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Sunday in the Park

The first Sunday in July brings a tradition here at Colona Community Church. In recent years, every first Sunday of July our little church has joined with Ridgway Community Church to have Sunday in the Park in lovely Hartwell Park just up the road in Ridgway, CO. We gather for a few hours of praise, worship, and reflection on the freedoms we have been blessed with through the sacrifice of others, plus a wonderful lunch and time of fellowship.

This year, nearly four hundred people came out on a gorgeous western Colorado day to hear the music of JustOne Ministries out of Durango, CO, and an inspirational message from Randy Gradishar, former Denver Bronco. Mr. Gradishar reminded us that we don’t want to gain the whole world at the cost of our souls (Matthew 16:26). One of my favorite moments was when he said that someone told him he should be in the Hall of Fame. His response was that he’s already in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame! That’s the only one I can see that would ever matter 🙂

Here are a few poor cell phone shots from my vantage point on the far side:

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The Montrose High School NJROTC Color Guard presented the colors while we sang the Star-Spangled Banner (beautifully led by Rachel B., Daniel E., Kenneth E., and Kristen M.)
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JustOne Ministries started off worship with “I’m Proud to Be an American”
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Randy Gradishar both inspired and entertained.
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This is a portion of the crowd (I tried to get as many Colona Church folks in the picture as I could!)

 

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Pastor Steve led us all in a heartfelt closing prayer before lunch.

Should the Lord tarry, we plan to do this again on the first Sunday of next July. Hope to see you in the park! Have a blessed day 🙂

 

Love Is All You Need

This morning in church, Pastor Steve spoke about love, and it has been resounding through me again and again. It got me thinking about the fact that love is something we are sorely lacking in our world today. We’ve become a society that doesn’t understand what real love is, believing instead in the lie that love is the same thing as lust and greed and selfishness.

Love isn’t about getting what we want; love is about sacrifice. It’s about selflessness, generosity, and truly caring about others with no expectation of anything in return. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives [our treasures, those things we hold most dear] for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16, NLT [with my additions]). Instead of the world’s definition of love, where we care about someone mostly because they care for us in return or they can help us or they are attractive, God says that love is about putting others first without ever considering how it will affect us.

As the Beatles once sang, “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” According to the Bible, this is pretty accurate. Look at the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would be only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT). You could be a huge success according to the world, but without love, it is all meaningless.

The Beatles spoke true: we do need love, but only if it is godly love. And how do we achieve that kind of love? According to the Apostle Paul, we study the Word, since, “The purpose of [his] instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith” (1 Timothy 1:5, NLT). The more we plant His Word deep in our hearts, the more we meditate on His Word, the more we come to know Him, the more we push out the worldly ways and mold ourselves into those who can love like Christ, those who can give love to others even knowing that we may never have anything in return.

If all the people in His Creation could learn to live like this, can you imagine the beauty and joy and peace and hope and, of course, love we would see every moment of every day? This is my prayer for you and for me: that we learn to love like Christ.

Sealed

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In the good, old days, men used to place a seal on their documents before sending them off. The seal was usually made of clay or stone with a specific identifying mark carved into the face, which was then pressed into melted wax. When the document arrived at its destination, the seal proclaimed who sent it and authenticated the document.

We, too, are sealed, but not by mere wax, which is easily destroyed. “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB). The word translated “sealed” is from the Greek word σφραγιζω (sphragizo), meaning “to stamp (with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation” (AMG’s Annotated Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the New Testament).

When you believe, when you repent of your sins and turn your heart to Jesus, you become identified as one of His own! The Spirit, which you are sealed with at the moment of salvation, is God’s guarantee that He has purchased you, bought you with His blood.

When you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, it means there is now “nothing incomplete or defective about you.  When God made you new, the last thing He did was check you out, thoroughly examining and inspecting you before placing His final seal of approval on your heart” (Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek).

Once you are sealed with His Spirit, you are sealed for eternity! You are His and nothing can ever melt His seal off of you. 🙂

Thankful for Freedom

I love that we in America officially kick off our summer, our time to play and relax with family and friends, by first remembering those who have gone before us. We honor those loved ones we knew and those we didn’t know who still gave their lives for our freedom.

