When the Universe conspires against you

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There are people who are born and it seems the Universe has conspired against them from day one. Maybe they were born addicted to drugs or in poverty or into a broken home. Maybe they had health problems or parents who didn’t know how to love. These are the ones who need the love of God the most. And they are the ones who seem most afraid of Him.

There’s a story in one of the Gospels where Jesus heals a person like this…one whom the Universe seems to have conspired against. We don’t know his name, only his ailment.

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The Gospel writer says he is possessed by a multitude of demons, so they called him “Legion”. In other words, he had so many problems that his problems became his identity. And he was lost inside himself. Today, we would simply say he was mentally ill.

Legion saw Jesus and asked for help. Jesus had compassion on him. Jesus loved him so much that he drove those demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs nearby. The pigs went wild and ran over a cliff into the sea. But the man was free; calm; peaceful…probably for the first time in his life.

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The townspeople, however, went crazy! Love is powerful. It’s the most powerful force on earth. King Solomon said that “love is stronger than death”!

We know this. Our love even transcends the deaths of our loved ones. It’s why it hurts when they are gone. So love is powerful and, for some people, the power of love is frightening. The townspeople were so afraid of the power of love that they asked…begged Jesus to leave.

This is so true in life. Some people encounter the power of love and they are changed. Others encounter the power of love and they are afraid.

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Celine Dion, in her song, says “sometimes I am frightened but I’m ready to learn about the power of love”.

It’s alright to be afraid. The man named Legion? He was afraid too. But he was ready.

Iknow what it is to be afraid. But, as someone who has encountered the power of love, I have discovered that God’s perfect love will drive away fear. And you will be like Legion…at peace and in your right mind.

It’s interesting when we talk about being in our right minds. We imply logic and reason have come to the situation. It’s our left brain hemisphere, though, that controls logic and reason. It’s our right hemisphere that gives us the sense of oneness with God and others. And what most of us need more than anything is oneness with God and others. Without it, we feel like things are out of control.

I leave you with the words of the angel, Gabriel, “Do not fear! You have found favor with God”!

Today, ask God to show you the power of His love. And you will experience a peace that surpasses your understanding. Take heart, my friend. Jesus has overcome the conspiracy of the Universe with the power of Love!

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I was a Wedding Photographer before I was a Minister

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I was a wedding photographer before I was a minister. And it was great training ground for the ministry.

Tuesday I met a young lady who was looking for a church where she could have her wedding ceremony. She was already married. Her [now] husband was preparing to deploy with his unit. So the couple went to the courthouse to get a quick marriage license. However, the couple sincerely wanted a Christian ceremony. They wanted to exchange vows and rings in a church before God and their family. So they started searching for someplace to accommodate their needs.

But finding a church to accommodate them was proving to be quite a task.  Some places were too expensive. Other churches had too many rules and regulations. Other places didn’t allow an outside minister.

I understand some of these situations. I’m a pastor now. We have to set boundaries so we can do what we do more effectively. Yet, it was reminiscent of some of my days as a wedding photographer.

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I was a wedding photographer for ten years before I became a minister. There were multiple challenges to my trade. The parents of the bride and groom didn’t always get along. The bridal party attendants were sometimes drunk and rowdy. And, occasionally, the couple argued about paying the bill…to me. But the greatest challenges usually came from the minister and the church staff.

There was one wedding where the minister gave me very clear and harsh instructions of where I could and could not go. He told me that if I crossed a certain [physical] line, then the earth would open up and swallow me whole dragging me into the depths of Hades. No. I’m not kidding.

Neither was he.

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At another wedding, I arrived and began setting up my equipment. Then I searched for the priest to confirm church guidelines and ceremony details. As I approached him in the sanctuary, he lit me up with a barrage of insults. I had walked through a restricted (although unmarked) area that was considered too holy for a lay person to tread upon.

But the one situation I remember so clearly is also the one which disturbed me the most.

I arrived at the church to find my bride in tears. The night before, at the rehearsal, the minister had questioned the groom about his faith. The minister decided the groom did not meet the minimum faith requirements. The groom, according to the minister, was not a Christian and he would not perform an unequally yoked marriage ceremony.

So I stood there with a weeping bride who was three months pregnant and unsure if she was getting married or not. Fortunately, another minister agreed to officiate on short notice.

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Wedding photography was my ministry even before God called me to be a pastor. I was a Christian and viewed it as a way to serve and minister to others. I prayed for my couples from the time they booked my services until the day I delivered their photos. It was a way I honored God and the sacrament of marriage.

But none of these ministers, priests, or pastors knew this about me. They saw a photographer who was in their way and taking up their time. I was disposable. Someone who would never sit in their pew on Sunday morning. They never asked. It probably never even crossed their mind.

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We all have bad days; even pastors and priests…and photographers. Today was a “bad day” for me. You know…one of those days when you have no patience and could use a little more sleep. We have days when we don’t have the energy to ask questions or take the time to listen. We all have those days when we are glad there is grace available…lots of it! I say this because I understand.

But I photographed weddings for TEN years! I spent 40+ weekends a year with brides, grooms, and wedding officiants. I was at Catholic weddings, Baptist weddings, Jewish weddings, and even Eastern Orthodox weddings. I saw Nazarene weddings, Methodist weddings, and non-denominational weddings. I did poor weddings, middle-class weddings, and a few wealthy weddings. I photographed white people, black people, Arabic people, and Asian people. I even photographed an atheist wedding with a purple cake.

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And every time I entered a Church…I held my breath.

Not because of the bride and groom. I held my breath because I didn’t know if the pastor would be a jerk or not.

I was a Christian. I was preparing to become a minister myself. And I was afraid of you, my pastor friends! How much more those who have no church background or affiliation? How much more?

Here is my lenten challenge:

Pastors, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.

Christians, ask God to check your heart over the next 40 days. Ask Him to help you be like Christ. We don’t have to be perfect. For some of us, we just need a little softening.

For myself, I am asking God to check my heart and make me a little softer, gentler, and more like Christ.

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Lent: Ashes to Ashes

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Wednesday is the first day of Lent. We will gather together to worship with prayer, communion, reflection, and ashes.

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3

I really enjoy the Lenten season. There are no presents to buy, no decorations to hang, and no cookies to bake. It’s not Advent. Advent is fast paced and high energy. It is a time to prepare for a joyous feast and celebration of the long-awaited Messiah.

But Lent is different. Lent is slower. It is a time of reflection and repentance. It is a time to give your soul a check up. It’s the time to ask this question:

How are you and Jesus doing?

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As Christ followers, we take the next 40 days to give ourselves a heart check. We allow God to examine our spirits a little closer than we do the rest of the year. And we prepare to celebrate the most important day on the Church calendar; Resurrection Sunday, Easter morning!

There is no day more significant than Easter. Easter is the fulfillment of the promise. God has conquered death, hell, sin, and the grave. We are no longer prisoners of sin. We are now sons and daughters of God.

Tomorrow is your opportunity to make a plan for the next 40 days. What do you need to do to become closer to God? What do you need to stop doing to become closer to God? Maybe you will make a commitment to attend worship every Sunday during Lent. Maybe you will take five minutes a day to pray or read the Bible. Maybe you will fast one meal a week and use that time meditating on the things of God. Maybe you will commit to eating dinner with your family at least once a week.

Lent is a time for us to reflect on our soul’s condition. And since our soul is eternal, it would be a good opportunity to give it some much-needed attention.

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