Monday, November 23, 2020

Be a Bridge Builder

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” – John 8:11

You probably don’t know this, but I love a good poem. And one of my favorites is a very inspiring one: “The Bridge Builder,” by Will Allen Dromgoole. It tells the story of an old man who came to a vast chasm while traveling on foot on a cold, gray evening. To cross it, he had to wade through a “sullen tide.” Although “the sullen stream had no fear for him,” once the old man had safely reached the other side, he turned around and built a bridge back the way he had come.

A fellow traveler asked the old man: Why, when his journey was nearly over, would he build a bridge he would never need to use? The old man explained that on his journey, he had seen a “fair-haired youth” who would be traveling the same way after him. The chasm that had been no problem for the old man, he said, might be a pitfall to the young man who would follow. The old man concluded: “He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

There are two types of people in this world: those who build bridges and those who burn them. Which type are you? There’s no doubt that Jesus Christ was a bridge builder. One clear example of this can be found in John 8, when some Pharisees bring a woman to Jesus who was caught committing adultery. They said to Jesus, “‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’” (vs. 3-5). As usual, the Pharisees were trying to trip him up. But as usual, Jesus was way ahead. His simple way of dismissing these charges was to doodle on the ground for a few moments before standing up and saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7).

That got rid of the crowd quickly. But that’s when Jesus’ ministry to the woman really began. He stood and asked her, “‘Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’“ (vs. 10-11).

You’ve probably heard it said that God loves the sinner, but hates the sin. This account in John 8 illustrates this truth beautifully. Jesus built a bridge of mercy and compassion to this woman who didn’t deserve it. Why? Because he loved her. She was one of his most precious creations, and he didn’t’ want to see her die in her sin without God and without hope.

But in that love, Jesus didn’t ignore her sin. He didn’t overlook her adultery. He told her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” With those words, Jesus demonstrated the perfect balance between compassion and speaking the hard truth. Usually you and I focus on one or the other. Sometimes we’re very compassionate to those who have messed up royally, but we don’t correct them. We don’t point them to the truth about their sin, so they end up doing the same stupid thing over and over. And at other times we’re quite good at spewing truth all over someone who’s goofed up, but we do it with very little compassion. The truth hurts by itself; we don’t need to beat people over the head with it.

Remember what the Apostle John writes about Jesus in John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In John 8, Jesus shows us the perfect balance between grace and truth, between mercy and justice. He speaks the truth in love—building a bridge of grace and truth to a broken woman who was lost and dying in her sin. And Jesus has called you and me as his followers to do the same.

When’s the last time you reached out to someone who felt they didn’t have a friend in the world and you showed them the compassion and love of Christ? Jesus was a bridge builder. He came to build bridges to sinners and save them. He built bridges to fishermen, lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors; he built bridges to those who were sick, hurting and hopeless. And, thank God, he built bridges to you and to me. So, if you and I are serious about following him, we need to put down our matches and lighter fluid and start building bridges instead of burning them.

As I shared in last week’s column, 2020 has been a pop quiz given to us by God to prepare us for tougher tests up ahead. And honestly, many Christians haven’t been doing very well on this quiz, especially in regard to building bridges to people who desperately need God. Many Christians have very strong opinions about COVID, and at times this year we’ve burnt bridges with friends and family who believe differently. And if you haven’t noticed this in the past few months, many Christians have some VERY strong opinions about politics. At times this year we’ve carried out a scorched-earth policy on friends and family who hold different political views.

It’s easy to forget that the clock is ticking. We don’t have much time to reach those around us who are lost and dying without Jesus Christ. Two weeks ago I did a funeral for a 19-year old man who found himself in a very dark place and took his own life. Last week I assisted with a funeral for a young woman whose life ended tragically on her 24th birthday. Friends, life is so short. We don’t have time to burn bridges with those who need to hear the good news of Christ’s hope, peace and healing. Let’s finish 2020 strong—building bridges for people who need both grace and truth.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Has 2020 Been a Pop Quiz?

