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Save The Date

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 1 Corinthians 15:12-13

Among your friends and family there’s probably an atheist, fence-sitter, and a fog dweller.  While you might understand the first of these two, let me explain the “fog dweller.”  Someone who goes about their life not seeking answers to the big questions, not thinking about creation or death, not pondering if there is a heaven. Just getting by day to day.  And if you don’t have some of each of these in your life, you might want to take up Jesus’ admonition to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Because when you do your own faith will be tested, honed and hewed.

Each of the letters in the Bible by the disciples gives us examples of believers struggling to define their faith and the true meaning of the gospel.  The planted churches all were in places hostile to the message of Jesus – whether by Jews or pagans.  So, developing believers that understood and stood firm in their faith was crucial. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1 Cor 15:14

Ouch!  That’s a pretty bold statement.  And Paul had the experience to back it up.  He himself saw the risen Jesus!  And while the members of the church in Corinth believed in Jesus’ resurrection, they were surrounded by a culture that almost celebrated death.  The Greeks of that time saw the body as a prison and welcomed death to escape from it.  They laughed at the idea of resurrection. And friends, there’s people around you that believe the same thing today.

While sitting bedside of my quickly waning mother-in-law who was on hospice, I had to ask myself, do I really, I mean really believe in, not only Jesus’ resurrection, but the resurrection of the entire body of the church?  Do I believe that Bev will be resurrected one day?  And therefore, I should only mourn this time “in between” and find joy in the “not yet.”

A friend of mine shared with me once how her son came to her with horrible news about an acquaintance of his.  Their newborn baby had unexpectantly died.  Her son, of course, was distraught for his friend.  And although the death of any loved one can bring so much pain, the death of a child seems doubly so.  My friend contemplated how hard it must be to experience so much pain without a belief in God.  Her son, a non-believer, was apoplectic.  “How could a god do such a thing?”  The great “why?”  He doesn’t believe the promised hope for the future and therefore doesn’t enjoy any of the comfort God can provide.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Cor 15:19-20

You see friends, if I don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead then what’s really the point of ever quoting in John 3:16?   True belief in a resurrection redemption is what brings true comfort.  And times of great pain, especially death, are the ultimate opportunities to show the world we live as saved and redeemed people trusting wholly in the stated promises by Jesus.

I realized while in my Cherith I was a fog dweller when it came to the resurrection.  I hadn’t thought a lot about it, mostly because I haven’t had many people around me pass away.  But as God has fed me the solid food of His Holy Word, I’m coming to understand the whole picture.  The beauty of living in the “between” of Jesus has come and is reigning and the “not yet” of the promised resurrection and the new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). And while Elijah didn’t have the comfort of knowing the risen Christ he surely contemplated his death during those two years in the ravine. Thank God we have more than just the Old Testament prophets to lean on! We have the truth, the proven, historical truth of a risen King!

I recently was listening to an episode of The White Horse Inn podcast — which for those of you interested in getting some solid Christian food I highly recommend it.  They’ve been discussing what “the good life” means to Christians.  They describe us as living in the “here and not yet.”  I love the analogy by one pastor as like the marriage steps.  We once were single, now we are engaged but not yet married.  We shouldn’t act like single people because we have a commitment to Christ.  But the marriage isn’t yet consummated and we need to stay in the preparation stage until the date arrives.  So, we work with our Holy Spirit wedding planner in inviting friends and family to this holy event.  The guest list is expansive but yes, limited to those willing to come. We live for our betrothed, His thoughts and ways becoming our ways. And we dream of the day we are sure will arrive.  When all those friends are gathered up and Jesus is waiting at the altar for us.

As the hours wound down to when I knew my last goodbyes to Bev were near, I found I could look at her with sadness and with joy in knowing not only was she going to a place far more glorious than here, but that one day we would be reunited at a party for all the ages.  A party that is to come.  A party that I want you all to be at – so will you RSVP today and yes, you can bring a friend or two.

Do you truly believe in the resurrection of the dead?

Are you living a life preparing for the New Eden, living a life of a bride in waiting – excitedly planning, preparing, inviting? 

Speaking of heaven — please enjoy this beautiful poem my daughter, Madison Dooley, wrote and spoke at her grandmother’s funeral.

