy, eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful, God wants an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. It is our responsibility to answer this call. Not because we should do it but because we want to do and we want to fall in love with God. And understanding who He is can be the start of something very special.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The "Giving" Church

Over and over for the past couple of weeks, I have been listening to the song "More than Life" by Hillsong. There is a bridge in the song with the following lyrics:

How can it be
That You were the One on the Cross
Lifted for all our shame
How can it be
The scars in Your hands for me
You are the King of all

Think about what this means. The scars in Jesus' hands for ME. The blood of Christ shed for YOU and ME. Not just for a select few but for EVERY one of us. God loves each and every one of us that He sent His Son to die for our transgressions. This is the GREATEST love of all and it cannot be said enough. We have the opportunity to live an eternal life for what our King did for us. We just need to latch on to God's offering to us!

The journey with the new Sunday school class begins this week. Though this week will merely be an introduction to Francis Chan and Crazy Love, we will certainly get a solid foundation of what to expect for the next several weeks. In his preface, Chan sums this book up perfectly with a description of where we should be both individually and as a church. Chan says:

"God put me in Simi Valley, California, to lead a church of comfortable people into lives of risk and adventure. I believe He wants us to love others so much that we go to extemes to help them. I believe He wants us to be known for giving - of our time, our money, and our abilities - and to start a movement of "giving" churches. In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America. Some people, even some at my church, have told me flat-out, "You're crazy." But I can't imagine devoting my life to a greater vision."

Is Chan's vision really that crazy? If that is what God calls us to do, how can it be so crazy? Too often, we let wordly things dictate how we should live our lives rather than live a "crazy" life in love with God. I feel that this prevents us from going beyond the status quo of what people feel is just acceptable from church and as individual Christians. What's "acceptable" just can't cut it! Was what Christ did for us on the Cross just "acceptable"? Absolutely not! It was EXCEPTIONAL! We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, should be exceptional as we intentionally show our love to others through our time, money, and abilities.

Tomorrow, Aldersgate and a few other churches are getting together to participate in a project serving local schools with pretty much anything and everything needed. What a perfect opportunity we have to set an example of God's love by simply donating our time and abilities for a few hours. We can show this love in so many ways, not just in the big projects, but in the smallest aspects of our lives and the people we encounter everyday.

In Crazy Love, Chan points out a Bible verse that I have never considered for anything more than what is written. Acts 11:26 says, "...The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." I italicized the word called because it is so important to this verse. These disciples did not name themselves "Christians", yet they were called this by the people viewing their lives. They were called Christians because they were living their lives modeling that of Jesus and his love. This reminds me of the song "They will know we are Christians by our love..." It all ties together with the verse I mentioned in my first post when Jesus says, "Love each other as I have loved you." Based on the way we live our lives today, we need to ask ourselves two things: 1) Are we setting an example that those around us can call us Christians? 2) Will people really know we are Christians by our love?

In closing, I want to share a video with you. As you watch, don't think about Jose and his struggle but think about the love of Christ that we can show everyday. We don't always get to experience a story like Jose's but we can make a world of difference by showing Christ's love to our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors, and even our enemies. I am having trouble embedding the video so please click the link below. You owe it to yourself:

God Bless!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Beginning...

I have never had any desire to journal for myself. Nor have I ever been the type that so openly shares my thoughts of what's going on in my life with others outside of family and a few close friends. I wouldn't consider myself "reserved" by any means but I feel like I have always been more interested in what is going on in the lives around me rather than my own (some may disagree). However, a lot has been going on in my life of late, things that I, for once, want to share with others. So begins this adventure...

I have always considered myself a Christian. My parents had me involved in church since before I can remember so I would like to think that, with a little faith, acceptance of Christ was inevitable. Though I would constantly go through "spiritual highs" in my life, those were always followed by the "spiritual lows" and I felt like I was always missing something. A part of me felt like going to church and occassionaly reading the Bible was just routine rather than a way of life. So many of us can fit into the characterization of being "Sunday Christians" as opposed to living the way of life throughout the week. Approximately 70% of Americans claim to be Christian. How many of those would be considered "Sunday Christians"? If 70% were truly an accurate number, then why is there so much dislike (hate is a strong word) in our country? If 70% or more truly walked the walk, it wouldn't be such a struggle to love as God intended for us.

For some time, I struggled to understand exactly what love means. For me, there are two parts to this: The first is being in love with God and the second is loving others as Christ loved us. Through prayer and reading many books, including of course, the Bible, I have attempted to grasp both aspects. For one reason or another, this has really come to a head over the past few months. I feel like God has, more so than ever, really sought me out to have a close personal relationship, the aspect I had been missing all of the years as a "Sunday Christian".

