The Quest of the Empty Tomb

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Easter is a season of the church calendar that extends from Easter Sunday through to Pentecost, approximately 7 weeks. During this time, we are to consider the weight and importance of Jesus’ resurrection and to wonder how that resurrection might be renewed in us as Jesus-followers.
The empty tomb is mentioned by all four gospel writers as an instigator of the disciples’ faith.  The empty tomb causes more confusion than comfort in the gospels.  Luke uses the word “wondering” in Chapter 24 both as the response of the women (verse 4) and Peter (verse 12), while the Emmaus walkers were “amazed” (verse 22).  In Mark’s account in Chapter 16, the empty tomb causes “bewilderment” (verse 8) and “alarm” (verse 5).  Mary Magdalene does not immediately interpret the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb in John 20 as a resurrection event (“we don’t know where they have put him,” verse 2).
 In all of the gospel accounts, the empty tomb is presented as an ambiguous set of facts that raises the curiosity of the disciples.  The empty tomb presents all of us with a question (or questions) about what do we believe about Jesus, and how deeply will we pursue the truth about what Jesus means to us in our daily lives.
Consider now the very word “question”, whose root is “questio” (to seek, in Latin).  What does it mean to be on a quest?  A quest (or journey) is defined by the events that unfold throughout the travel and not merely the arrival at the end goal.  Look at the number of questions that surround the resurrection story, in the mouths of the disciples, the angels, and even Jesus himself. 
For example, both the angels and Jesus in John 20 ask Mary, “woman, why are you crying?” (verse 13 and 15).  The angels in Luke 24 ask the women disciples, “why do you look for the living among the dead?” (verse 5), and then Jesus asks directly the Emmaus walkers, “what are you discussing together as you walk along?” (verse 17).  These questions are not meant to serve as tests of the disciples’ faith, but rather they serve as invitations into a deeper journey. 
The questions encourage Mary to explore her emotions and her love for the one who was crucified.  The questions heighten further Peter and John’s curiosity so that they seek Jesus by entering the tomb of the one who is risen.  The questions invite Cleopas into a deeper dialogue about the scriptures and into a meal with his Messiah.
Too many times in our churches and in our traditions questions are viewed as a sign of weak faith, or as obstacles that must be successfully avoided.  This may cause us to say, “I can’t believe that I am struggling with this question.” 
The question(s) can be pushed down or ignored like a small pebble in a shoe that continues to irritate.  That is certainly not the view of the gospel writers who use questions as springboards and as invitations into a fuller life and deeper faith.  Just as Jesus says to us “come and see” so also the gospel writers use questions as opportunities to explore the life of love, mercy, and grace to which we are called.
Twenty-five years ago questions about the physical world, its beauty and its potential meaning, swirled in my head.  Thankfully, my Creator was merciful and didn’t consider my questions silly or trite, and I began to follow Jesus as my life turned from black-and-white to vibrant color.  Recently the questions of evil and seemingly meaningless suffering present themselves as dark and empty tombs. These questions serve as invitations into a deeper journey with the one who loves me, who created me to become more and more like the Risen One. 

This is not a bulletproof god with a superhuman hero to whom nothing ever happens, but the God who sent a son, whose scars remain even though death could not contain his indestructible life (Heb. 7:23). 
I am encouraged by the number of people in our church who lean into heartache, who peer into the empty tombs in their own lives, who continue to seek out their journey with Jesus through the questions.
If we will become love, if we will become like Jesus, his “little ones,” then our curiosity must be raised and we must explore.  In the rest of this Easter season and the Pentecost that follows, may you be encouraged to seek the risen Jesus through exploring the empty tombs of your unanswered questions; may you not be afraid to ask questions that seem to have no answers; may you find strength through friendship and may you be strong to provide the friendship that others seek.

- Matt Fleenor

Matt Fleenor is a member of our steering team at Restoration Church and is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Roanoke College.

Prospective Missionaries to Rwanda



Jacob and Kathryn Otterman grew up in Roanoke, Va. and after reconnecting through friends in 2017, they soon got married in May of 2018.

