It's hard to believe that only a short while ago our community was boarding up its windows in preparation for Hurricane Irma. Months ago billboards were blown over, but now they are decorated with Christmas lights and announcements about the holidays. As our city grows busier, there is a kind of beauty to seeing streets that were recently full of debris now full of holiday shoppers. It gives me hope.
Inside, we are a lot like this city. Hurricanes have swept through our lives and left a damage everywhere. We have a choice to make. We can wallow in our misfortune and retreat into ourselves, OR, we can reprioritize and continue moving forward in God's mission. 2 Corinthians 5 says, "…we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight." (ESV) It is a reminder of the different perspective we hold as Jesus followers. Our hope is not found in staying dry or keeping our houses full of stuff. It is in the life we can already live right now in Christ! Do you believe that Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and that your faith in him will save you? If you do, then proudly decorate your damaged roof for Christmas! You may even find yourself bringing hope for those searching for it this season!
Have you ever entered a store just to browse but end up coming out with a bag full of new stuff? Somehow between the front door and the checkout counter you found one (or five) things you couldn't live without. Are stores really that in tune with our needs or is something else going on?
For a short time I worked at a retail chain as a salesman. During my time there I learned that we could sell items on a rack in the checkout line for sometimes three or four times what it was listed for elsewhere in the store (disclaimer: I did not personally set these prices or come up with the idea. I was only responsible for selling items). A printer cable would be listed for $5 in the back of the store, but at the front it would list for $20. We called this front rack the "impulse rack". I wish I could tell you that this tactic did not work, but the truth is that it did, and it did very well.
Impulse racks came about through market research into how people think. By understanding how a customer thinks they found that they could sell more, thereby making their business more profitable. Learning of this made me consider how well I know my thinking habits. Am I being watchful as the Bible charges me to be (1 Peter 5:8), or am I blind and becoming a victim of all of life's impulse racks around me?
In Galatians 5:1 we are reminded not to submit again to the burdens of sin. This also includes our way of thinking. We have been set free from the impulses that imprisoned us, literally and spiritually, because of Jesus' gift of his life on the cross. As we stand in checkout lines throughout this season, let us not just be watchful for God to move, but also guard our minds from the impulses of this world.
I've always loved getting gifts. It doesn't usually matter what it is I will graciously receive someone's charity (except for socks. No one wants socks.) My daughter is the same way. She gasps when I give her an empty coffee can the same way she does when I give her a shiny new toy. Stores know about this universal language too and they have invented a holiday centered around getting gifts. We call it Black Friday. I know you go out to buy gifts for others, but you also get something for yourself. I know I do. Now let's fast forward to January 2nd. All of the holidays have passed and it is time to go back to school, to work, and to reality. The only gifts you are receiving now are the bills in the mail and now this thing called buyer's remorse.
Before we go down this journey this year, let me ask you, how much does your life change over the next month and a half? Not just the traveling and the eating and the festivities, but how much do the next 45 days impact you a year down the road? If you are like me, they affect my life very little if at all. This Thursday is a day to be thankful and it is fitting that we have a moment to stop and reflect. We need to be reminded that what we are really saying is that this is a time for us to be satisfied with whatever and whoever we've got. In other words, this is a time for us to be content.
When our focus is on getting we can easily be manipulated. The Bible says, "It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Tim. 6:10) However, when we can be content, and more specifically content with God, then it says, "…godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:8) Take a second to turn off the screens, the sounds, and the sights this week and find contentment in what you have been given. This is the place where we can be free… not to get, but to give. Don't you want that freedom? I know I do.
I love visiting my hometown. I spent almost two decades of my life there, so I know every landmark and every road. My town is small too, so the people are equally as familiar. Even the smells are the same. I would be smelling burning wood this time of year as many people still heat their homes with wood-stoves. My hometown is familiar to me and it is there I feel like I belong.
Our belonging as Christians is joined together by one unbreakable thread: our hope in Jesus Christ.
When we talk about being family at Reliance Church we have the same feelings as I have as of my hometown. We want you to know that there is a place for you to belong. However, we need to make a distinction. When we talk about belonging, we aren't talking about a hometown or social support system. Our belonging as Christians is joined together by one unbreakable thread: our hope in Jesus Christ. I want our church to contain happy, loving, and holy people, but our belonging will never be because of our membership. No, the truth for us is that our home is still being prepared for us by our Savior. When we place our hope in Jesus, we finally are where we belong.
References: 1 Peter 1:3-4, Romans 8:18, John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, John 15:19
Our vision for Authentic Life thru Christ comes from something Jesus said during his ministry. In John 10:10 Jesus is quoted saying, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Jesus was talking about you when he said that. He wants you to have life and not just any old life; he wants you to have an abundant life! Abundance, or authenticity as we call it, conjures up images of having all of our needs met and still have plenty left over. When applied to the word life it adds peace, relaxation, and easy living. However, when compared to our own lives these images are often very different than what is really happening day-to-day. Sometimes they are even the polar opposite. So was Jesus lying? Where is this abundance he has promised?
what makes life abundant is not the gold, it is Jesus.
The answer comes a few chapters later in John Chapter 14. Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus was inviting his disciples then and now to accept a difficult truth, namely, that the only life that is truly overflowing with good (abundance) is the life that is fully lived in, thru, and for Jesus Christ. To find life, the one with extra, we need to abandon our meager dreams of mansions and riches and adopt something far greater. For a glimpse of what that life looks like read Revelation 21, but understand that even when the streets are paved with gold what makes life abundant is not the gold, it is Jesus.