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” – Hebrews 10:25

Last week I heard some bad news: During this COVID pandemic, thousands of churches around our country have closed their doors … for good. As millions of Christians have stopped attending church, many churches lost the majority of their attenders and saw their offerings plummet by more than 50%. And they couldn’t sustain their ministries. According to the Barna Research Group, 1 in 5 churches is at risk of closing within the next 18 months. That number breaks my heart. But THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE IN CHRIST. If you doubt me, just see what God has for us in Daniel 3.

In Babylon around 600 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar commanded everyone in his kingdom to bow down and worship a huge gold statue he had erected. Disobedience came with a hefty penalty: “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (v.6). But three of the king’s servants who worshipped the Lord—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—stood firm in their faith. When the king’s herald commanded everyone to bow down before the statue, they stood tall in the crowd.

King Nebuchadnezzar told them furiously, “If you do not worship [this statue], you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace” (v. 15). But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded with one of the most courageous statements of faith in the whole Bible: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  

The king ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. And when soldiers dropped Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego into the furnace, the soldiers were killed by the intense heat and flames. But from a safe distance, Nebuchadnezzar peeked through the stoke-hole in the side of the furnace and saw four men walking around in the fire, and the fourth one looked like “a son of the gods.” (I think that it was Jesus. But at the very least, it was an angel sent by Jesus.) The king opened the furnace doors, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out, unharmed, and Nebuchadnezzar praised the one true God.

The fiery furnace was a huge test of faith for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But it’s important to see that it wasn’t their first test. God had prepared them by giving them smaller tests of faith—pop quizzes—along the way. First, they were torn from their comfortable homes in Jerusalem. Then, against their will, they were hauled 800 miles across the desert to Babylon. And when a court official ordered them to eat forbidden foods, it was yet another important test of faith that God used to prepare them for the final exam in chapter 3. As we know, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego passed all of their tests with flying colors.

But what about you and I? Without a doubt, 2020 has been a very strange and difficult year. And our faith as Christians has been tested. But has this year been a pop quiz of your faith and obedience, or has it been your final exam? I believe that for most of us, this year has been merely a pop quiz. In all likelihood, it hasn’t been your FINAL test of faith. God has been preparing you for something bigger, something more challenging, something more difficult than you would have been prepared for had you not endured this glorious year of 2020.

Remember that with every passing day, we draw closer to the Great Tribulation—that seven-year period when our world will experience the greatest turmoil since the days of Noah. I don’t say this to depress you. I say this so that you can be prepared to stand firm in your faith when the harder times of testing come. So, let me ask you: How are your faith and obedience holding up during this pop quiz? And more importantly, how will your faith and obedience hold up during the tougher tests that come down the road?

The truth is that COVID-19 is child’s play compared to what’s coming. So, if we can’t figure out how to open businesses, schools and churches during THIS pandemic, we’re going to be toast when a worse pandemic comes our way. I believe that our lockdown approach to COVID is unsustainable. At some point the government is going to have to say, “Despite the risk of COVID rates increasing, we HAVE to get our communities back to work, to school and to church, because the consequences of NOT doing so are much greater than the consequences of COVID.” As millions of Christians around our country have stopped attending church, and as thousands of churches are closing their doors, I ask you to make sure that your church isn’t one of them.

Online services are good, and for those who can’t physically make it to a live service, or those at high risk, they are the best option. But online church is NOT the best option for most of us. Most of us need to be in weekly fellowship with other Christians—serving and being served. If you’re physically able to be at church and you choose not to come, I feel led to tell you: Doing what you’re doing long-term is unsustainable. You cannot consistently grow in your faith while in isolation. You need the church, and the church needs you. I hope and pray that you and I will come back to church and lead many, many others to join us. Let’s ace this pop quiz together, so we’ll be ready for tougher tests that are coming down the road.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.