Kathryn grew up going to Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke and she later became a Young Life leader at a local high school. Jacob was baptized at Restoration Church in 2017 by Josh Yerton, the same pastor who would later lead them through marriage counseling.

During their engagement, through prayer and seeking the Lord, both Jacob and Kathryn felt like God was leading them to a life of international missions. After they said their “I Dos” they continued following the call towards ministry overseas and even used their honeymoon to go to Rwanda on a mission trip.

In October of 2018 the couple met with the steering team of Restoration Church and they decided to began a period discernment and training with the hopes of moving to Rwanda within the next year.

The Ottermans have been invited to live in Kamembe (Cyangugu), a small town on the western most boarder of Rwanda. 

They hope to serve the Rwandan community by teaching English at a high school, as well as developing projects to help the school become more financially sustainable.  Ultimately, they want to form relationships with the students and those around them in order to share their lives and the gospel with them. 

The Ottermans’ goal is to live as missionaries in Rwanda for at least two years as they work with the local church to expand the Kingdom of God.  

Over the next year, while Jacob and Kathryn are receiving training, they’ll also begin fundraising. While their goal of fundraising all their expenses for their first year is lofty, they believe that God will provide and equip them for their calling. All funds raised will go to the Rwanda Mission Fund of Restoration Church which will be used to support the Otterman’s ministry opportunities and day to day needs while they are in the mission field.

Jacob and Kathryn are praying for people to support them who believe in God’s calling for their lives, who will be in prayer on their behalf, who will point them to His truth, and who have His heart of giving abundantly. 

Update From Logan Hall in Albania

This is an update letter from Logan Hall, a student at VMI from Salem who we are financially supporting to be a missionary in Albania for 11 weeks this summer. Check out how God is using him this summer and how you can pray for him:

Hello Brothers and Sisters,

I now have one month left here in Albania!  That means I have been here for about six weeks.  It is amazing how time flies.

It is also important to note that the church has also been open now for one month!!!  It opened June 8th and it is amazing how many people God has brought into this place.


What is it like to have childlike faith?  Children have the ability to walk up to a pantry and know food will be in it.  This is faith.  Children see their parents and they expected to feel loved by them.  This is faith.  Children expect to have a bed to sleep in each night.  This is faith.  Children hear and believe in Bible stories such as Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, and Moses parting the Red Sea.  This is faith.

Children want to feel loved, compassion, and comfort.  They want to have fun, be active, and rejoice.  When children are taught stories from the Bible and from other places they believe what they are told without question.  Matthew 19:14 states, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"  What does that phrase "such as these" refer to?

Children are innocent and full of faith.  They want to do what is best for people.  The Bible also states in Matthew 18:3, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  Each day going forward we need the kind of faith in God that a child has.  We need childlike faith.

This is what others have expressed and I have begun to see in the faces and emotions of the children here in Albania.  It is truly breathtaking to see how God uses all of these little children.


This past week a team of seven from North Carolina came to help support the work being done here in Albania.  Their support was tremendous as they brought a VBS program to allow the kids to paint, do crafts, perform in theater, and learn more about Jesus.  They were able to create an atmosphere that was full of love and they built great relationships with the kids.  There was even a surprise earthquake in the middle of the week!  The team was able to remain calm and flexible.  They were able to keep doing activities outside with the kids which helped the children remain relaxed.  (Earthquakes are a rare occasion in Tirana and it is possible this was the first earthquake some of the children felt.  In Albania, due to the structural integrity of the buildings, they are taught to evacuate outside during such an event)  They taught the kids about Creation, sin, the birth of Jesus, and His crucifixion and resurrection.  The kids were then able to perform in front of their parents.  It was a great event!

The North Carolina crew is show throughout the photo: Steve (far left) Becca, Mike, JD, and Mia (Teresa and Mary Alex were not shown in this image)

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While the North Carolina team was here they also helped with the adult classes in the evenings.  They were great support!  Each class we focused on having conversations with the students and gave the opportunity for each student to come get coffee or a meal with people from the team.  A few took us up on the offer.  