One of the books I have read over the summer is titled Crazy Love by Francis Chan. In title alone, it seemed so much about what I have been struggling with and yearning for. Chan's focus is the longing deep inside of our hearts to "break free from the status quo", to not be a "Sunday Christian" and to be IN LOVE with God. For once, I finally felt I had read a book that spoke to me and my own struggle. For once, I finally felt like the piece of the puzzle I was missing was close to being found. For once, I felt like the relationship I had always wanted with God was not just knocking on the door but had finally just let itself in. But, I wasn't quite there yet... The week after I had completed Crazy Love, I felt like I was on another one of my "spiritual highs" but this time seemed different...

The following Sunday was Communion Sunday. My parents were out of town and I attended the service alone. When it was my time to partake, I kneeled at the altar and heard the usual, "This is the body of Christ broken for you... This is the blood of Christ shed for you..." All of a sudden, it was as if a switch had been turned on inside of me. I immediately broke down at the altar. I fully understood the love that God has for me and the love that he so desires for me to share with Him. The body and blood of Christ shed for ME... How selfish of me to live the life I lead and just routinely attend church to worship a God that so graciously sent his only Son to pay the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE for ME! Those who are parents who so unconditionally love their children, think about what God did with his Son that he so unconditionally loved. And those who do not have children but whose parents love them unconditionally, think about the pain of a parent losing one of their children. God loves us so unconditionally that he sent his ONLY Son to save OUR lives! But we live our lives so undeserving of God's grace. It doesn't matter; God still loves us and desires a relationship with us and wants us to be IN LOVE with Him.

After breaking down at the altar, in tears, I had to leave the service. I went to the prayer room at church to spend time with the Lord and the door was locked (at church and the prayer room is locked - go figure!). So, I left the church before the service was over and headed home to spend some more time with the Lord pondering and praying on the thoughts and emotions I had just experienced. That afternoon, I picked up my Bible to continue where I had left off the day before in Romans. Often times, we will open our Bibles to a passage and, though we may take some things from the passage, we never really felt led to go to those verses. However, that afternoon, something so clearly to me was saying that I didn't need to be reading in Romans but I needed to be reading in John. Never, that I can remember, have I ever felt so tugged to go read anywhere in the Bible. I began to read in John and so much of what I was reading had everything to do with what I was wrestling with. In fact, I am not sure that a book highlights God's love for us, through Christ especially, more so than John. It was just a continuation of the emotion I had already felt that morning as I was comprehending God's love for me and his desire to love him the same way.

While reading in John that afternoon, I came across John 15:12 which quotes Jesus as saying, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." A simple, yet powerful statement: To love as Jesus loved us... For me, this was the second part of understanding what love means: as Jesus puts it quite frankly. In a unique way, this statement is so simple yet so complicated. The difficult part is that we can never love as Jesus loved. We can never love as a man without sin loved. But surely, we have our model, our Savior, and we are called to live our lives as he did.

In the midst of all of this, I have made a commitment to no longer live my life as Torey Elmore wants to live but to live my life as God wants me to live. I intend for this to be everlasting opposed to the many "spiritual highs" followed by the "spiritual lows" I have faced in life. I want to trust in Him for everything in my life, big and small. Part of this has included a couple of things I feel God has called me to do. One has weighed on my heart for the better part of a year now which I will share with you all at a later time. The other is that I feel led to teach a young adults Sunday school class at the church. For years, Aldersgate has tried to jump start a college and career age ministry but has never been able to nurture the program long term. After, for all practical purposes, refusing to volunteer to lead this group in a small group or Sunday school class study, I have finally committed to answer God's call and lead this class. Better yet, I have decided to do the first study on Crazy Love which has meant so much to me recently in my own walk with God. I can only hope that through prayer, reading this book, and scripture, some of the young adults in this class will feel the same impact I experienced and will live a life in love with God and each other.

Which brings me to the title of my blog, "The Love Revolution". By definition, the word revolution means a sudden, complete, or marked change in something. As we begin this journey together, my hope and prayer is that we may intentionally show God's love to everyone in everything that we say and do, by our words and our actions praising our Father in heaven always. May we, as faithful Christians, work to change the community and beyond through our many expressions of love. Jeff's recent sermon series has been on "Little People, Big World" (not the TV show), the least of those in the Bible that made an astronomical difference. Who is to say that we can't do the same through our love? So, I would like for "The Love Revolution" to be the theme for our group and the foundation be found in John 15:12 as I highlighted above. The same can be said for any one else reading this blog. Love can be such a powerful weapon! Let's use it as we are commanded!