To See What She Sees

For Grandma Bev

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees

To see you face-to-face, shining with glory.
To grab your hand and feel it wrapped around mine. 

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To be clothed in robes of white. To be completely whole, totally fulfilled. To be without sorrow, want, or pain.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To feel roads of gold under my feet and see angels above.
To look ahead and see you seated on the throne, pointing at the open seat next to you, for me. 

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the mountaintops glistening with glory. To hear the angels and the saints singing Your praise, oh what a melodious sound it must be.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the faces of those who have gone before me, shining with glory.
To see the colors in all their vibrancy, the flowers in all their brilliance.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the brokenhearted, the disabled, the outcasted – healed and totally restored. To feel anew again.
To dance freely to the songs of heaven.
To know the true meaning of Paradise.
To look upon life on Earth and finally see the masterpiece you are sewing.
To feel your presence wrapped around me like a tight hug.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the river of life flowing from your throne, glowing like a crystal.
To see the tree of life towering over me, boasting its healing fruits.

To have no need for the sun, or even a lamp, because darkness is no more, there is no night.

Oh Lord my God, to see what she sees.

To see the mysteries of heaven unfolded before my eyes.
To look down and see cosmos swirling beneath my feet, looking small compared to You. To experience the love of the Father for all that it was, it is, and is to come.

To be without sin.
To be exactly who You created me to be.

Oh, to see what she sees.

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Two Witnesses

Last year my BSGs did a study on Revelation.  It was a challenging deep dive into one of the most mysterious books of the Bible.  Any Hollywood script writer or New York Times bestselling author would probably consider the story told in Revelation to be a pinnacle piece.  It weaves its way through the story of the complacency of the times and the coming storm of evil.  It has heroes and martyrs.  It has all the special effects of world-wide destruction to win an Oscar.  And it has a savior.  And a beautiful new beginning for the world.  

There’s been plenty of apocalyptic movies and stories told in the last 100 years or so that draw upon the themes found in Revelation.  Man and satan lead the world in its own inevitable destruction and a savior rises from the ashes.  But what is unique about the Bible’s Revelation is it’s all true.  

From Genesis to Jude, new beginnings abound.  But in this one final book of God’s Word, we see 1,000s, millions even.  Martyrs rising from the ashes to take their place near the throne. The 1444,000 appointed Jews who are to be God’s instruments in spreading the word of the final judgement.  And of course, the rapture of believers, taken up before the final judgements are passed on this world.  

But there are two people that have a special place in this book.  Two ordinary people to whom God will speak and send out to the world as prophets or truth tellers.  Smack in the middle of the 22 chapters of Revelation you’ll find two people whose new beginnings will send shockwaves around the world.

And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3

The two witnesses’ identities have long been up for debate.  Suffice it to say if they were extraordinary people I believe the text would say so.  But they aren’t even given names, just like Naaman’s little slave girl.  And unlike Jonah, they appear to walk boldly into a hostile world without pause.  Maybe God has a pre-game “pow wow” with them where He explains the plan.  More likely, God tells the witnesses, after having been prepared through their own study and trials, to go to Jeruselem at an appointed time and start spreading the Word that judgement time had come.  But also unlike Jonah, they will tell how to avoid a terrible death.

“Now when they have finished their testimony,…” Revelation 11:7

Notice the two witnesses won’t go about town crying out, “The end is near!”  They instead speak of God’s rescue from sin — their testimony.  God will protect them for 1,260 days while they tell the world of the Good News of the Gospel and yes, about the impending judgement.  And when God’s time for them is up, they will be killed by evil forces.  It appears their new beginning would end there.  But their death is just the middle of their story.  For all the world to see after three and a half days lying dead in the street of Jeruselem, God will cause them to rise to their feet, sparking terror in the hearts of those who celebrated their deaths.  Their new beginning, a reunification with the Lord, sets the world on fire.

At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Revelation 11:13

Thousands, most likely, will give glory to God.  Because of two unnamed people speaking the truth about God’s love, promises, rescue and judgement.  Two people that are like you and me – flesh and blood.  Two people, who like Noah, heard God’s voice and obeyed courageously.  Who like Moses sought out an intimate relationship with God.  Who like Queen Esther will stare into uncertainty and know God will not fail her.  Two regular humans like Onesimus who studied at the feet of a teacher and then asked for forgiveness from both his spiritual and earthly masters.  Like Joseph who stood alone against judgement by his community knowing God was with him.  And like the 3,000 who put discipleship at the forefront of their faith.

