Sunday, January 26, 2020

Lord Build Me through Struggles

The book of James is on fire to me whenever I study it. It bursts forth with life, with the Holy Spirit of God these words are mighty and intense, and raw, and brutal. The book of James is written to the lost twelve tribes of Israel, as they are scattered and persecuted in the nations. They’ve lost everything. They’re enduring extremely difficult times. And through those awful difficulties God is building them into heroes of the faith.

Lord, Build us. We are your temple. So build your temple. We are your people. Build your people. Construct us, brick by brick. Pound the nails into the wood planks, as you construct us. Burn the impurities out of us through the fires of affliction. Save us from the pit of hell, by burning through us now, and thus transforming us, by the blood of Jesus, into new beings, forged in the fires, mature, strong, free from sin, and pure in Christ.

What is suffering in this life compared to eternal victory in the next? We think our lives are so important. Our lives are but a few puffs of smoke, a few years, we travel this Earth, and then one day we are gone. For many this life will be the best they will ever have, and their eternity will be in a place of fire and torment. In fact the sad reality is that many will go there, because they just aren’t willing to receive Christ and change their ways.

But for us, we are citizens of another country, pilgrims and travelers on a journey home to paradise. And this life is the worst we will ever have to see. One day, the memories of this broken world won’t even come to mind anymore. But today it’s hard. And why is it so difficult? Because of all the many trials and temptations we have to go through. There is no beating around the bush the trials of this life are so very hard.

Our scripture today says very plainly: “2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

What? What is this madness he is saying? When we have troubles, when our car breaks down, when we lose a loved one, when we relapse, when we battle with serious health problems, chronic pain, James writes that we should consider it an opportunity for joy? What!

Yes, joy, because , and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this, but, we should be happy because it means our faith is being tested and when our faith is tested in this process, it produces something called “endurance.”

Endurance is the ability to stand strong in the long term, to withstand difficult circumstances without giving way.

So God allows us to go through very hard times, for what reason? To build me. To Build us. Every difficult thing you’ve gone through in your life has prepared you for this moment today. And more will come. And as we proceed through trials week by week and month by month, we’re slowly transformed.

God is buiding us through the hard times. And it pleases God when we patiently go through these difficulties. Jump down to verse twelve and it says, “12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Testing and temptation are mentioned there, and these are two different things. Testing is a situation that challenges our faith in God. This would be something like losing a job, or developing a serious health problem, or chronic pain. And we might be tempted to wonder why God would allow such a thing to happen. This is testing our faith. And the best way to respond when that thought comes up, why God, is a simple statement: God, I trust you completely. Your plan is right even if I don’t understand. God loves that kind of sincere trust in Him.

Temptation is something altogether different. Temptation is when we’ve been sober for a certain amount of time, and one night we’re having a bad day and we feel tempted to go buy a bottle. Or we’ve been honoring God in our sexual conduct, but one night we feel so lonely, and we feel tempted to go try and meet someone and fornicate. And in those times, God calls us to resist the temptation, and pray, and seek God, and overcome the temptation.

This isn’t easy. It’s not easy to fight temptations, especially if you’re depressed, or lonely, or sick, or having a bad day. I confess to you church that I recently did just that, I fell to a temptation. I should’ve resisted, but I didn’t. But here’s the amazing thing about God.

Even if we fall to a sin. And give in to temptation. We can come before God on our knees, in tears, and sorrow, and cry out to God for forgiveness, according to the precious blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. And that blood cleanses us once again. And we are made right. That is amazing grace, that he washes us clean AGAIN, even after the first time, when I got saved 7 years ago. His blood still is at work, cleansing me once again when I turn to Him and repent, and change my ways. Amazing grace.

Now we might wonder, is God tempting us? If so, why? Well the answer to that is simple: James writes: “13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,[c] and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”

God doesn’t tempt us. We’re tempted by our own sinful desires. And the evils of this world. And eventually those desires can drag us away, and into sin. That’s why I try to shut down sinful thoughts as soon as they come into my mind. I’ll just say out loud, “No, that’s not who I am in Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Because those desires give birth to sinful actions. So we go from thinking about it, to then going out and doing it. Boom, sin takes over. Then as we do it over and over, that sin is allowed to grow. And if we keep doing it over and over, then that sin matures within us, and gives birth to spiritual death.