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This Memorial Day, I’m especially reminded of those around the world who don’t have the freedoms that we do. They don’t have the liberty to love and serve God, to openly express their faith, to share His truth with others without fear of persecution. Many have lost their earthly lives for standing up for their belief in Jesus Christ.

And yet, here in America, we have the freedom to serve Him every day in every way, and we tend to take it for granted. As President Ronald Reagan said, “I don’t have to tell you how precious gift of freedom is. Every time we hear, watch, or read the news, we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world.” We are a blessed nation, blessed by God who sacrificed His only Son for us and by the men and women who have sacrificed so much to give us opportunities and freedoms that most people in the world do not have.

God has called us to live in freedom and to use that freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). We can’t take that freedom, paid for at such a high price, for granted. This Memorial Day, and every day, we should thank God for His blessing of freedom, thank Him for those who serve to protect our freedom, and ask Him to bless those who don’t have the freedom that we do.

Have a beautiful Memorial Day and remember to thank those who have given so much for you to be able to enjoy it! 🙂

 

Grace That is Greater

One of those hymns that gets stuck in my head and I sing over and over through the week is “Grace Greater than Our Sin,” by Julia Johnston and Daniel Towner. Towner’s catchy tune makes the song easy to remember, but the words are what lift my heart. It is grace that will “pardon and cleanse within;” it’s grace that is “greater than all our sin.”

Singing that hymn in church this morning struck my heart and made me really think about God’s grace and what an unfathomably marvelous thing it is. Grace, according to the Holman Bible Dictionary is “undeserved acceptance and love received from another…unmerited salvation…grace, favor, mercy….” It is this undeserved acceptance, this unmerited favor that offers us sinners, we people who’ve fallen far short of God’s perfect standard, salvation. Wow! As the Apostle Peter says, “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).

The key, however, is that grace is undeserved. God doesn’t put qualifications on His grace for us. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by the free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus, not by works, so that we can’t boast about saving ourselves or earning our salvation.

Do you think you can earn God’s favor? Do you believe that you can go through your life and do good things—be nice, smile, give money to the poor, help little ladies cross the street, etc., etc.—and somehow do enough to be worthy of God’s love and salvation? How do you know when you’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad?

We can never know for certain that our good deeds stack higher than our bad. Praise God, He doesn’t use works as His measuring stick, for we could never measure up. Praise God that we are saved through His kindness—His grace— and not by good works, because if we could be saved by our good works, grace wouldn’t be what it is—free and undeserved (Romans 11:6).

And now, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Effective Prayer

This Thursday, May 3rd, is the National Day of Prayer, a day when Christians from all over our vast nation gather in churches, small groups, schools, homes, or go out on their own to pray specifically for the United States of America. This year’s theme is “Unity,” and the foundational scripture is Ephesians 4:3, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (You can learn more about this event at their website.)

While the National Day of Prayer is special to many, every Sunday at Colona Community Church is a special day of prayer for us. We set aside time in every normal Sunday service for “Praise and Prayer Time.” It is during these moments each week that members of the congregation can share their joys and burdens with each other, so that we can rejoice alongside and pray for one another. It is a privilege that our small congregation cherishes.

Prayer is so important to and such a blessing for those who believe. Taking our requests to God is a privilege for believers that Christ paid for with His death on the cross. It was then that the veil separating the Church from the Holy of Holies was torn, granting us direct access to the throne of God. Now we can take our hearts right to God, and He will hear our requests.

Does that mean that God will give you that new sports car you’ve always wanted or the big house on the shore of a beautiful lake that you dream of? No. Sorry to say, but that’s not what God means when He says, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24, NLT).

Note that John 15:7 says it even more succinctly: “But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (NLT). There’s the key: remaining (or the old KJV word abiding) in Christ, planting His words in your heart, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. As Rick Renner wrote: “Jesus knew that if His words take up permanent residency in your heart and mind, you will never ask for something that is out of line with His will for your life. His Word will so transform your mind that your prayers will always be in accordance with what He has already said.”

