Devotional: Justified By Faith

Romans 5:1-8
5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
5:7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

No one said it was going to be easy, this thing called faith.
No one said it would be easy, but yet there is something that we hold on to, come back to, search for, long for, and strive to find.

Faith in God is something that humanity has struggled with for millennia. Israel means the one who struggles with God
Israel as a nation struggled with the notion of one God alone, the struggled with listening to God’s voice or God’s messengers to fulfill the teachings and commands.

The disciples throughout the Gospels never fully comprehended the ministry of Christ; they could not connect the dots between the words proclaimed and the ministry given to their everyday life. The letters we find in the New Testament shows us quarreling between factions within the early church; we read about factions forming on who was more right and who was the true and proper way.

One of my favorite professors in seminary once said, “I know the church is of God because people have been messing it up for 2000 plus years and it’s still with us.”

On top of that, throughout history humanity has found ways to gain power by any means necessary. Some use might and brute force; others use coercion or even their own religion’s teachings to force people into submission for their own gain.
Humanity has longed for peace not only between warring nations but in our own hearts, minds, and souls.

Discord, unease, the stress of life, disharmony and disunity not to mention the problems of the world some too great for our minds to fully comprehend and formulate a reasonable answer or even possible solution.

Paul reminds the church in Rome that the feeling of despair about the world, the unease we have about life, all of the worries of our own heart and minds are by a byproduct of the faith we have in God through Jesus the Christ.

This faith opens our eyes to what is happening in our world, in our nation or in our backyard. It calls us to view things differently and with fresh eyes. We begin to see the world through a new lens one that is shaped and guided by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. We are called as followers of Christ to see the world as Jesus would see it, to see humanity as Jesus see them, to give as Jesus would give, to love who Jesus would love (and that’s everyone).

Paul reminds the Roman church that what awaits them is peace, reconciliation, hope, and mercy.
This is the hope and the faith that we have! The hope and the faith and we are called to embody and proclaim!
There must be more to this life than merely existing. The journey with God calls us to make this love, joy, peace, goodness, empathy, and patience known and shown in the world today.

This is the best ‘witness’ one can have. This is the fulfillment of the journey and our faith.
It is something that will never have a finish line per se but this should not mean we don’t stop continuing striving for the realm of God to be in our midst.

This week let us look for ways that God is calling us to view the world differently, to see our neighbors differently, to open our hearts to the moving of the Spirit. Faith can be a difficult journey but throughout our walk with God, we can find along the way the strength to continue.

We Can’t Go Back

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A lot has been taking place in our world over the past weeks. It all began with a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 105,000 people in the United States alone. The pandemic then began to be a partisan talking point for politicians and elected officials to criticize the other party. I am like many of you, I want things to go back to how they were before the pandemic. I am tired of wearing a mask to the store; I still wonder when the right time will be to take my wife and children into a restaurant safely. I am ready to have physical in person worship again; it is odd preaching, praying, and offering communion to an empty sanctuary. The focus for much of these past few months has been COVID19, the economy and the ever-growing unemployment numbers. Then there were the deaths of Ahmaud Arbrey and George Floyd. Both men were killed in tragic and senseless ways. Aubrey was shot while running because two men thought he was a burglary suspect. Floyd had a knee to his throat for over eight minutes by a Minneapolis Police Officer for allegedly using counterfeit money. 

Because of these deaths, peaceful protests have sprung up all over the country and some have turned violent. Looting, rioting, burning of buildings and even more innocent deaths are taking place. Things seem out of control, out of our hands. We mourn for the loss of life that spurred these peaceful protests but are unsure what to do next. We call on God to send the Spirit of Peace much like God did during the day of Pentecost.

Hearts need to be mended and souls need to be put back together.

The Book of Isaiah speaks to what God wants from God’s people. The opening chapter is a vision from God that Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel. They have become a nation who just goes through the motions. They are good at having their religious celebrations and festivals, but their hearts are not changed or moved by the commands and calls of God. Prophets, like Isaiah, had the task of speaking God’s word to the people but most of the time the people did not want to hear it. Like us today, Israel thought they were doing fine. They believed that things were going well for them and nothing needed to change; they liked things the way they were. It was comfortable (for most people) and why “rock the boat?”. God’s message to them was clear “cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16b-17)  In other words, it’s time to change; God’s laws and Gospel demand it.

We can not and should not go back to the way things were before this pandemic and before these tragic deaths, to do so would violate everything the Gospel stands for.

We cannot go back to a time when people are shot due to the color of their skin or on the assumption of guilt. 