In my study of Revelation, Warren Wiersbe points out the Gospel of John shows us how and why to believe.  The epistles give us confirmation of who God is and what He expects of us.  And Revelation is all about being ready.  Ready for what?  Ready for your new beginning.  To be a witness for all of God’s glorious ways.  

Friend, we don’t know when the events outlined in Revelation 11 will happen.  But we need to be ready, they are nearer today than they were yesterday.  You might be one of the witnesses called to be part of this amazing New Beginning for the world.  Your name may never be known by man but God has a plan for you.  A plan for your new beginning.

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The First 3,000

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41

My husband and I are back in the process of a church search.  For some of you, your church has been your lifelong home.  For others, you know all too well the difficult path of church searching.  We spent the last seven months trying out a church and realized it just wasn’t the right fit.  Great preaching and friendly people but there were a number of pieces missing that we didn’t see being resolved any time soon.  We left on friendly terms as we began our journey to the right home.

And this search led me to think about the first church.  That fateful day of Pentecost when 3,000 souls turned their hearts and lives over to Jesus when the Holy Spirit was delivered to Earth.  There could’ve been more.  Others stood in the temple that day and heard the sound of the violent wind.  They heard the Jews from every nation speaking to each other in their native tongues.  But they hardened their hearts.

Some however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Acts 2:13

The 3,000, selected by God, were urged by Peter to recognize what had just occurred.  He quoted the prophet Joel in explaining how the Holy Spirit would be poured out just as it had happened.  He reminded the Jews of David’s words when he spoke of God’s promise to fill them with the joy of God’s presence.  When Peter had his brief history lesson the 3,000 asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39

He answered with the message of the Gospel.  And he went on to plead with them to abandon their corrupt generation.  Imagine.  3,000 people all at once starting on their new beginning.  It must’ve been glorious!

But their baptism wasn’t the end of their stories.  What came next was an intense learning period.  They “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.” (v2:42).  They ate together, worshipped together, studied together, prayed without ceasing, worked together to help those in need.  And they multiplied.

You don’t get the impression from reading about the first church in Acts that a bunch of individuals were saved then when to their own homes and began an intensive self-realization study.  Or went about their work day as though nothing spectacular just happened.  No, their common goal was to spread the news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins.  Remember, they spoke in many different languages.  So, they were preparing to go back home to make even more believers.  Preparing to go do difficult work.  That first church was all about discipleship.  I wonder how many of our churches can truly say the same?  I haven’t been a member of one yet.  But it’s what I’m looking for now.

The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.

Henry Martyn

The act of baptism, confessing our faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, is typically a public affair.  It’s the starting point of our new beginning.  But after that one time event we call on the power and strength of the Holy Spirit to fill us continually for one mission – to be in service to God.  Those first 3,000 believers would need the Holy Spirit to continue on their mission.  They would most likely encounter adversity, opposition, violence, and yes, success.  Beautiful success.  

We should all celebrate the day of Pentecost, which comes on the 7th Sunday or 50 days after Easter Sunday (June 5, 2022). For the Old Testament Jews, it represented the giving of the Law to Moses.  But the new covenant, for all the world to partake, saw Jesus enter our lives.  And after Jesus’ foretold crucifixion He gave us the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  On that day 1000s of years ago, yet another promise was fulfilled by God.  His Spirit came to live in all of us, permanently.  And we were commissioned into His service.

As my faith and biblical knowledge has matured, my list of “must haves” for my new church has been honed.  I want a church that is biblically strong, always pointing me to Jesus, a joy-filled body of believers, and one whose primary goal is to create well-versed and confident disciples.  I hope you will pray for us in finding such a place.  

The modern church itself needs a new beginning.  As individuals, may we be spurred to greater expectations of our Christian communities.  And may we seek out ways to draw each other together in unity as our forefathers in Christ did on that day of Pentecost.