Meaning we give so much room to the sin, and we do it over and over, and it grows so strong that we stop praying, we stop reading the Bible, and we leave the church all together. I’ve seen it happen many times. People hide a sin in their life, and eventually it takes control and drives them right out of the church.

It’s like the old eskimo man who told his grandson this story: Once upon a time a man had two wolves that lived within himself, one wolf was vicious and mean and bit anyone who came near it, And the other wolf that lived within him was mighty, strong, brave, selfless, good, and pure. And they constantly battled inside the man.

The old eskimo’s grandson looked at him and said, “Grandfather, which wolf won? The evil wolf or the good wolf?” And the old eskimo replied, “The one he fed.”

If we feed our addictions, our sins, and give them all our time and resources, then those sins will drive Jesus from our lives. If we feed our Christian life, through prayer, study, attending groups, listening closely at church, then Jesus will put sin to death in us.

Which will win? Sin or Jesus? The one you feed. So feed the Christ spirit in you, not the sins of the past.

Our scripture today concludes in this way: “16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[d] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[e] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”[

You are God’s prized possession, and He has given us his word. But we’ve got to follow it friends. We’ve got to live it. That is the goal of our series “Build Me.” To live out our faith, to grow in grace, and live free from sin. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

New Year, New Goals: Three Ways to Grow this Year

Welcome to a new year friends and family. Welcome to a new beginning in your life. The word of the Lord says, “Look I am doing a new thing! Can you perceive it?” And it also says, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

Spiritually this city is a dry and barren place, and we will see God do a new thing. Today, this year, is the year of revival, the year of rebirth, and the year of new pathways. And I’d like to invite each of you on that journey with us.

The way of salvation is open today. But the clock is ticking. What you decide in this life, will be your eternity when you die. It’s time to make your decision.

We’ve got to live differently than the world around us. And if you’re really seeking to live like Jesus, then you will overcome the empty ways of the world. Today we’re going to address three ways that we can grow, and blossom over this next year.

If we’re real Christians, praying, and reading our Bibles, and doing daily devotionals, then we will be growing in Christ.

First way we can grow in Christ, is to grow in your relationship with God. Your faith walk with God is based on a relationship, talking to God throughout the day, in your mind, and also talking to God in prayer. And God talks back to us through the Bible. But if you Bible is closed and you aren’t reading it, then you can’t hear from God. And if you don’t hear from God, then you aren’t a Christian. As your pastor I am ordering each of you to read your Bible, and pray to God everyday. Seek God, study his ways, and learn about Him. He wants to walk with you in relationship, as Father and child. With love and truth.

Second way, is to develop your spiritual gifts. The Bible talks about many spiritual gifts within the church, and here are some of them. The Bible says, "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines."

What is your spiritual gift? Maybe it's as simple as wiping down tables, or stacking chairs, or volunteering to help in the kitchen.  Maybe it's reading from the Bible to the church, or praying for the body, or sharing your testimony, or preaching the word.  Perhaps your spiritual gift is visiting the sick, or visiting those in prison, or witnessing to people in the street. Perhaps it's working with kids, or ringing the bell during kettle season.  Pray and God will show you where he wants you.

Third and final way to grow in Christ is to live in holiness. 1 Peter 1:15-16 New International Version (NIV) says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Do we mistakenly think that we can live in sin and still walk with God? Then we’re wrong about that.

The word of God says, “9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” -1st Corinthians 6:9-11

We’ve got some of those very problems in this church today. And if its you, who is the one arguing, causing drama, spreading gossip, and slandering others, I’ll tell you this: You aren’t fooling anyone. We know about it, and we’re going to deal with it.

For those who think they can be part of this church, and play those sort of games, those days are over. We’ve seen divisions, drama, slander, and gossip threatening to destroy this church. And we won’t let that happen. So if those things continue to happen in the coming months, we’ll unfortunately have to ask some people to leave the church. Which is the last thing I want to do, but we can’t go on like this, and expect to survive.