Wednesday night we celebrated July 4th!  We had the opportunity to teach the Albanians about America's history as it was built with Christian values.  Afterwards we had time to get together and talk to everyone while enjoying a few snacks and drinks.  We even learned some traditional Albanian dances!

Everyone is making double headed eagles representing the Albanian flag

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The North Carolina team has now left and they will be greatly missed.  This past weekend a team of three gentlemen from Oregon joined us.  They will be with us for another two and a half weeks.  They are taking the opportunity to teach the kids how to play some basic chords on instruments, how to better present themselves while acting, doing some arts and crafts, and once again learning more about the Bible.  The children will be doing a play based on Luke 15 (The Prodigal Son.)  We ask for prayers that God will continue to work in this place and give this new team a fire and energy to pour their hearts out on all that are here.  They also hope to do some more outreach to the community.  We pray that God will begin to open more doors so that opportunities will present themselves.


  • Good health moving forward.
  • Energy to keep working with the kids and adults so that we can continue to develop relationships and allow God to use us to plant seeds.
  • God will always be the focus as we go forward in all that we do.
  • The wisdom and knowledge necessary to approach any problems that arise
  • The continued pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the people in this community
  • More opportunities to share the Gospel whether it is on the streets or with students approaching us with questions.

Guatemala Donations

The team is set and ready to go to Guatemala on July 14-21! Our project while we're there is to build a church with our partner village, Filo Del Mecate, however we want to be as big of a blessing as possible while we're there. Here is a list of the things you can donate! Bring them to the Cave (15 E. Main Street by July 12 or email to coordinate pick up. 

For Hope of Life & Filo Del Mecate

  • Small toys
  • Hair Ties
  • Children's clothing & shoes
  • Baby clothes & toys
  • Burb cloths
  • Crib sheets
  • hooded bath towels 
  • Kitchen towels
  • lotions, soaps, toothbrushes
  • Coloring Books
  • Crayons (small packs are best)
  • Bubbles
  • Hard Candy/suckers
  • Stickers
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Scissors
  • Hair ties / bracelets to make
  • Little toys and give aways for the boys
  • Games we can teach kids and leave with the church
    • ie: Uno, Matching games, Jacks, 
    • Just about anything that we could gather kiddos in small groups
  • Tea towels – wash clothes
  • Work gloves for the men
  • Anything from hardware store (maybe swiss army knives)
  • Small flash lights are always a favorite
  • Thin books (Spanish)
  • Anything for the new church!

For Volcano Relief in Guatemala

  • Work Gloves
  • Flashlights
  • Solar lights
  • Fire Boots
  • Shoes
  • Clothing
  • Blankets
  • Tools
  • Diapers
  • Bandages
  • First Aid Kits
  • Burn Cream
  • Antibiotic Cream
  • Aloe Cream
  • Bandaids
  • Medical Gloves
  • Gauze
  • Mineral Oil
  • Menstural Pads


An Update from our Missionary in Albania

This is an update letter from Logan Hall, a student at VMI who we are financially supporting to be a missionary in Albania for 11 weeks this summer. Check out how God is using him this summer:

Hello Brothers and Sisters!

It has now been three weeks since I set foot in Europe.  Every week since I have been here has been something new.  I spent my first week getting acquainted with life in Albania.  I had the opportunity to work on the new church building, meet new people, and hand out fliers to advertise the upcoming English classes in our church.  I was invited to spend some time with family friends in Denmark during the second week and it was very interesting to see how God is at work in different nations.  I learned that a lot of people in Denmark have all of their basic necessities covered so a lot of people see no reason to rely on God.  It reminded me of the Matthew 19:24 with says “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  I was able to leave an English bible with the family that they could use in the future and I ask for prayers for the nation of Denmark that God will begin to work more in those living there.  After returning, friends from the UK arrived and we began English lessons shortly afterwards.