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The Heart of the Matter

“And I am so angry I wish I were dead.”  Jonah 4:9

I’ve shared before about the miraculous year I had doing God’s will during our 100 Lunches project.  When Jesus first spoke to me, directing me to make 100 lunches and deliver them to the homeless in downtown San Diego I had no idea the lessons He had in store for me.  Initially, I thought it was just a need that He directed me to fill.  My spiritual gifts were perfect to complete this task – or so I thought.  What began as a one-time submission to God became a year-long lesson in trust, compassion, faithfulness and humility.  Definitely not traits I would’ve confidently listed amongst my gifts.

With each passing day that year, God placed new trials and new opportunities for me to finally grasp what He really wanted of me.  I could administer any program at my church, work or other organization.  I’m organized, comfortable with leadership, a successful multitasker, and can teach readily.  As long as I was in charge life was good, so it seemed.  Until someone was unhappy with me or disagreed with me.  Or I hurt someone’s feelings.  Or I felt overlooked and unappreciated.  Praying came after the fall, if at all.

But the Spirit of God came upon me that fateful day.  I like to think of God seeing my potential.  My new beginning.  And He knew with some pruning and care I could shake off many of my old ways and start working on new ones.  Starting with praying to Him to help me make the change.  And learning that God wants our heart first, above all, so that it’s our heart that pours out to the world.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. Jonah 1:2-3

The story of Jonah and the whale rank up there with Noah and his ark as being widely known by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Jonah tried to get away from God, jumped overboard, was swallowed by a giant fish, prayed to God and God spit him out onto the shore.  A nice story of turning back to God in faith, right?  But in these four little chapters there’s so much more!  There are lessons on being a “I’m fine, it’s fine” sleepy Christian.  Lessons like Moses experienced when he told God he wasn’t up for the job.  Lessons on how one person can help save so many.  

Jonah was actually a man of great faith.  He knew that if he went to Nineveh, a sworn enemy of the Jews and well-known for its evil ways, God would most likely use him to rescue the people there.  But Jonah’s patriotism got in the way of his faith.  So, he resigned as God’s prophet.  He didn’t want his new beginning to look like betrayal back home.  But God gets His way no matter how hard we try to thwart Him!  

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:3

So yes, Jonah sees how amazing His God is while sitting in the mouth of a giant fish and prays, remembering how God saved him before and asking for him to do it again.  And Jonah finds himself once more pressed on toward Nineveh.

While there he spreads God’s message that in 40 days the city would be destroyed because of their wicked ways.  But there’s something missing.  Within this story you will not find a message from Jonah on how to stop this destruction.  You won’t find compassion and love for these 1,000s of people.  He states the fact, does it efficiently and without pause.  In three days this one man had reached the ears of every citizen, including the king.  Pretty impressive right?  And although God loved the fact that they believed and turned from their evil ways you can’t help but think the real target of this lesson was just one man – Jonah.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 3:10-4:1

Jonah had the gifts of prophecy, faith, evangelism and apparently administration.  And he begrudgingly used them.  Where God saw an amazing new beginning as a man who could help bring so many to faith, Jonah saw embarrassment and shame.  He didn’t want to go home to face his people who hated the Nineveh citizens and be known as a traitor.  He stopped remembering that God loves everyone and God can work miracles in all our lives, even our enemies.

In chapter 4, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son’s elder brother – critical, selfish, sullen, angry and unhappy with what was going on.  It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart.” Eph 6:6

Warren Wiersbe

So as Jonah sits on the hill outside town in the last chapter of this amazing story God takes another shot at softening Jonah’s heart.  He provides another lesson for him to experience and learn.  Because God is love He doesn’t give up on us.  He wants our new beginnings to be filled with love and compassion.  I love this quote from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon on Jonah:

“The deeper your trouble, the greater are your possibilities of adoration.”

When I first went into our 100 Lunches project, I was certain I could complete this simple task with efficiency and ease like Jonah.  But God put me on the hill, overlooking all that I had done that first week and said, “You have much more to learn.”  

With each distribution of lunches He said, “do it again, this time like this.”  He showed me how to be ok with people turning me down when I asked for help.  And how to be grateful when people came out of nowhere to help. He taught me how to slow down and look the hurting in the eye and offer a kind word or even a gentle touch.  He reminded me to trust in Him, to love Him.  He answered prayers which encouraged me to pray even more.  He allowed me to be loved by society’s “unwashed”, giving me the opportunity to tell them of God’s glory and provision. 