And for those who like to come to dinner church, and snicker, and sneer, and make fun of us, you won’t be here much longer if that conduct continues.

It’s time for us to get serious about all this. And we will be getting serious. We’re gonna be making some changes.

It’s a new time. It’s a new year. And I’m your pastor. As your pastor, my job is not to fix all your problems, or always make you feel happy. My job is to teach you, and correct you, and help you to become more like Jesus. So I need each of you to understand that as your pastor, I have the responsibility to correct you, and rebuke you, and guide you in the right direction. Sometimes that means speaking painful truths.

As your pastor I’m your spiritual leader. And I’m going to be leading you into a new chapter of your life. A new chapter of blessings, of growth, of trials and struggles, and of love and relationship with God. This new year is going to see the resurrection of the Owosso Citadel. This is an exciting time! And we’re going to watch the Holy Spirit move in each of our lives in amazing and terrifying ways. We’re going to go through hard trials, and watch sins of the flesh fall away, and disappear and be replaced by the fruits of the Spirit, of love, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

The alcohol is going fade away and become sobriety. The cigarettes are going to disappear and become fresh air in our lungs. The depression is going to fade away into joy. The sexual immorality, the sleeping around, the masturbation and pornography is going to vanish and be replaced by purity, fellowship, and holiness. The Lord is doing a new thing, and boy is it going to be hard. But if we don’t get cleaned up, and we die, we go to outer darkness, to hell. But if we live out holiness, when we die, we are embraced into the kingdom of God, heaven, on the New Earth, and our lives forever will be about joy instead of pain.

So I'd like to conclude with this scripture, about unity, because we need unity in this church. We need it so badly.  The word of God says, "12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. -1 Cor 12:12-20

Let’s pray, and set ourselves apart to the Lord now.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Reflections on the First 6 Months of Officership

So what's it like? It's crazy, alright. It's the hardest thing I've ever tried to do.  It's also the most rewarding thing I've ever done.  It's amazing. It's fun. It's stressful. It's hard.  It's everything that is a high stress high adrenaline ministry. 

Talk about a crazy series of events! You go from an environment of virtually total control over your life, to being put completely in charge.  You move from a close knit community of fellow believers, to living on your own, in a big house alone, and not only that, but to an area where you don't know a single person.  And you're in charge.  You are taking the reigns. Boy oh boy, that isn't easy!  But it's so exciting, to jump into the field, pull your boots up, and get your hands dirty, working, working, working, to put the many visions and ideas you've had into practice! What a great honor and blessing to get to do that!

I do see why pastoring is viewed as a difficult profession.  You have to be a little of everything.  The number of hats I wear in a day is sometimes astonishing. And everyone seems to have expectations of you. You put your own heart on the line, and people often will amaze you, but will often also disappoint you. It's painful, but also so exciting.  When you see someone really begin to change within, you see God's very hand at work.  It's beautiful beyond words.

My hats so far include administrator, teacher, pastor, bookkeeper, youth leader, counselor, public relations coordinator, staff supervisor, cook, janitor, preacher, bible study leader, soldiership instructor, driver, camp staff, financial manager, community outreach, committee member, advisory board leader, and that's just off the top of my head. 

I was nervous when I first started. I was afraid of dealing with my staff.  I was afraid of dealing with my own daily responsibilities.  I was afraid of a lot. But the key to courage is to feel the fear, and do it anyway. And slowly the fear disappears, until it's gone.

To be alone in a new community is not easy. Most people look at that, including people in my own family, and marvel at the fact that I can do it.  And I certainly can, but it's not easy.  I've done it many times already, but this time was different. This time it was just me.

The first few months were the hardest. It was all so new. And I didn't know how to do any of it.  Nothing can prepare you for all these various duties.  Some came easily, and I enjoyed, some came more difficultly, and I hated some of the duties.  Still gotta do them though.

The first challenge was driving back and forth to camp, with van loads of kids. It sounds deceptively easy, but it wasn't that easy.  I must've driven back and forth to camp about 8 times. It was stressful. But I tried to make the best of it.  I kept wishing I had volunteers who could do something like that, but it's rare for a corps to have a strong group of volunteers. But we're working on it. After the 7th or 8th time I felt like I couldn't possibly drive back and forth for those 3 hours one more time.  

