Wade Berry is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Ranger, 120 miles west of Dallas. He held an outdoor worship service last Sunday in front of their 103-year-old building, which was destroyed by fire last Thursday evening.
In his sermon, he spoke of residents who lost everything as their homes were turned to rubble and firefighters from thirteen state agencies and forty-eight local fire departments who dropped everything to help. Among them was Eastland County Sheriff Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley, who was killed while going door to door trying to help people escape.
In other news, four US soldiers were killed in a plane crash during a NATO exercise. The White House warned yesterday that the Russian government “is exploring options for potential cyberattacks.” Public health experts warn that a more transmissible version of the omicron variant may fuel a surge of COVID-19 infections in the US. In the continuing strategy to normalize LGBTQ activity, the movie Lightyear will feature Pixar’s first same-sex kiss.
And amid the escalating tragedy in Ukraine, this report was especially grievous: Boris Romanchenko survived the Holocaust perpetrated by Adolf Hitler, but he did not survive the carnage being perpetrated by Vladimir Putin. The ninety-six-year-old was recently killed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, another victim of Russia’s atrocities.
However, while we seem to be surrounded by evil, suffering, and deception on every side, there’s always more to the story. Pastor Berry testified in his sermon: “We are always more than the tragedies we face. There is beauty in ashes, hope in despair, and hope is evident, even in mourning.”
How can we find such hope where we need it most today?
Why Denzel Washington is grateful for the “grace of God”
Yesterday, we discussed God’s invitation to see pain and suffering as opportunities for the gospel when we exercise the power of courageous compassion. Today, let’s focus on the power we need to demonstrate that power to others.
Like a group of investors who purchased a Caribbean island, we can withdraw from the world and its problems. But for Christians, this keeps our salt in the saltshaker, our light under a basket (Matthew 5:13–16).
Or, like actor Denzel Washington, we can view our abilities and resources as gifts given by the “grace of God” and use what we have “to help others.”
The difference Jesus makes in those who follow him is documented regularly by research. For example, a new study shows that teenage Christian boys from working-class families who regularly participate in their church and demonstrate faith in God are twice as likely to earn bachelor’s degrees as their nonreligious or moderately religious peers. And research by the Barna Group reports that 61 percent of practicing Christians said they are flourishing in romantic relationships and friendships, compared to only 28 percent of all US adults who said the same.
“This is the way, walk in it.”
I was privileged to speak last Sunday and Monday at the First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, where Janet and I served as pastor from 1988–94. They are one of the finest New Testament congregations I have ever known. Their vision statement, displayed where everyone who walks the halls of the church can see it, explains why: “To know Christ and make him known.”
Their outstanding pastor, Dr. Darin Wood, and the congregation understand that each side of the statement is essential to the other. We must know Christ before we can make him known, and we must make him known to know him better.
We must breathe in to breathe out and breathe out to breathe in.
You and I obviously cannot give others what we do not possess ourselves. To teach you to speak French, I would first have to learn how to speak French. But the harder I work to teach you French, the more French I am likely to learn.
Craig Denison is right: “It’s in seeking relationship with God that we become familiar with his voice and are able to follow him as sheep with their Shepherd.” Craig cites these promises:
- “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3). When last did you hear “things that you have not known” from God?
- “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). When last did you hear such a word from your Father?
- “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). When last did you hear the Spirit’s voice in your mind and heart?
“Let not the rich man boast in his riches”
Our hurting world desperately needs the gift of authentic Christianity. Lives being transformed every day by the living Lord Jesus are proof that God’s word is true and his grace is amazing.
Unfortunately, many of us settle for a religion about Jesus when we could have an intimate relationship with him. To experience such a relationship daily, as Oswald Chambers reminds us, I must give up “my claim to my right to myself.” When I do, “The free committal of myself to God gives the Holy Spirit the chance to impart to me the holiness of Jesus Christ.”
When last did you make such a “free committal” of yourself to Jesus?
The Lord spoke through his prophet: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
In what will you boast today?