Jonah’s story ends without a word from him letting us know he “got it.”  His last lines are the first in this look at Jonah – “I wish I were dead.”  God’s last words are about His love and care for all people – no matter their nationality, financial status, religion, or sins.  Think of the amazing new life Jonah could’ve had when he left Nineveh.  Not just knowing about God, not just having faith that God is in charge.  But loving God and loving the fact that He wants us to live like Him, in love.  

Jonah’s faith was a divided one.  He held onto his patriotism and pride with a vengeance.  It caused him to withhold his love and compassion.  When we think of the Bible’s greatest lessons about love, 1 Corinthians 13 probably comes to mind. In verses 4-13 Paul tells us what love is. So many think these passages are about romantic love but in the context of the entire letter it’s about how we serve out God’s will with our gifts. In a way, the more important lessons are in verses 1-3. The lesson God was trying to teach Jonah. The lesson which can help us all in our new beginnings as God’s servants.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13: 1-3

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After Eden

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

During December of 2020 many people kept announcing that “next year will definitely be better.”  I could understand the longing, the hope and desire.  Let’s face it, 2020 was rife with fear, loss, despair, and worry.  I told people around me to be careful romanticizing the turn of a calendar.  Who knew what 2021 would bring – floods, fires, more plagues, death, political uprisings? And it certainly didn’t disappoint.   A short walk through say, the book of James or Jude, reminds us that trials of many kind befall us each and every year.  It’s our response to those trials that set us apart from the world.

So often when we think of “new beginnings” we can think of them as an adventure, something exciting to embark upon.  Probably something God will guide you through to success.  But what if your new beginning is a result of a terrible trial?  A loss?  Will you still seek God and see Him at work in the midst of it all?

If there’s one man whose new beginning exemplified having to start all over, having lost it all, it was Adam.  He had everything you and I could ever want.  A beautiful home, plenty to eat and drink.  No worries except what to name the next animal.  His yoke was light.  He was to be the way maker for all of us.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  Genesis 2:15

And when Adam failed to honor his end of the covenant he did what so many of us do when we fail God – he tried to hide.   Instead of running to God asking for forgiveness He compounded his sins by acting shamefully. But God.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

Millions of Christians and non-believers know the story that took place in the Garden of Eden.  But when we look at God’s actions we see His loving care for humans, His unique creation.  He knew Adam had failed yet notice He didn’t let him go.  He sought Him out with a gentle question.  He could have immediately wiped the slate free of humanity after the betrayal.  Instead, God clothed Adam in new garments and gave him new skills then sent him off on a new beginning.  A chance to be the first step in the long path toward the new Adam – Jesus.

And Adam, by all accounts accepted the results of his sin and moved forward into his new beginning.  A life outside the walls of Eden but one in which God was fully present.  Adam and Eve didn’t step outside the gates, plunk down and give up.  They didn’t choose to live in shame and despair.  No, they knew God.  They knew God still loved them and cared for them. So they took the new direction God gave them and made a new life.  I love the last few lines in Genesis 4 in which Adam and Eve are mentioned:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Genesis 4:26

Adam and his family never stopped worshipping God and talking with Him even though they had suffered a great loss.  They brought their first fruits to Him and stayed close to God.  And their work, their new beginning, brought others to God as well.  If not for their commitment to God’s new beginning laid out for them there wouldn’t have been their son Seth.  And Seth led to Noah. Without Noah there wouldn’t have been a righteous man left to continue humanity.  God’s plan at work.  God’s plan working even when it comes out of sin or loss.  It’s our job to keep trusting Him and accepting Him at His word.

I’ll be honest, for most of my life I’ve been an avowed pessimist.  It’s taken a lot of work by our triune God to help me see Him in my trials.  To see how He is working a good, new thing in our lives.  When circumstances go wrong around me my new attitude is that God is in my midst.  He does want all things to work for good.  I may never know how my commitment to Him will affect the Grand Plan.  But I do know He never left Adam and He will never leave you.

Have you been tempted to give up on God after a trial or loss? God is still working in your life. He’s asking you to trust Him. Call on Him today for strength to live in your new beginning.