I had spent the entire second year at training college praying for my congregation.  So it came together quickly when I got there.  We started having 25-30 at dinner church every Sunday night.  It was pretty awesome.  But I think the enemy, whatever regional power exists over the area where I serve noticed that pretty quickly. And we came under spiritual attack.

I found each of my people struggling with severe battles and struggles and it drove some of them away, at least for a time.  It was heartbreaking to see, but all I could do was continue to speak and continue to pray, and help guide them through the trials and temptations of the evil one. And we got through it, mostly.

It was all so new to me during the first few months.  Everything felt like a stretch to my soul, like I was creating muscles in my body that hadn't been there before. That was hard enough. But I had a lot of help. And I had friends in the community that were very welcoming.

I felt very quickly that I was exactly where God wanted me. That became clear, and I decided I would fully embrace it.  I wouldn't let any of my complaints or personal issues interfere with God's call. But you just know when God has you at the center of His will. Things happen in a way that makes it absolutely clear. But I didn't really know if I could do it. I felt I could, but I was also green as an apple.

I think the real acid test started the first kettle season. I knew that would be the real test as to if I could handle the challenges and stresses.  I knew I would be in a situation where I was everything. I was the coordinator, counter, depositor, driver, and ringer all at once. We also didn't have a janitor at the time, so I was cleaning as well.  

But what I didn't expect was the departure of the caseworker, in mid November.  That certainly made things much more difficult, though I had my part in all that. 

But let's go back to commissioning first. What an often difficult and disappointing time transposed with excitement, and glory, and miraculous growth.  My worst nightmares had all come true that June when I became an officer.  All three dooms landed on me. I had a picture in my mind of how it would be, I would go out with my wife, who I would meet at training college, we would go out together, to a medium sized city, in a warm area of the Midwest.  

But my worst fears had been realized. To my disgrace, I was sent out, a 34 year old man, as an assistant, a semi-officer. An almost officer, so it felt in my mind.  I felt disgraced in front of my session mates who so many had gone to such choice appointments, influential, on the up and up. And I'd been sent out in disgrace as an assistant, I rightly believed that my own propensity to speak out on difficult issues had bought me this disgrace.  I'd do it all over again if I could, and speak out even louder this time. Someone has to stand in the gap.

So, in my mind, not only had I been disgraced in front of my session mates, my friends in The Salvation Army central, and my own family, who had all come to see the spectacle, I had gone out alone, unmarried, without any prospects on the horizon. None. An empty sky, that remains empty to this day.  

This I felt doubled my disgrace, for a 34 year old man, to be sent out as a lowly assistant, and not only that, but to be sent out alone, no wife, was a grave shame on my soul.  Many would argue with this supposition. But I felt at the time that to be married, was an indication of maturity, of growth, of being at that moment in life. I felt left behind by life, and by God, as I grew older, 34 years old, wondering if I might ever marry and have a family, a dream I'd had for years. 

And of course tag onto the end of that, I'd been sent to a cold area of the United States, central Michigan.  Just a little cherry on top. I have seasonal affective disorder, and I had hoped I might end up somewhere warmer, like Kansas or Indiana or Missouri.  And of course one little additional poke as well, I was hoping that I would not have to drive a minivan. I love cars, I really enjoy driving a good car. I used to drive a muscle car, I drove hondas, I love hondas, and I had a 1992 Mercedes Benz 190E, beautiful car, rear-wheel drive, so fun to drive. I didn't want something too fancy, a traverse would've been nice.  But for a single guy to drive a minivan, just felt like one more little insult from the Lord.  

I'd given my life to the Lord.  I'd left my home, in Wausau.  I left my family and friends.  I'd given away my possessions, and everything, and I'd gone to a place I didn't want to go, Chicago, for two years. I'd humbled myself, put up with insults and mistreatment, I felt, and then when the final moment culminated, each of my worst fears had been checked off on the list. I felt I'd been held up to public disgrace by the Lord, in front of everyone, and I was deeply ashamed. 