I have had bit of time to dive into some books for fun which I have not done in forever!  I have read Helping Christians Understand Islam by George Ainsworth which gives an excellent comparison of Christianity versus Islam.  I found this book very encouraging because I can know understand where Muslims are coming from.  Instead of having an argument or having no true understanding I can have a conversation and find ways to relate which is a blessing all in its own.  I also finish reading Radical Together by David Platt which gave a great view of how to spread the Gospel to the nations.


I am continuing to learn every day what it is like it enter the “mission field.”  Some define the location as your own neighborhood, others as third world countries, some say where disaster has struck, and more as unreached people groups.  As I write about this I pray that God gives me the right words and the wisdom to describe how He is at work.  I believe that a mission field is a place that God places you to teach others the Gospel and to share with others how salvation works.

There are short term missions and long term missions and I believe that God has the ability to use both.  I am working with two gentlemen, Dick and Andrew, from the UK.  They arrived here this past Wednesday and they are here for two weeks.  God has used them not only to help develop the curriculum for the English classes but God has used them to teach me and others how to glorify God every day in all that we do.  God has already used this short term mission to energize them and allowed them to teach so many others.  This has been challenging for them as well as something that they have wanted to do themselves I am certain they will be used even more over this next week.  I still don’t know how God plans to use me throughout the summer.  I have had opportunities to mix and mingle with the locals, develop friendships, and dive more into my relationship with God.  It just goes to show that whether it is for a short period or a long period God can use each of us.

The team!  From left to right: Edi, Logan, Andrew (UK), Zion, Noel, Dhurata, Valbona, Debra, Gracey, and Dick (UK)

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Developing relationships on the streets has continued to be a wonderful way for me to reach out to others and share the Gospel.  I sit out on the steps of Sam and Sofia’s market diagonal from the church in our little square. I’m there on a nightly basis.  I recently shared with some friends, "On another note to add to current events: a Protestant, a Catholic, a Muslim, someone who just believes in good and evil, and one more person sit on a stoop to talk about religion in two languages at once...TO BE CONTINUED... prayer is always helpful!"  This happened sitting right out front of the market!  How crazy!  God works in amazing ways.

Out on the step I have met Clete who is a practicing Muslim and a personal trainer.  He comes up and asks random questions out of the blue about Christianity.  There is Klyde who works at the coffee shop and we are both helping each other learn languages since we are both on beginner levels for Albanian and English.  Julio is Klyde’s brother.  He understands English well and is working with me to get better at speaking it himself.  I am now known as Dajë Logan (Uncle Logan) to Amos who is almost three and the son to Sam and Sofia. There are many others I have met out on sidewalk.  It has been an awesome opportunity and I ask for prayers that I can share the Gospel more with these individuals.


Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”  Meditate on this scripture for a while.  It is so simple yet such a powerful verse.

  • The Holy Spirit will continue to work in us and through us as we teach others English and about the Gospel
  • For knowledge and wisdom so that we share the right words with those around us
  • Protection as the body of Christ grows.  There is always the possibility that Satan will fight back with what is going on here.  We are all in a constant spiritual battle
  • There will be opportunities to meet with those in the classes one on one to share the Gospel

Restoration 2.0

In last week's newsletter (if you haven't read, please read's important to the life and health of our church), I mentioned what I've been calling "Restoration 2.0". 

What, might you ask, is "Restoration 2.0"?

I'm glad you did! Restoration 2.0 is who we are becoming. It's the updated version of the church we started in 2012. It's not something new, it's just us, with some new features and updated applications. It's the next iteration of who we have been called to be...and it's really exciting!

Now, I know every "developer" thinks their update is the best, and some people prefer not to update because battery life goes down (if you have an iPhone), or the new features are not what we're used to, or we just like things to stay the same. I get that. Especially when it comes to technology.

Nothing mission-critical is changing for us, but it's essential that we continue to ask God where He wants to take us, what "tweaks" do we need to make, and how our vision need to be updated to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. So for us, that looks like:

A renewed focus on discipleship
Jesus called us to "make disciples." That's our mission and our calling. So who we're becoming will be who we have been, but with an emphasis on equipping, empowering, and sending people to make disciples. We're going to be asking: who's discipling you (teaching/processing/helping you learn to follow Jesus and seek His Kingdom), and who are you doing that for? In Restoration 2.0, these kind of relationships are critical and expected. 

Prayer must be central to who we are.
We've always been a praying church. But that's never been "out in front" of our identity. It is now. We want to create an atmosphere of prayer, especially on Sunday mornings. That's when we MUST be praying - for each other and for our mission. Think of it this way: when Jesus taught His disciples (see above) to pray, He told them they were to invite "His Kingdom to come, His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven." That's THE big deal. In Restoration 2.0, we long to see the Kingdom happening all around us. And it only happens if/when we pray!

Relationships, relationships, relationships!
Part of our call is to be a presence in the city that fosters relationships, both within the church...but especially with those outside of "us." That's who we are...and who we are called to become. In Restoration 2.0, we will continue to become a source for connection and deep relationships that ultimately demonstrate the love of God to those around us.

Mission and leadership experts say that an organization needs a season of re-visioning every 5 years to stay vital and be a movement (instead of a static organization). I think that feels right. We're 5, almost 6 years in, and God has been leading us toward this update for about a year. It's been a journey, discovering who He is calling us to be and how He is transforming us as we go. In his book Canoeing the Mountains, leadership expert Tod Bolsinger describes a leading, transformative church this way (paraphrase):

an energized community of people moving toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.

I pray Restoration 2.0 will be this kind of energized community, because this is who God has invited us to become. We want to be intent on our own transformation, because that's what following Jesus looks like. And we definitely believe we have a mission to our city, our valley, and our changing world. 

So here's your invitation: Be discipled. Go make disciples. Pray. Build relationships with people in the name of Jesus. if you interested in any of these, or just want to know what it could look like for you, just email me or Kayla. All of this is part of following Jesus, and God is leading us to a place where this is simply "normal" for us, part of who we are...and who we are becoming.  

Moving toward transformation and on mission with you. 



I started my summer reading list this past week with a new book called "Reset - Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture" by  counselor/speaker/professor/pastor David Murray. (With all those titles, I'm assuming he knows a thing or two about burnout!)

Anyway, the first part of the book is all about diagnostics: how do you determine if you are on a path toward burnout? Or at least operating at a deficit emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Being mindful of things like: perfectionismDiet. Sleep. Comparison. Pride. People-pleasing. One of these on it's own is manageable. Two might not be totally unhealthy, but is likely unsustainable. Three or might be in trouble. 

At any rate, the one that jumped out at me was what the author called "backsliding." He defines that as:

"...the gradual loss of contact with God through regularly rushed or missed daily devotions, or of the life lived independently of God, resulting in a growing distance between us and God, and a growing proximity to temptation and sin."  

- David Murray

The thing I like about that definition is the simple diagnostics of it. There's no judgement, no shame...just the practical assessment of our condition. The thing I also like: it assumes that the baseline for every Christian is a regular contact with and connection to God.

I wonder, in our "burnout culture", where we stand with that definition. Are I...are with a baseline of regular connection to and contact with Jesus? Or is  "backsliding" more of our baseline? 

I think the primary tool of the enemy in our day is to keep us distracted and disconnected from God. If we believe there is an enemy to our souls, wouldn't it make sense for Him to keep the distance between us and the source of our strength/power/faith growing? If he can do that, he knows we're definitely headed toward a faith burnout.

Jesus described the situation like this to His disciples: 

"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing."

- Jesus

My hope for us as a church is that we cultivate that connection. Because the consequences are tragic if we don't. And the lie of the enemy (and our pride) is that we can sustain a life, and a faith, without it. 

Perhaps the place to start is a simple diagnostic in your own (and my own) life. Do I have a sense of contact and connection with God that's regular? Or is distance more descriptive? Do I carve out regular time to hear and gain strength from "the Vine," or am I separated from it? 

The simplest model I've seen over the years for maintaining this connection is simply called S.O.A.P.:


It starts by grabbing a cup of coffee (or wine, or beer...whatever!), and sitting down. Stop rushing. Just sit. 