We cannot go back to a time where people continue to struggle for food, comfort, shelter, not when we are the most prosperous country on the planet.

We cannot go back to a time where we did not place others before ourselves.

These are wide casting statements, I know that. I am not saying that there aren’t people who have been doing good in our community, but we need to join with them. These statements are easier said than done but we have to try. I know this sounds like an impossible task but we have to start somewhere. Something has to change, the way things always were is no longer an option.

God is calling us to examine the ways we are living, the ways we are interacting with each other. God is calling us to reflect on what we believe and how we are living into that belief. God is calling us to continue to do good, speak to the evils in our society. God is calling us to turn away from what has brought us down and embody the message of love, true and unconditional love. 1 John 4:20 reminds us “Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen!”

During this time of uncertainty, let us pray not just for the end of violence but for the start of conversations. We need to examine our lives, our actions, and our history so that we do not fall into the same traps of repeating things just because they are easy. We must not back down when others are being hurt. We cannot not turn away when our brothers and sisters are facing injustice. God is calling all of God’s faithful to stand for justice but also join with others on the front lines and those who have been there for generations. It is time to move forward; we cannot go back.

Jesus calls us to seek out the lost sheep, to find the one who is in pain and missing. We seek after that one because our faith demands that those in need must be cared for and must be looked after. This will not be easy, but it is the right thing to do.

Join me as we continue to seek peace, grace and justice not just now, but forevermore.

Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

May it be so.

The Work Ahead

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Devotional by Rev. Evan M Dolive for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview, TX

2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (New Revised Standard Version)

A lot has been taking place in our world over the past weeks. It all began with a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 105,000 people in the United States alone. The pandemic then began to be a partisan talking point for politicians and elected officials to criticize the other party. I am like many of you, I want things to go back to how they were before the pandemic. I am tired of wearing a mask to the store; I still wonder when the right time will be to take my wife and children into a restaurant safely. I am ready to have physical in person worship again; it is odd preaching, praying, and offering communion to an empty sanctuary. The focus for much of these past few months has been COVID19, the economy and the ever-growing unemployment numbers. Then there were the deaths of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd. Both men were killed in tragic and senseless ways. Aubrey was shot while running because two men thought he was a burglary suspect. Floyd had a knee to his throat for over eight minutes by a Minneapolis Police Officer for allegedly using counterfeit money.

Because of these deaths, peaceful protests have sprung up all over the country and some have turned violent. Looting, rioting, burning of buildings and even more innocent deaths are taking place. Things seem out of control, out of our hands. We mourn for the loss of life that spurred these peaceful protests but are unsure what to do next. We call on God to send the Spirit of Peace much like God did during the day of Pentecost. Hearts need to be mended and souls need to be put back together.

The Book of Isaiah speaks to what God wants from God’s people. The opening chapter is a vision from God that Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel. They have become a nation who just goes through the motions. They are good at having their religious celebrations and festivals, but their hearts are not changed or moved by the commands and calls of God. Prophets, like Isaiah, had the task of speaking God’s word to the people but most of the time the people did not want to hear it. Like us today, Israel thought they were doing fine. They believed that things were going well for them and nothing needed to change; they liked things the way they were. It was comfortable (for most people) and why “rock the boat?”. God’s message to them was clear “cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16b-17) In other words, it’s time to change; God’s laws and gospel demand it.

During this time of uncertainty, let us pray not just for the end of violence but for the start of conversations. We need to examine our lives, our actions, and our history so that we do not fall into the same traps of repeating things just because they are easy.

Jesus calls us to seek out the lost sheep, to find the one who is in pain and missing. We seek after that one because our faith demands that those in need must be cared for and must be looked after. This will not be easy but it is the right thing to do.

Join me as we continue to seek peace, grace, and justice not just now, but forevermore.

May it be so.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Theology On Tap: Social Distancing Edition

I am part of a group of ministers in Longview, Texas that gathers monthly to have discussions about faith and life at a local brewery and we call it Theology on Tap.  For the first time, we had to gather virtually, and below is the video of our discussion about faith and COVID-19.  Enjoy!

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Anytime and Anywhere

A devotional I wrote for First Christian Church (DOC), Longview, TX


 

Taking Up The Cross

 

Devotional: Psalm 23 and COVID19

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A devotional I wrote for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Longview, TX

One of the most memorized and recited passages in all the Bible is the 23rd Psalm. There is something about this particular scripture that is captivating, familiar, and constant. For many people, it is comforting and often read at funerals to remind those gathered that God is present with them. This text draws on the image of God being the Good Shepherd. The people of Israel have a difficult past; many times they turned against God by disregarding God’s laws and directives. The psalmist is trying to convey to the people that God is still with them.
While this is one of the most popular texts in the Bible, one key theme sticks out throughout the rest, a truth that is being spoken to the church today during this global pandemic.