So the first six months were very difficult, coming from that perspective. But I did realize over time that my perspectives might not have fully displayed reality. In fact I realized I was probably wrong about most of it. But I'm still sour at times about it, God's will is always so tough! Why is it so tough? Who knows!

Of course the daily and weekly activities are taxing and difficult. Learning the community can be overwhelming. Trying to build up the programs is tough. Working on issues outside my strength areas is very difficult.

But I think what was surprising was the off time.  I didn't really expect to dread coming home to an empty house.  But I do dread that, and I've talked with many other single officers who feel the same way.  They just want to stay at work because going home to the empty house is just too much.  It's the loneliness.  And the pithy remarks of married officers certainly don't help at all. "It's hard being married too." "God's using this time to work on you."  Give me a break. 

But we were talking about kettle season.  So we made our goal, my first year, which was my hope.  I had to do a lot of it alone. But I had some volunteers who helped with things. I had Scott, who I called "the last soldier of the citadel."  I told him I was going to write a poem about him. The corps had been destroyed by an officer's indiscretion many years ago. While everyone had left, this one man remained, and so I thought it quite noble. And I had a few other volunteers who helped with ringing, counting, and pick ups.  We made it through.  The office was very short staffed during Christmas, and the only way that we managed to serve 40+ families toys was because my mom came for the entire month of December and helped in the office almost everyday. To put it into perspective, I have trouble sleeping at night, and have had that problem my whole life.  I didn't have problems sleeping during kettle season, I would literally pass out at the end of the day.

The spiritual attacks on the church continued, and intensified. We experienced increasing drama, rumors, gossip, and slander from within and outside the church unfortunately. And this hurt us. And we've continued to work, to try to unify the body that seems so divided. But the battle continues to this day. 

Six months later I realized that it's not a shame to be an assistant officer. It's a blessing in disguise.  It doesn't mean anything, aside from indicating that I'm single. I realized it wasn't a shame to go out single. It's not a sign of maturity to be married.  People get married at totally random points in their life.  And I realized it's not a shame to be in a cold part of the country, or to drive a minivan. So that's where I'm at now.  Am I still disappointed to be single? You bet.  Do I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being an assistant? No doubt. Do I still gripe about the car and the cold? Yeah. But fundamentally I realize the truth now.  God is right, and I'm not.  That's OK. The emotions follow later. 

But overall what I can say is God is doing the impossible in our midst. He's gathered together a body of people who he is conforming to His image.  And we continue to pray for great miracles. And I really do love officership.  I also hate it at times.  But we keep fighting. I see why officers burn out over time, because eventually you think I just can't keep up with this anymore, I assume. But that's not going to be my story. Officership is crazy and amazing. So far so good. The battle is real, but God gives the victory. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

To See Jesus Face to Face

Luke 1:41-52 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Over the last five weeks we’ve traveled along the road of Bethlehem, we’ve examined the moments when Mary learned she would bear the son of God. We’ve explored the nativity, the birth of Jesus with the shepherds and the wise men, and we’ve studied the moments when Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby, and Simeon and Anna saw his glory.

Today for our final advent message we jump from Jesus as a baby, to twelve years later when Jesus is a young man. This is the only record we have of Jesus as a teenager. There is a huge gap here in the Bible, we jump from Jesus being born, to Jesus beginning his ministry at the age of 30. So we see in Luke’s gospel account that Jesus is twelve years old. His parents Mary and Joseph have just gone to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover festival.

The Passover festival was a celebration of God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This was when Moses was blessed by God to lead God’s people out of Egypt.

So they had just been at this festival, and then they head home. They travel for a full day, and then they realize Jesus is not with them. He’s missing! So they go all the way back to Jerusalem looking for him.

I remember as a kid when my mom was shopping me and my sister would hide inside the clothing racks at stores. One time she couldn’t find us, and when we finally came and found her she was extremely angry. Where were you she said. Can you imagine how scared joseph and mary were, looking for Jesus?

They were probably freaking out!

So they look for him around Jerusalem for three days. And finally they find him in the temple, in church, talking with the priests asking them questions and sharing wisdom with them.