And then: read a short section of Scripture. 4-8 verses is plenty. Maybe more if you're in an OT story. Maybe less in other parts of the Bible. But just read it. Twice. 

And then: Ask yourself, "what stands out here? What words seem interesting? What phrases catch my mind/heart? Why?" 

And then: Ask God, "why does this stand out? What are you saying to me? How does this apply in my life?" (You might even write some of this down. In a journal. Or in your Bible. Or on your hand...whatever.) 

And then: Pray. Like: "Jesus, make this true/real in my life." And then pray for your wife, your kids, your friends, your finances, your dog...whatever is pressing in at that moment.

That's pretty much it. Over time, it's amazing what God says, what kind of wisdom and revelation comes, what strength is gained, and how faith grows. 

I pray we would all be connected to the vine. I pray we would avoid the pitfalls of our burnout culture. And I pray we would walk in power, and the fruit would be abundant. 

Walking with you,


Do You Have Older and Younger People in Your Life?

"Who are the older men or women in your life who are a source of wisdom, strength, grace, and encouragement?"

Last month I was at a conference and the speaker asked the audience the above question. So, if you think back at your life, who are the people who have influenced you?

Who are the people who showed you how to follow Jesus?

When I took a moment to reflect on this question, a flood of older women came to my mind. The Sunday school teachers who picked me up for church, a mom in her 40s who loved me and my friends when I was in high school, seniors who met with me for coffee when I was a freshmen at Roanoke College, women at Restoration who have had me over for dinner, and the list goes on...

My life wouldn't be the same without these women. In the case of some of them, I may not have followed Jesus without their influence. 

That same speaker also asked: 

"Who are the younger men and women in your life and are you a source of these things for them?"

He went on to say that during college and young adult years people either decide to follow Jesus or they decide to walk away. His challenge was that we will lose an entire group of millennials unless we take inter-generational discipleship seriously. 

As much as I hate to label myself as a millennial, what I heard him say was startling but true. 

I shutter to think about where I would be if I didn't have older men and women who were invested in my life. 

In the Bible, Paul modeled this for us with his relationship with Timothy and we can see a glimpse of their relationship in 2 Timothy. With tender love, Paul addresses his letter to "My dear son" and he tells Timothy:

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." - 2 Timothy 2:1

We are given this example of not only receiving guidance from someone older, but also passing along what we have learned. 

Imagine what would happen if in our community we were all in a relationship with someone who we could learn from and then we were intentionally pouring into one person who was younger. 

I think that we would begin to see more people who enter into adulthood with a security in their identity in Christ. We would see more healing and restoration. We would see more Jesus. 

Let me speak for us millennials for a second. 

We need you. 

It is so easy to feel disqualified, especially in this culture that preaches perfection. Lies crop up about not knowing enough or not feeling like you have enough wisdom. Jesus rarely (aka almost never) chose people who had everything together.

Jesus' disciples didn't "get it" at first, they messed up, they lacked faith sometimes, but ultimately Jesus used them to change the world. 

What would it look like to let God work through us to love people who are younger? Who are you going to invest in during 2018?

Thanks for what you already do to love people!


P.S. Listen to the entire teaching from Dr. Gordon Smith here. 


  • Restoration Kids needs a K-1 teacher and a Sunday School aide! If you have kids, love kids, or act like a kid, this might be the gig for you! These are both a one-time per month commitment, all materials are provided.Contact Julie Habeeb to sign up:


  • Christmas Eve service will be 4:30pm at the Salem YMCA. Come join us for a candlelight service, perfect for celebrating the Light that came into the world!!


  • On New Years Eve, Sunday Dec. 31, instead of meeting at the YMCA, we're going to have brunch together at Mac and Bobs. See you there at 9:30am for some sweet potato pancakes or a Boston Zone!


  • If God has blessed you this year, please consider partnering with us and giving a year-end gift. We have big plans for 2018, and want to finish 2017 strong! Checks can be dropped in the towers near the coffee table on Sunday or mailed to P.O. Box 902 Salem, VA 24153 and you can always give online. Deadline for 2017 giving is Jan 3. Please date checks Dec 31, 2017.

