Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Life in Joppa

It was recently presented to me that two major characters in the Bible spent some time in the city of Joppa and had similar calls.  Peter and Jonah had a moment of decision in the city of Joppa.

"The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.

But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD." Jonah 1:1-3

As you may recall, Jonah fled from the LORD because he didn't want to preach against Ninevah.  Why?  Because he knew the LORD (when in all caps means Yahweh) was a God slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Jonah knew Yahweh's character and he knew that forgiveness of sins was Yahweh's modus operandi and Jonah hated the Ninevites.  Ninevah was the capital of Assyria in modern day Mosul, Iraq.  The Assyrians were brutal oppressors of the Israelites and insufferably wicked.

Jonah did not like "them" and didn't want to share God's mercy with "them".

In Acts chapter 10 Peter was in Joppa.  To summarize: while in Joppa, Peter saw a vision from God.  In the vision God showed Peter a *sheet with clean and unclean animals and told him "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."  Now, Peter was a good Jew and refused (despite the fact that he was staying at the home of a ceremonially unclean tanner, but that is a different story for a different day).  The vision was repeated two more times.  While that was happening a Gentile, Roman centurion had a vision of his own.  In his vision an angel told him to go get Peter from Joppa.

So, men from the centurion named Cornelius came and got Peter to take him to a Gentile, Roman centurion's home.  Peter obeyed and went and preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his whole house and they were powerfully converted because Yahweh is a God slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Peter, like Jonah, had every reason NOT to go the right way out of Joppa.  Jews never went into the home of Gentiles because that was extremely taboo.  The Roman army was the oppressor of Peter's people.  This centurion was part of the system that robbed Israel of its freedom in the Promised Land. 

Yet Peter obeyed despite all the reasons to hate the "them" that he was sent to and he shared God's mercy with "them".

Christian, are you in Joppa? 

Life in Joppa is where the intersection of cultural taboo and Yahweh's call happens.  Life in Joppa is where our hatred of "them" is confronted with "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness," (Exodus 34:6).  Will you run from the call of this unique God or will you follow His call to be a minister of the Good News?  Will you hold on to your dislike of them, even if it has some good reason, or will you go from Joppa and be a vessel of the message of God's abounding love and mercy?

Know yourself.  Who are the "thems" God is confronting you with here in Joppa?  Will you crucify your "right" to hate and submit to the very God who died to love them and save them?  Will you follow Jesus rather than cultural, nationalistic, tribalistic norms?

Rise to the call that life in Joppa presents you today.

*Some scholars guess the sheet in the vision was the sail of a ship in the sea Peter was staying near as he sat on the roof by the sea.  Interesting thought given what Peter did when he saw a ship's sail versus what Jonah did.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sweet and Strong

I'm currently in the process of reading The Spirit, The Church and The World by John Stott.  A couple of weeks ago I was stopped by one line.  By the way, isn't it funny how people can write whole chapter and books or preach whole sermons and it's a sentence that slays us in our tracks.

Stott, in his chapter "Stephen the Martyr", spends a moment on two words that describe Stephen.

"Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people."  Acts 6:8

Stott takes a moment to point out what a stunning combination grace and power are for a man to possess.  He says that G. Campbell Morgan explains grace and power as "sweetness and strength... merged in one personality".

Could those words describe you as a Christian?  Would someone describe you as a woman full of God's grace and power?  Could your children describe you as a man full of sweetness and strength?

As I pondered God's grace and power filling a person, I wondered how I might do that better.  Too many times we may have one and not the other or none.  I especially wondered how I might put those characteristics into practice so that my children will one day say that of me.

Strength is wrapped up in the boldness of knowing the truth yet sweetness is dressed in the ability to not have to win every argument.  Grace makes a man or woman approachable by all and power makes that man or woman someone people desire to be influenced by.  It would be an amazing thing to be able to wield great power and amazing graciousness.  It is exactly a way one could describe Jesus as well. 

Matt Ray

A Man Full of God's Grace and Power

Now, that makes a nice epitaph.  The trick now is to live a life worthy of that description.  And living a life worthy of that description can only be accomplished by drinking the sap of the Vine that is the source of God's grace and power. 

Go live in a way that exudes God's grace and power today.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

An Open Letter to My Senator

Below is an e-mail that I have already sent to one of my senators.  I found myself talking to others about this subject and quickly realized that that was useless.  I decided to send the below e-mail as well.  If you feel strongly about this, or any subject, please stop complaining in the coffee shop and talk to those who represent you instead.  Believe it or not these e-mails make more of a difference than the meme you may share.  You can find contact information for any of your representatives online.

Senator Grassley,

I write to you today because I respect you and your service to my state and country.  You have always been responsive to me in person and the last time I sent an e-mail.  I write to you today because you have always seemed to me to be a good man, a man of character and faith.