So as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:13-14), as we draw nearer to God (James 4:8), as we abide in Him (John 15:7), our prayers become more effective, because we are praying His will (Matthew 6:10), we are seeking Him first (Luke 12:31).

If we want America to be “great again,” if we desire for our nation to turn back to God, it must begin with each individual believer feeding on the Word, filling our hearts and minds with its Truth, abiding in Him, so that our prayers may become even more powerful and effective, and we can spread our joy and peace and hope and love to all those around us.

I do hope that you will join me and countless others this Thursday as we pray for the U.S.A. and all who live, work, and play here. May God bless America again!

And if you have a burden that you’d like the fellowship of Colona Community Church to be praying for, please click on our “Prayer Requests” page and send us a message. We will be honored to take it to the throne for you and come alongside you in your time of need. God bless you today and always!

Comfort in the Chaos

I’m going to confess something: I’m a bit of a worrier. I worry about my parents getting older and needing more specialized care, about my brother traveling for his photography business, about the lack of moisture and the consequent fire danger, about answering the phone because my introvert nature makes it a scary proposition, about all sorts of things! And absolutely none of them are actually within my control.

Last fall my mom had complications with a back operation that put her at serious risk and in the hospital and a physical rehab unit for nearly two months. I found myself spending way more time worrying and crying than I did reading the Word and praying. Driving to the hospital one day, I remember God pressing on me that if I have enough time to worry about the situation, then I also have enough time to pray about it. If I can devote time to being concerned, I can devote time to reading His Word.

The Bible never says that we should worry more or stress out or try to do everything on our own. It actually says the exact opposite: Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but to pray and give thanks about everything. Worrying will not change anything, but trusting in God can change everything!

And Jesus Himself told us not to worry. His words remind us that since we see God cares for even the birds and the grass, we should know that He will take care of us. And after all, worrying will not add a single hour to your life or make anything better in the long run (Matthew 6:25-34). These reminders, among so many others in the Word, are the only thing that can keep me from spending too much time worrying.

When we worry, it is an attempt to take control over situations that can never be in our control. We turn from faith in God to fear of the unknown. We worship the problem instead of the Problem-Solver.

But every time we pick up the Word or turn to the Lord in prayer, He takes our burdens upon Himself. His words can give us peace in the midst of the chaos, comfort in our trials. What a tremendous blessing He gives us, when we turn to Him!

 

God-Shaped Hole

I see it every day, this need for more: more money, more popularity, more beauty, more love, more things. Our world is desperate for more. We grasp for the next best thing, only to find that there is another next best thing waiting for us. Always wanting, never satisfied seems to be the theme of today’s society.

Yet, the “things” will never be able to truly satisfy us, because there will forever be newer, better, more on the horizon. As John Piper said, “Every person or thing we trust will eventually fail us, except Jesus. Only He can bear the full weight of our hope.” The only One who can truly satisfy is the One who created you and me.

We all have a God-shaped hole inside, and no amount of stuff can ever fill it up. Only God can. It is a void in each of us that only He can fill. He alone can “satisfy [you] more than the richest feast” (Psalm 63:5 NLT). Only the One True God can “satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing” by simply opening His hand (Psalm 145:16 NLT). Jesus said that He came into this world, not to steal, kill, and destroy like the thief, but “to give a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT).

If you find yourself constantly searching for something to fill you up, there is only One that will last more than a brief moment, only One that can truly satisfy: Jesus. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9 ESV).

Does your God-shaped hole need to be filled? Have you been searching for something to quench your thirst, to ease your hunger, to bring you lasting joy, to satisfy you? Don’t look to the world with its fleeting pleasures. Look to the Lord, who can satisfy your longing soul and fill your heart with joy eternal!

Tetelestai

If you read the Bible accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, you might note that He spoke seven times while He hung on the cross. He asked the Father to forgive those who persecuted and crucified Him (Luke 23:34), reminding us that we must forgive those who hurt us. He told the repentant thief that he would join Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:42-43), reminding us that heaven is real and it is never too late to turn our hearts to Jesus. He asked His disciple, John, to take care of His mother (John 19:26-27), reminding us to think of others first, no matter what we’re going through. He cried out in anguish to God (Mark 15:34), reminding us that we need to pour out our own hearts to God to find our strength in Him. He noted that He was thirsty (John 19:28), reminding us that those who thirst for Living Water will always be refreshed. He called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), reminding us that we need to place our lives in God’s hands at all times and in all circumstances.