God is with us!
God is pursuing us!
God is the only thing we need!

We, as the body of Christ, must rely on God every day, especially in these times of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.

The psalmist reminds us that:
God is the only one who can bring us life.
God is the only one who can bring us hope.
God is the only one who can bring us peace.
God is the only one who can bring us still waters and green pastures.
God is the only one who can lead us down the right path.

The psalmist is yelling in the wilderness, “I am not going to rely on humanity anymore. I don’t care if I am mocked, laughed at, or scorned. There is more to life than what others think of me.”
The psalmist is calling out to the people of Israel reminding them that God is their protector, God is their Shepherd and God will be with them throughout life and even through death.

Think of the shift of thinking that is involved when we say, even though I walk…. Even though I walk… the psalmist is not complaining that he/she is walking down the path that he/she doesn’t know where it will end up. Rather, the trust is put in God; having faith and abiding in, turning to God, in times of sorrow, lament, joy, and frustration. I know this is easy to say, but hard to do.

We can use the words of the psalmist today. We are bombarded constantly with things pulling at our lives, our hearts, and minds.

The outside world can get so loud it can be deafening. What would our lives be like if we think of God’s presence and say:

Even though I walk with illness, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with stress, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk in a world full of hate towards others, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk in a world of uncertain times, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with Financial problems, I will not be afraid.
Even though I walk with Death, or even near-death I will not be afraid.

May we know that God is here, God is present, God is ready, God is able to offer protection from the harsh winds of the world.

The Worst Things are Never the Last Things

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In Christianity, a lot of time and energy (for good reasons) is directed at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is the central story of the faith. Whether it is hymns or prayers, the focus of Christianity is that Jesus the Christ came to the world, taught the world about the Kingdom of God, was killed, and then was resurrected. For many people, the story stops there. After the resurrection, the triumph of death, what more is there? Isn’t that the entire point of the Gospels?

In the Gospel of Luke, we read an interesting story about the time after the resurrection. Two disciples are on their way to a town called Emmaus. They had just heard about how the body was Jesus was not in the tomb anymore. Jesus joins them on the road but the disciples are not able to recognize him. The disciples are discussing all that had happen and are flabbergasted that this new person joining them on the way did not know what had taken place in Jerusalem; it was a big deal to see Jesus who had made a name for himself be crucified and die.

Along the way, Jesus is giving them instructions and final teachings but it is only in the breaking of bread, a subtle reminder of the importance of holy communion, that the eyes of the disciples are open. They see that it is Jesus and they were overcome with joy. But just as quickly as they realized who was with them, Jesus disappeared.

Other gospels tell different stories about what the disciples and Jesus did after the resurrection. The Gospel of John has the disciples hiding for their lives. The disciples in the Gospel of Mark do not meet the risen Christ. In all the gospels, the stories of after the resurrection after a similar message: hope is still with us, even when the future looks bleak.

Theologian Frederick Buechner once wrote that “the worst isn’t the last thing about the world.” After the death of Jesus, the disciples and the followers of Christ must have felt as if they were punched in the gut. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah; they wanted the Davidic line to re-established. The people of Israel wanted their land back from the Roman occupiers. They didn’t want the Roman Empire to the superpower of the world, they wanted it for themselves. This is not the kind of kingdom that Jesus was trying to usher in. Many times in the Bible we are told that the disciples did not understand fully what was taking place while Jesus was with them. They would argue about who would the greatest in this new Kingdom. When Jesus spoke about having to die Peter scolded him.

The “Road to Emmaus” story is a story of hope for us. During a time when the disciples thought all was lost, that all they had been apart of was over, Jesus showed them that God is able to do the unexpected. For many of us, COVID19 is one of the worst things we could think of. Our lives have been altered and changed; we have moved from being interrupted to being disrupted. But the movement of God in our lives shows us that the worst things are not the last things. God is still in control; God is still present with us. God is walking beside us even when we do not see God.

Where are those places where we are missing God? How will God open our eyes to see the glory of God and the power of the Spirit? Let us not focus on things that remind us pain and sorrow; rather let us remember that God is God and we are not. Let us remember that even though things may rough, even though things may not be how we wished they were, God is still walking with us, present with us.