I am an employee of KWAY radio in Waverly and you have always been helpful to us.  I do not represent KWAY radio in any way in this e-mail.  I have the privilege of serving as an elder at Grace Baptist Church in Waverly.  You, before my time, had attended services and even spoke at the church and many appreciate that to this day.  I do not represent Grace Baptist Church in any way in this e-mail.  I simply write as a concerned citizen.

You sir, however, are a representative of me and I am a representative of Christ Jesus so I must write this e-mail.

Please ask President Donald J. Trump to reconsider the Department of Justice’s policy of splitting up immigrant families.  I find this policy to be both highly unusual and incredibly cruel.

I have a thirteen-month-old boy and I love him to pieces and I couldn’t imagine anyone separating me and my wife from him.  Taking my son from me, and especially from my wife, would be about the cruelest thing I could conceive of being done.  These people who are separated from their children no doubt feel the same way.

Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 in his defense of this policy.  I wholeheartedly agree with Romans 13 and my life is affected by that passage.  But you men and women in the government represent me and I think Romans 13 is much easier to follow if you, my representatives, make and enforce just laws and policies.  As a citizen of a democratic-republic I implore you to work to change this policy.

The policy of ripping children from their parents is beneath the dignity of our country and this policy is completely beneath the dignity of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Jesus Christ asks me and you to care for the least of these.  He demands that you and I let the little children come to Him.  He says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones- those who believe in me- to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”  Those are strong words and the trauma of government ripping children from their parents may cause these little ones to distrust the King of kings. 

Mr. Grassley, I respect you.  I trust you.  Please represent me well.  I know there is not a simple solution to illegal immigration.  I’m not naïve.  I understand that the parents are committing a crime, but this punishment most certainly does not fit this crime.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my e-mail,

Matt Ray
Waverly, IA

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things

On Sunday our church voted to hire a new senior pastor named Jonathan Davis.  I'm excited to have Pastor Jonathan and his family join us but I am worried about something.

I'm worried about a dangerous cult.  A cult that has affected so many organizations and individuals.  A cult to which churches are not immune.

I'm worried about the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.

The Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things is something I hope Grace Baptist Church avoids.  Now, the ways things have been done are hopefully not all bad.  I've been a part of the way we've done things and many great Christians I admire have been influential in creating many of the ways we've always done things.  That being said, I hope we avoid the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.

Our new senior pastor will come and continue many of the ministries that we already have in place.  Jonathan will do some things the way they were done before he arrived and he may come to appreciate the ways things have been done.  But he will most certainly make some changes.

Why am I writing this and why do you care about my church's leadership transition?

I write this because the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things is a problem in, dare I claim, every single church that wants to grow.  If you are part of a local church that is attempting to grow in its mission, and I hope you are, then you will feel the pull toward this cult. 

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."  Hebrews 13:17

I write this for myself as much as for you.  I have a hard time resisting the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things, too.  I have to work hard to submit to authority and to obey leaders and to TRUST them. 

Trust is what this is all about.  Why do we want to do things the way they've always been done?  Because we know it works.  Could the new idea work better?  Perhaps, but I know and like the way it's always been done.  Simply saying that something is not the way we've always done things is not enough reason not to try it.

So, I implore you to trust your church leaders.  Not to trust blindly, but to trust.  We want our leaders to serve us with joy.  They must give an account for how they lead and that is enough stress.  We must trust that they are calling on God for guidance and that they desire to lead us like the Good Shepherd to green pastures and quiet waters even if we must go through the valley of the shadow of change. 

Avoid the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.  Be willing  to experience change because growth in the depth and breadth of your church's ministry will always involve a change of some sort.  Embrace the changes your leaders lead your church body to and be excited for the growth that change might cause in all of you today.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Raspberries and M&Ms

I recently fasted from dinner the night before until breakfast the next day.  I say that, not to sound more religious, but to talk about something God taught me.  In fact, when it comes to the discipline of fasting I am lacking.  I hardly ever do it and I've never gone more than about 40 hours and I likely won't ever write a how-to on fasting.

So, on the afternoon of my day of fasting I saw some raspberries on the dining room table and walked over to grab a few.  I almost forgot I was fasting.  I almost responded to my hunger and didn't think about what my plan was.

Then that evening I was going to leave the house.  I looked over on the kitchen counter and saw a big bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.  I reached over to grab some and then remembered that I was supposed to be fasting.

I was struck by a thought after the raspberries and definitely after the M&Ms: I have such easy access to food.  I began to pray for those who don't have access to food at any moment.  I began to think about how I was hungry by choice rather than by circumstance.  I began to thank God for the way He has blessed me.  I am so blessed by God that not only do I have my needs met, but He has showered me with conveniences.  I can eat any time I want to eat.  I have snacks and meals readily and quickly at my disposal.

So, would you pray with me for those who struggle with food scarcity?  This is people in Ethiopia, in China and in Bremer County, Iowa.  Pray that they would have their needs met.  Pray and ask God if He wants you to be a part of meeting that need.  If you are a part of my church then perhaps you should serve at the community meal.

"Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for men,
for He satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things."  Psalm 107:8-9

God literally satisfies me with good things to eat and drink.  However, Psalm 107 talks about spiritual hunger and thirst and God longs to satisfy that need for you, too.

In Psalm 107 the anonymous writer lists off the many ways that people come to fear and trust the LORD.  He writes of the ways that people are redeemed and from what they are redeemed.

"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.'  By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." John 7:37-39

"Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare."  Isaiah 55:1-2

"Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." Psalm 34:8

There is a great need for physical food and there is a greater need for spiritual food.  Jesus Christ is that food and drink.  His body was broken for us as bread and His blood was poured out for us as wine.  In communion we remind ourselves of our need to have Jesus to survive in the same way we need food and drink.

"Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
and consider the great love of the LORD." Psalm 107:43

God's love for us is great.  He has given us His Son.  And He has given His Son for others.  So, as I was reminded of the luxury I have with raspberries and M&Ms that others don't, as I was drawn to pray that others would have food, I am also drawn to thank God for the good food and drink He gave me in Jesus and I am compelled to pray for those who are spiritually starving.  Pray with me that those who are dying of spiritual starvation would taste and see that the LORD is good today.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Full Cupboard

My son turned one this week.  He's a good little boy but like most of us he gets a bit cranky when he's hungry.  Hangry, I guess would be the term.  And sometimes when Joshua is hungry and complains we go to the cupboard and get him a graham cracker or fruit bar or some sort of snack.

We make it a priority to have snacks in the cupboard for Joshua.  We sometimes forget to get the things we need, but we always have something for Joshua because we love him and we know that babies are not known for their patience.  I hate when we get in that rare jam where we don't have something he needs.  It would not be pretty if he was hangry and I hadn't purchased his food for him yet.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't give Joshua whatever he asks, whenever he asks.  Snacks are not a spoiling for him, they are a necessity. There are other things in the cupboard he asks for and other times when I know he doesn't need to eat that I deny his request despite his whining.

This all leads me to this question: how do you pray?

Do you pray to the Father of the full cupboard or the possibly empty cupboard?

When Jesus died on the cross He purchased every grace we need.  When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He meant it.  When Christ paid our price He purchased a cupboard full of everything we need.  Christ's cupboard is full, it is bursting at the seams, it is beyond bulging because of the infinite supply of grace it contains.

This does not mean that He will necessarily give all that we want, but He will give us the supply of grace for our every need.

"And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

So, how do you pray?  Do you pray to the god of the empty cupboard or to the LORD that has purchased everything you'll ever need?  When you pray for patience do you imagine that God has to manufacture patience for you or do you know that He simply takes it out of the cupboard?  When you pray for the grace to endure today do you know that that grace comes from His glorious riches and not from spiritual food stamps?

Pray to the God of the full cupboard.  When Jesus died He died for more than your get out of Hell free card.  When Jesus died He died to start and finish your sanctification.  When Jesus died He purchased a full cupboard of grace to give you for every need.  When Jesus died He died to adopt children into His Father's household that will be well cared; cared for much better than I care for Joshua.

Pray like your Heavenly Father has a full cupboard today.

Friday, May 11, 2018

When Mothers' Day Isn't Happy

Mothers' Day is supposed to be happy but what about when it isn't?

For many, Mothers' Day is somber or perhaps even cruel day.  For some, the Mothers' Day church service is a reminder of what they don't have anymore or never had.  For some each carnation passed out amongst the pews is a dagger to their soul.

Some have lost their mother and this holiday is the reminder of what they lost.  For some their pain is an empty chair at the table that belonged to the child they had to bury.  Others mourn the child that was miscarried.  And others hurt for the mother they can't seem to be able to be even after tests and IUI's and every intervention they've ever tried.

Mothers' Day is a holiday worth celebrating.  Mothers' Day should be celebrated.  But on Mothers' Day let us pray for those who are wounded by the holiday.  For the women, and even men, that lament on Mothers' Day, please know that I hurt with you. 

When I was a boy and I needed comfort, I rarely went to Dad.  My dad is a great fixture in my life, but when I had a physical or emotional wound I went to Mom.  Mom would put me on her lap and kiss away the pain and wipe away my tears.

God is our Heavenly Father, but He also has all the great traits of moms.  The beauty and strength and ability to create life that moms have  are a shinning example of the image of God.  God is like a mother is so many ways. 

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4

To all of you that hurt on Mothers' Day, I want you to know that it is more than okay to hurt.  Your pain and agony is valid.  But do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Lament with hope.  It hurts now and it stings so much, but Jesus will one day put you on His lap and wipe every tear from your eyes.  He will make all that is wrong (the death, infertility, estrangement, etc) right again.  He will fix it all.

To those who hurt on Mothers' Day know that our God loves you today.