But is was His words just before He committed His spirit to God that have been swirling tetelestaiin my mind for the past few weeks: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word tetelestai is here translated to “it is finished,” but it also means “Paid in Full.” In Jesus’ time, this word was often written on the bottom of ledgers  when the debtor had finished repayment.

What a dramatic description of Christ’s work on the cross! He went through all the agony and pain and selflessness and separation from God, so that we wouldn’t have to. He willingly gave His life so that our unpayable debt of sin could be finished, paid in full! God sent His One and Only Son to give His life as a payment for our sin — a free gift of grace! As one of my all-time favorite songs says, “In this world where something’s worth is based on what someone would pay, it’s nice to know I’m worth one Jesus to You” (“Tetelestai” by everybodyduck). And it is so nice to know that you and I are loved more than we will ever know by Someone who died to know us (Romans 5:8).

But do you know what is even better? As Louie Giglio put it, “Jesus’ last word is our first. It is finished. When He died, our life began.” He died and that wasn’t the end of the story! He is risen! And when we choose to turn from our sin and follow Him, we are raised to new life with Him and promised eternal life by His side.

Today we celebrate the reason for our faith (1 Corinthians 15:14-19): the finished work of the cross and the resurrection of our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What a glorious day! I pray you have a blessed Easter, rejoicing in the One who died and rose again for you.

 

And just because I think the words are beautiful, here are the lyrics to the second verse, the chorus, and the final refrain of “Tetelestai” by everybodyduck:

I can’t quite understand how one like You could love me

Covered with sin, I know I’m not a pretty sight

Yet I can’t count the times You’ve wrapped Your arms around me

Despite the blackness of my heart You held me tight

You knew alone that I could never buy my freedom

The price for all my sin was more than I could bear

You sent Your Only Son as payment for my burden

A perfect sacrifice for all mankind to share

And when there’s no love

I have You, Lord

Before the earth was formed

Your plan for me You knew

And in this day when something’s worth is based on what someone would pay

It’s nice to know I’m worth one Jesus to You.

It’s nice to know I’m worth one Jesus to You.

So when I feel this life of mine has no real value

And there’s no one who’d care if I should live or die

I remember just how much You gave to have me

You paid so much for something no one else would buy

 

Triumphal Entry

I was watching golf with my dad a few weeks ago, when Tiger Woods made another return to the course. Even with all the controversy that has surrounded him in recent years, the cheers for his appearance were loud and long.

Almost two thousand years ago, another controversial person made a triumphal entry–not onto the golf course, but into the city of Jerusalem. For three years, Jesus had been traveling the countryside, stirring up people with His rebellious ideas. Then, when the time had come, He headed back to Jerusalem. Matthew 21:1-11 describes the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. As Jesus rode a donkey into the city, people laid down their coats and cut palm fronds to lay in the street to honor His passing. They shouted, “Hosanna!” The Hebrew word hosanna means “save us.” They did believe Him to be the Messiah, but misunderstood the way He would save us. They thought the Messiah would come to lead the armies to crush their Roman oppressors and usher in an age of unparalleled prosperity. But He didn’t come to save us from government oppression or financial woes or hard times. He entered Jerusalem knowing He would die to save us from so much more–from our own sin and death to righteousness and eternal life with Him!

Tiger Woods can’t save us–he honestly can’t even save himself. Only Jesus can save us. Has He saved you? Has He made His Triumphal Entry into your heart? If not, there’s no better moment than now to make a decision to follow Him out of death and into life.

I pray that this Holy Week, you would be abundantly blessed and that we would all take time each day to reflect on all Jesus did for us.

And if you’re in the Montrose or Ridgway area, please join us next Sunday for a special early Easter worship service at 8:30 am, followed by a fellowship breakfast, and regular Sunday service at 10:30 am at Colona Community Church. We hope to see you there!