His mother was probably in tears, wondering where he was. And his dad was probably pretty mad.

So they look at Jesus and ask him, “How could you treat us like this? Where were you?”

And Jesus’ reply is very interesting and mysterious. He says, ““Why were you searching for me?” “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[f] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

In Jewish custom, at this age a child would go through the bar mitzah. You’ve probably heard that phrase. It’s a ritual in which the child becomes a man. And it usually includes an oration before the assembled guests. The child becomes a man, and is now responsible for his own actions and conduct.

Perhaps Jesus was practicing a bar mitzah with the leaders in the temple, beginning his adulthood. But there is something deeper going on here.

Jesus at this very moment declares that God is his own father. And it says Mary treasured these moments in her heart. She would always remember this moment in her life. When Jesus declared, I had to be in my father’s house.

His destiny was coming into focus. Jesus is not just a kid, or even just a man, he is something much greater. To be in the room with Jesus must’ve been like… being in the room with pure sunshine. Every word he speaks is perfect. It’s either perfect love or perfect truth or perfect justice. And I would bet that the perfect words from Jesus would include both compassionate love, but also a hard truth with a strong sense of justice. And I imagine my two prominent emotions at those moments with Jesus eye to eye would be incredible love, and a strong fear. A gentle love and a respectful fear. Because Jesus is pure love, an ocean of love for us, but also the king of kings, Lord of all of us.

So I can only imagine what he was saying to the priests in the temple that day. Just a few words from Jesus can change a life forever. It’s not like running into your neighbor or even a family member you love. It’s like running into the meaning of life. The creator of everything. It’s so far beyond what we could imagine.

And we see in these moments with Jesus at the temple a shadow and reflection of something greater that he will do in the future. We know that Jesus inevitably came to die. He came to die as a sin offering. Your heavy load of sins, those regrets, those fears, those anxious thoughts, that depression, that desire to hurt yourself, and hurt others, that shame within, that’s what Jesus came to remove. Jesus was perfect, God on Earth. Flawless. But he went to the cross, to die for our sins. To remove our grief, shame, and darkness, and put it on himself. And he deletes it that way. That’s how it works. You may not fully understand why Jesus had to die to remove your sins. But understanding isn’t required. You don’t have to get it all. Just put your faith in Jesus. Be willing to say OK, Jesus removed my sin in that way, and I accept and receive and believe that.

I don’t fully understand how Jesus dying removes my sin. It’s a God thing. It’s beyond me. But I know how it feels right now to have those sins off my back, and washed away. They are gone. I used to carry that all around and it was so heavy. And now it’s gone. The pain, the regret, the shame, the guilt, its gone, it went to Jesus on the cross, and he deleted it.

So think about this, in these moments, Mary looks for Jesus for three days. And they can’t find him. When Jesus died on the cross 20 years later, he was dead and buried for 3 days. Mary was there watching the whole thing happen, when Jesus was on the cross, and the sky went black for hours. She saw it all. And she saw him die.

But then Mary the mother of Jesus saw Jesus was alive. Three days later she found him. Just like she found him after 3 days of looking for him in the temple when he was twelve years old. Amazing how the actual events of Jesus life point us to his death, burial, and resurrection.

All of this hope in our world today, all of our this peace and justice we find in the United State of America, all of our hope in Jesus, and indeed our own salvation army, are all because of Bethlehem, because Jesus was born as a baby, grew up, and gave his life as a sacrifice for the world.

I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and the cross. It would be a dark, terrifying world. And someday as we know from the book of revelation, the presence of God in the world will be removed, and an incredibly dark and horrible time will happen in history, called the great tribulation. That will be a world without God. But at the end of the tribulation, God will raise up tribulation saints to proclaim the truth, and all of this will culminate with the return of Jesus.

And on that day the face of Jesus will fill the skies, and many who sneered as Jesus, and mocked us, and laughed at us, will suddenly be terrified and realize their day has come. And many of us who loved and followed Jesus and repented of sin, will be filled with awe and joy at his return. That is the ultimate culmination of history, all, because of Bethlehem, because Jesus came. Seek Him and find Him before time runs out. And He will remove your sins and set you free.