A Cure For Our Hardheartedness

"When God becomes King, on earth as it is in heaven, He will provide a cure for hardness of heart. The healing that Jesus offered for sick bodies was to penetrate to the very depths of one's being. Transformed lives, healed from the inside out, are to be the order of the day when God becomes King...[there is] a many-sided transformation Jesus seems to have believed would happen when people followed Him and discovered what it meant for God to become King."   - NT Wright, Simply Jesus

This last weekend, we took on the idea of religion and politics. Well, we didn't. Peter did. In his letter to the early church. We just talked about it. 

What really jumped out at me this last week was how much anger there is in our culture at the moment. So. Much. Anger. People are mad about everything. We're mad about Trump. We're mad about the media. We're angry about congressional deadlock and cronyism and Russia and healthcare...the list just goes on and on.

But it's not just politics. It spills over into our relationships. It's in our communities and our neighborhoods and our families. We get angry, and finding complaint or blaming or demonizing are easier options than working things out with grace and forgiveness. 

And I guess that's the thing. Because anger turns from righteous to self-righteous pretty quickly. That's part of what we talked about on Sunday - how anger can take these two roads. Righteous anger that is motivated by compassion. This kind of anger motivates us to do something proactive and for people. It softens our hearts to the needs of others.

The other kind of anger is more readily identifiable in our world. It's a self-righteous anger that trades on ego and frustration. It's oppositional in nature, with lots of emotion directed at those with whom we disagree. This kind of anger motivates us to complain about things we can't control, to blame and demonize and tear the "other side" down. We become jaded, and it produced a hardness to our lives. Especially in our hearts. 

I love what NT Wright says above because I think it perfectly captures the situation. When we find ourselves complaining and blaming and demonizing, anything righteous about our anger disappears, replaced by "self." And when "self" is king, there's less grace. Less forgiveness. And every little perceived offense just hardens the heart a little more.

But when God is King, it moves us in the other direction. The more He has reign in our lives, the less "self" in control. We see people the way He does. We traffic in more grace, not less. We have more forgiveness to offer people...even those who offend us.

That's what it looks like when God is King. And it's the only cure for hardness of heart.

So as you consider your circle of relationships - from work, to school, to home and family - do you find yourself trafficking in more: complaint or grace? Blame or forgiveness?

When 'self' is king, our hearts will only grow harder. But when God is King...we find a cure that heals us from the inside out. 

Which way are you moving?


We All Have A Question To Ask Ourselves

Don't tell Scott, but I stole his Lion King illustration from Sunday for a talk I gave this week (if you didn't hear his sermon, listen to it online, it is AWESOME! While you're at it, read 1 Peter 2:4-12)

Every July for the last 4 years I've spoken to a small group of recent high school graduates. There is a small summer program that meets at Roanoke College to prepare students for college.

Each year I talk about 3 things: knowing God, knowing your identity, and knowing your purpose. 

This year, I issued a new challenge. 

We can KNOW our identity and our purpose, but what good does that do if it doesn't change how we live? We have a choice. To just sit in the knowledge that we are uniquely created by God for a mission or to actually live into that calling. 

Surprisingly, one girl that I was speaking to hadn't seen the Lion King.

As we were all explaining the movie to her so I could use the analogy, one guy interrupted us and said "It's basically Hamlet." I looked at her with a stunned expression....she didn't know a Disney film but she knew Shakespeare. 

As we talked about the decision that we each face to either be complacent or live actively for God's purposes, some people connected with the Lion King. With the idea of Simba leaving the easy life with Timon and Pumbaa to return to take his rightful place as King.

I looked at the girl who hadn't experienced the Lion King and, after a thoughtful pause, she said, 

"To be or not to be"

Then everyone picked up on the simplicity of that line. While it may be a little black and white, there is some truth to the juxtaposition. 

We either live into the identity God has given us or we don't. 

Transitioning from high school from college is a natural time to choose how you are going to live and what you are going to live for. 

But we each have that choice in front of us every single day. So, for you....

To be, or not to be, that is the Question.