This is what we must hold on to as we continue to journey through the Easter season, even during a pandemic.

Don’t Miss The Resurrection

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My latest for the Longview News-Journal


We have all experienced a unique Easter Sunday. We celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ without the pomp and joyous celebration that we have been accustomed to. We might have dressed up in our Easter suits and dresses to watch a live stream of our congregation online or stayed in our pajamas. We were not able to hunt eggs with our church families or even our neighborhood friends. Singing “Up From The Grave” sounds different in a living room instead of being in a sanctuary. I know for many people Easter was not as joyous has it had been in years past. The holiest day of the year was changed due to shelter in place orders and social distancing. Many people have grieved the loss of their worship experience. They have grieved the loss of connections. We are slowly finding out that a church community was much more critical and vital to our lives than we once thought. In the midst of a global pandemic where we are ensuring to do our part to slow the spread of this disease, we are finding that human relationships, human connections, and community are essential to our lives. Recently I was on a Zoom conference call with some high school and college students. Many of the students told me that they were tired of the virtual connection and wanted to see their friends face to face again. Something is lost when we move only to online worship or online bible studies. I found it interesting that a generation that is often wrongly labeled as being “addicted” to their phones was yearning for more personal connections. If we are honest, we are all yearning for the same thing. Our hearts break when we have to think about summer without traveling for a vacation or visiting family and friends. Churches are having to consider what to do about Vacation Bible Schools or summer camps. This is not the Easter season we thought we would find ourselves in.

We do not know what the future will be like. We have been traveling down this road of COVID19, and there is no end in sight. We are fearful that this uncertainty will be the new normal. Projections are all over the place when it comes to reestablishing some sort of normalcy, but no one can know for sure.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 20, we find a story about the disciples after the death and burial of Jesus.

This story is one that we might forget even takes place after the Resurrection. There no parties, no celebration, no trumpets or angels singing. Instead, we find the disciples hiding. They were in a room with the door locked, maybe the lights were low, and everyone was trying to keep quiet. Tensions were high, and the disciples do not know what to do, where to go, or how they will ever get through this phase of life. They were wanted men, and this is not what they thought would happen when they decided to follow Jesus.

They were afraid and were hoping all of it would just go away.  I imagine that in that room, there were some interesting conversations or internal dialogue: “Can’t things just go back to normal? When will it all be back to how it once was?

Christ was dead; his body was gone. Mary said she saw him but I’m not sure. Did we really see those things? What have we gotten ourselves into?  I should have just stayed in the boat when he called out to me. This Jesus guy has been more trouble than I thought he would be… my anxiety is through the roof,” and so on.

The disciples had devoted their lives to Jesus and traveled with him as he was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and now he is dead and the disciples, the ones who the faith was entrusted to, are all now hiding for their lives. In this moment of uncertainty and dread, of confusion and sadness, Christ just shows up in the room, just pops in a like magician. He offers them peace and the Holy Spirit.

At that moment, Jesus is meeting them where they are. He is finding a way to break through the walls and structures that they have erected around their hearts and minds. This is how Christ operates today. Jesus is breaking through in the places where we least expect it. We are missing the Resurrection around us! In our search for something familiar, we are missing that God is present with us all the time! Don’t get me wrong I am ready to have some face to face interaction. I am ready not to have to wear a mask when I go in public. However, I do not want to miss the new life that is happening. We do not want to miss the moments when Jesus comes into our lives. Throughout this pandemic and shelter in place time, I have witnessed the movement of the people of God in exciting and powerful ways. People’s hearts are opening; they are finding ways even in our isolation to extend the love of God. My prayer is that this does not stop when we return to “normal” living (whatever that means). We need to see the power of the Resurrection around us. We need to understand that God’s love and power cannot be contained to a worship service or even a day. Just like the disciples, we too are looking for Jesus to pop in and make himself known. We just have to open our eyes and look, and I am confident that God will be there.

Sometimes it is merely faith that keeps us going; we will never have all the answers or a perfect rationale for everything wrong in the world or even an exact timeline when things will ease up. Still, we will always have Christ; we will always have the connection of God wherever we might be. We must choose to have faith and journey with each other down this road in this thing called life. So take a moment this week and look for Jesus where ever you might found yourself.

Resurrection is Happening! (Podcast)

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Below is my latest episode from my podcast “And Also With Y’All” entitled ‘Resurrection is Happening!”

Enjoy and be sure to follow the podcast where ever you listen!

You can find all the places that the podcast is hosted by clicking here.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan