Pastor’s Blog

I seek to post a blog each Tuesday and Thursday at about 8:00 a.m.  Many mornings I am writing these blogs as nearly the first activity of the day, so they may come just a bit later.  Thanks for your patience when this is so.  JWG

May 21, 2020

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

                                                                                                                   Psalm 118:24

             This verse of the Scripture is a favorite beginning word for many.  It is a favorite word of greeting for ministers in a worship service.  It is a favorite beginning word as we wake in the morning and consider a new day before us.  It is a favorite beginning word, although it comes very near the end of a wonderful psalm of thanksgiving and praise.

This is the day—I believe it is helpful to see each day as a gift.  Days can be spent with little attention given to how one might be of value over another.  We can receive them as we might so many things, without giving thought to the value.  I had given little thought to the value of a handshake until recent days, when we are inclined to refrain.  What is a day like this one to us?  This might be a day when we are able to do a day of physical work.  Another day may come when we, due to weakness, are not able to lift or to labor, as we do today.  This may be a day of sound thinking and planning.  A day may come when we cannot think so clearly or make plans of our own choosing.  This may be a day of caring for a child.  A day may come when the children are grown and there is no need for your time used in this way.  How can we value the present day?

This is the day the LORD has made.  God is the author of our days.  He has made a world with ongoing days.  One day will flow into another.  This is quite a wonderful thing, that there can be a progression.  We are the beneficiaries of ongoing learning, ongoing development, and ongoing blessing.  This day that the LORD has given is one more that enables life and love toward God and toward others.  There is a purposeful design of God carried forward in the days that the LORD has made.  Each day moves us toward the fulfilment of what God has designed.  There was a day when a word of prophesy was spoken by Isaiah of the coming of Immanuel.  That day came in Jesus’ birth.  Here in this same psalm, David spoke of “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” (Psalm 118:22).  There was a day long after his speaking where this was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This day is part of the progression until a future day, when Christ Jesus will come again.

The New International Version of the Bible, puts the name of God, the LORD, in capital letters.  It does so to translate the covenant name of God, that precious name that the Jews did not want to use in vain.  Even as David wrote it, he recalled a God who he knew, who he loved, who had revealed Himself to David.  Do you know the LORD?

I will rejoice and be glad in it.  Do you wake with joy?  Are you a person who has a disposition of gladness?  You might be one who is waking these days in pain.  You may be one who wakes with a heaviness of heart.  You may be one who wakes with a fearfulness about these days.  Can a person who faces challenge still rejoice and be glad?  I think so.  We do not pretend to live without challenge, but we trust in a God that we know, who is able to do all things well.  This psalm has a repeated line.  It is this one, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  This is our reason for rejoicing in each day:  that God is good and his love endures forever.

This day, unless specially marked, will likely be forgotten, but it is of value.

I close with a line that someone spoke many years ago in my presence.  I forget the author and may not have the words just right, but it has stuck with me:

Take this day and give it to God, and a life of holy moments, will constitute a holy life.

“This is the day the LORD has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

 

May 19, 2020

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

                                                                                        John 6:40 (NIV)

             Recently one of our church friends died in his home unexpectedly.  Although he had some health concerns, we were not anticipating his death.  I was comforted by recalling an event that happened not so long ago regarding this man.  I shared it with his adult daughter, and she was also encouraged in the hearing of it.

In early March of this year, while we were still meeting for church in our normal pattern , I gave a chance to come to the altar (the area near the front of the worship area) after the sermon.  It was a time to commit or recommit one’s life to the Lord or to come for prayer.  I went to each one that responded and came.  I asked how I might pray for them and then prayed.  The man who died was one of those who came.  He was a Christian, but he expressed how he wanted to recommit himself to Christ.  We talked for a moment and I prayed for him.

While people are often religious and church goers, it is a great comfort to know that a person has put their trust, their belief, in the Son, Jesus Christ by their direct confession.  To hear of her father’s desire and the action he took, reaffirmed his desire to look to the Son.  It lifted her spirit to hear of it.

Jesus said that it is his Father’s will that we might look to the Son, look to him, and believe in him.  The Father will give to the one who believes in the Son, eternal life.  This one will be raised up at the last day.  To believe in the Son, is not just to believe that Jesus existed.  It is more than that.  It is to believe that Jesus was God’s Son, who lived a sinless life here on earth. Jesus gave his life in payment for our sin when he died upon the cross.  In believing in him, we are acknowledging our sin and seeking to be forgiven.  God the Father will make a great transfer—our sin put upon His Son, and His Son’s righteousness given to us.  Check out 2 Corinthians 5:21 or 1 John 5:11 and 12 for verses that explain this great exchange.

It was a great encouragement to this daughter and to me, to know that a faith claimed long ago by this man, was still a real and personal faith.  God was working in him and he was seeking to be cooperative.

May it be so with us who may have claimed Jesus and Lord and Savior sometime in the past.  May our lives reflect a living faith, a real desire to honor Christ with our living in the present.

What a great hope is reflected in Jesus’ words!  We rarely know how soon we will slip from this life into eternity.  Each day can be a day to renew and recommit ourselves to One who holds us and makes the way for us.

 

May 14, 2020

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.”

                                                                                                Philippians 2:1-4(NIV)

 We enter the world with a self-serving orientation.  What baby ever gave thought to his mother’s lack of sleep, when hungry?  It seems that life continues that way for most, unless shaped by others or God, to consider a different orientation to living.  Being Christian, does not automatically prune out our selfish ambition or looking to our own interests.  I wish it did.

In the life of the Christian family and in individual Christian churches there is often great strife when our orientation is simply what I want or prefer.  It seems that inevitably there will be those  who want something very different.  Add to this, that we don’t always see things in the same way.  Men and women may see things differently.  Your family of origin may view things a certain way.  Your life experiences shape your views.

I was thinking about how people are living within these coronavirus days.  Some are seeking to obey all the recommendations from the governor or the President, while others are going rogue.  I know that we likely have a range of behaviors, opinions, and expectations of how we should be living in these days.

The Apostle Paul gives us a good guiding principle for our actions and attitudes within the Christian family.  He calls us to remember the great benefit that we have in Christ.  It is not earned or deserved.  Yet, God has encouraged us with His grace, comforted us with His love, and given us fellowship with His Spirit.  In light of these great benefits, and others, the Apostle Paul encourages us to have a spirit of grace and of humility toward others.  He calls us to consider others better than ourselves, and to look to the interests of others.

The NIV Study Bible says being like-minded does not imply uniformity in thought, but the common disposition to work together and to serve one another, living out the attitude of Christ.  We do benefit from different perspectives on non-essential matters of faith.  We can come together well, when we focus on what we have in Christ and how God can enable us to be kindly disposed to one another.

In the days ahead, we will no doubt need to be patient with each other, generous with those who think differently about recommended practices, and willing to consider others better than ourselves.  By God’s grace, we can find life fuller in union with others, who may think differently, but share the same wonderful Savior and Lord.

 

May 12, 2020

“A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.  Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.” 

                                                                                    Proverbs 12:17-19 (NIV)

 I woke up this morning thinking about speaking truth.  I think that most would agree that it is often hard to discern truth in our day.  There are those who speak with an agenda that may manipulate information.  Others speak sincerely, but may not know or understand all of which they speak.   Still others want to speak a word that will be hope-filled, or comforting, but such a word may not be the most truthful word.

I found the words above in Proverbs.  They are a small cluster of verses that give some wisdom about the speaking of words.

I hope that what I write here will be an honest testimony, without an agenda.  I hope my words will not be reckless, but have a word of healing in them.  I hope that what I write will have some value for more than a moment.

I want to try to say a word about this COVID-19 pandemic.  Who could have expected that our lives would change so much in such quick fashion?  Whether all the actions taken are wise or foolish will not be known for quite some time, if ever.  Who can we believe to give us an honest word?

Here are a few of my conclusions at this point.  This virus will be with us much longer than most of us, ever imagined.  It seems that while quarantine might slow the spread, it will not eliminate it.  Masks and hand-washing may help, but they, too, will not stop the virus completely.  It will continue to spread.  A vaccine is not likely to be available soon or at all.  Other realities, such as the consequences of shutting down the economy, have devastating consequences that also affect lives, and directly or indirectly, lead to the loss of lives.  Some are more vulnerable than others.  This most vulnerable group must be most protected and take the most precautions.  Many will die.  If you have a loved one who dies from the virus, you will see things much differently than those who have not had such a connection.  Yet, most who will contract the virus will survive.   We will have to have a large portion of the population get exposed to the virus and survive, combined with a possible vaccination, to produce a herd immunity that will bring the virus under control.  The actions taken by our government and leaders at various levels may determine the length of time that we experience this virus.  Shut-downs and stay-at-home orders, while well-intentioned, seem to only delay our progression through the spread of the virus.

As it comes to our worship, I believe things are going to be different for quite some time.  I was hopeful for the return of in-person worship, but now it appears that the type of in-person worship that will be advised, will not seem like the in-person worship that we have known.  Our congregation, like many others, has many persons in the most vulnerable group.  I would not want to expose them to undo risk.  Even while following all the recommended procedures, it does not seem wise for them to participate in a modified in-person worship.  Our Administrative Council is currently weighing what might be our best course of action regarding worship and other activities in the weeks to come.  It is likely that we will continue the parking lot worship and YouTube sermons.  We may offer an inside the church worship service alongside of these offerings.  A word will be coming soon.

Having said all that, I believe in the goodness and faithfulness of God.  I trust His word, that is truthful and sure.  John 3:16 is still a word to which we cling, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  I found Romans 8:28 early in my Christian life and continue to trust its promise.

Together we will seek to know the Lord, trust the Lord, love each other, and do the work of God in these challenging and confusing times.

 

May 7, 2020

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

                                                                                                            2 Chronicles 7:13, 14 (NIV)

 Today is the National Day of Prayer.  All days can be days of prayer, but it is an opportunity to especially focus on prayer and to be at prayer for our nation, our leaders, our families, our people, and for ourselves.

The above passage was spoken by God to Solomon, after he had finished the building of the temple.  The Lord appeared to him in a dream and said these words, as well as others.  God gives us times of correction.  Here, before God needs to do so, God warns that He will bring discipline through dramatic acts to turn His people back to Himself.

In this season of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, we may not be used to the correction or discipline of God.  The more grace we are given, the more of it we often expect.  Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?”  We should always view God’s discipline as an act of love.

While it may be wrong to view this world-wide pandemic as the discipline of God, we can see how it may be.  It is a plague on the people of the earth.  There has been much drift in our nation from worshiping and honoring God as Lord of all.

God gives us the remedy in the verses above.  God calls us to humble ourselves.  We are called to pray and to seek God’s face.  We are to turn from our wicked ways.  True prayer is an act of humility.  It acknowledges our need before God.  It does turn to God.  In prayer, we can admit our sin, in the attitudes of our hearts, as well as action.  Humbly we ask God to do in us what we cannot do, without God’s help.  In the words, ‘seek my face’, I believe that there is a real sincerity in the prayer to turn to God and to turn from evil and to seek God’s help to do so.  I am so thankful that God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us to do what is God-honoring.

So today, we do stop to pray.  We ask God to reveal our individual sins.  We ask God to show us how as a nation we have drifted from His Word, the Bible.  As God reveals, we humbly pray, asking for forgiveness, for healing, and for the desire to live in God-honoring ways.  We believe that our God is a God who does forgive and heal.

Will you take time to pray, in this way, today?

 

May 5, 2020

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”

                                                                                                2 Timothy 3:14-15

O how valuable are the holy Scriptures!

If you watched my most recent youtube sermon (5/3/20) or were present for the parking lot service on that same date, you heard me tell a story concerning a doctor who asked R.A. Torrey, how he could read the Bible and get something out of it.  For this man, the Bible seemed dry as dust.  R.A. Torrey, who loved the Scriptures, told him to read them.  When the man protested, saying that he did read them, Dr. Torrey told him to read them some more.  He told him to even take one book of the Bible and read it twelve times a day for a month.  The man took his words to heart and it changed his life, as well as his view of the Bible.

Did you know that half the books of the Bible can be read in ten to forty-five minutes each?  Many of the books of the Bible can be read in less than twenty minutes.  The entire Old and New Testaments can be read aloud slowly and with expression in less than seventy-one hours.  Once when I was in Seminary, one of my assignments was to read the entire Old Testament and New Testaments and jot down some reflections.  I think the assignment was to be completed over an extended period of time for there to be maximum benefit.  Unfortunately, I did not start soon enough and ended up reading it all over period of several long days of much reading.  My professor appreciated that I had completed the assignment, but not the speed at which I had done it.

I don’t know that I have ever tried to read just one portion, many times, in one day, for a period, like a month, as Dr. Torrey had suggested.  I have decided that I will give it a try with his suggestion to the man of reading 2 Peter.  I may not read it twelve times a day, but I will try to read it many times.  It is likely that some sermons will come from that portion of the Scriptures.  Maybe you will want to try it with me.  You might want to pick a different book of the Bible, perhaps another of the shorter ones.

The Apostle Paul wrote the words above to Timothy.  Timothy had been taught the Scriptures from his earliest of days.  Both his mother and his grandmother were Christians.  They knew how precious and valuable are the words of God.  The Apostle Paul says that they are able to make a person wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

I am not recommending that you read the Bible to be able to take pride in just reading it.  Instead, I hope that in reading and in rereading, we can be drawn in faith to Jesus Christ, and to a life in Him of wisdom, joy, and peace.

So, I say with Dr. Torrey, “Read it.  Read some more.”

 

April 30, 2020

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

                                                                                                Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

             A little while ago, Mary and I saw something white near a tree in our back yard.  “What is that?” we asked.  I decided to go out and take a look.  It was directly beneath one of the largest trees in our yard.  As I got there, I found that it was mostly feathers.  They were not the long ones, like Indians used to put in headdresses, but those of a soft, more fluffy-type.  There were no bones or other bird body parts, so I was pretty sure that there was no bird battle with another critter.  I looked upward in the tree, just above, and spotted a reasonably-sized nest, in one of the highest branches.

You may be thinking what I am about to write, but here’s my guess.  I have read that with eagles, they build their nests first with sticks, then they line the nest with soft feathers.  Into these feathers they lay their eggs.  Once the birds hatch and grow older, the adult eagles will begin to empty the nest of the soft material, so that the young birds will be encouraged to leave.  The nest won’t be so soft and inviting.

I don’t think that I have an eagle’s nest in my backyard, but maybe hawks or some other birds might do likewise.

I think that we all need a prod to get after the life God wants us to lead.  We may find our tendency is to settle into what is comfortable.  Too often the comfortable is not the place that God would have us stay for very long.

This verse from Hebrews has us help each other by “spurring” each other on toward love and good deeds.  I think of the spurs that cowboys used to wear on their boots.  Those spurs, when used, gave the horse some extra “encouragement.”  I suppose that spurs can we used in a harsh way, but also can be used with just enough force and frequency to provoke some needed effort to a greater degree.  We are to help each other to “get after it”.  What love and good deed can you do for another in these days?  It may be for the ones nearest us or perhaps with someone who could you our just a word of encouragement through a phone call or text.  Whatever it may be, I hope that we will seek to leave the safe and comfortable routines of life, to do the work that God has for us in these days.

April 28, 2020

 “Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David . . . and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.”

Matthew 1:5,6, and 16 (NIV)

I try to follow a Bible reading plan for a year.  It allows you to read the Bible over the course of a year’s time, if you read each day.  A plan like this takes you to places that you might not normally go in the Bible.   Recently, I read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

The book of Ruth tells Ruth’s story, but it does more than that.  It tells us some things about God that we might miss without it.

Ruth enters the story as a secondary character.  A Jewish family of a father, mother, and two sons come to her homeland because of a famine.  They come in search of food.  While there, the sons marry.  Each one marries a woman of that land, one of which was Ruth.  These two young women are Gentiles.  This is quite unusual and not at all the normal or acceptable practice for a Jew.

Tragedy comes to the family, as first the father dies, and then both of the sons die.  Naomi, the mother, remains with two Gentile daughter-in-laws.  Eventually, when things are better in the Jewish homeland, Naomi decides to return.  She encourages her daughter-in-laws to stay put, because they would have more opportunity for remarriage and provision with their own families of origin, than with her.  Orpah does stay, but Ruth clings to Naomi and goes with her back to Israel.  She chooses to remain in the Jewish family and to honor and perhaps provide care to her mother-in-law.

I will leave you to read the rest of the story.  You can see from the scripture that heads up this blog that Ruth becomes a part of the lineage of Jesus.  That is more shocking than you might realize.  A Gentile woman is in the most important lineage in all of creation.  If you read portions of the Bible, you might come to the conclusion that God is only concerned about the Jews.  The places where the Jews are to kill all the Gentiles when they enter the territory are not easy for one who will not seek to understand the why of it.

Yet, in this little book, we see a God who works things for good out of tragedy.  We see a God who cares for the widow.  We see a God who provides a redeemer.  We see a God who will use a woman of heathen origins, as one of the most valued women of all times.

Just when you think that you might have God all figured out, God does some unexpected things.  Just when you are convinced that God has forsaken you, God shows that He is rich in mercy.  There are many questions that a person may have about God or the Bible, but don’t miss the wonderful nature and character of God to be found.  God is merciful to humble sinners of all peoples.  God is desirous of seeing all come to faith in Him.  Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise. . . He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

I encourage you to read the book of Ruth.  It is short and you can read it one setting.  As you do, be encouraged to trust the God of Naomi and of Ruth.  Marvel at the true God.  Put your whole confidence in Him.

 

April 23, 2020

Proverbs 17:22:

King James Version

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Darby Bible Translation

A joyful heart promoteth healing; but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.

World English Bible

A cheerful heart makes good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

New International Version

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

             Are you taking medicine these days?  I remember as a kid, some medicine tasted terrible.  You would almost rather have the problem than take it.  Then, it seemed that some makers of medicine realized this problem and began to make it taste good.  Kids who didn’t even have a cough, worked up a few fake ones to get some cough syrup.  I know some people who take so many pills that they barely need a meal.

A number of years ago, when Mary’s parents were both living, and in need of care, the family took some turns.  I took a turn and knew that one of the responsibilities was to give them their medicine.  I was having trouble locating my father-in-law’s pills.  I was pretty sure they were in one of those pill boxes for the different days.  Finally, I located one.  “Are these your pills?” I asked him.  He wasn’t sure.  He took the batch for the day.  Turned out they were the ones for his wife.  At least for that day, he wouldn’t get pregnant.  Just kidding.

I remember the verse above, loosely quoted, as laughter is good medicine.  It is so true.  I once read a book by a man who experienced a fall while mountain climbing.  He crushed his spine and yet miraculously lived.  He was, however, in tremendous and constant pain.  He wrote that if he had some honest laughter, it relieved his pain better than any medicine.

Without sports to watch and follow, I have taken to some other avenues.  One friend texted me the other day and asked me what I was up to these days.  I said, “I’m learning how to be an electrician.”  There was a little truth to that.  I watched some youtube videos on wiring a house.  Seriously, (or not so seriously), I have watched a fair amount of comedy in some of my free time.  I found this youtube channel called, “Drybar” and it features comedians.  The humor is clean and language is as well.  It has been good to watch a segment, to balance the latest words on the spread of the virus.  Now that I’ve watched a few of these comedians, my computer knows that I like that and so it suggests more.  It would really like to suggest a comedian who tells electrician jokes.

I thought that I might be a little light-hearted today, because much of life is serious.  I am thankful that God has a sense of humor.  God has chosen to let us, unique to all of his creation, to have a sense of humor, too.  Thank you, God for that.

So, I hope for you today, something that lifts your spirit and lightens your heart.  If it comes, be sure to take that medicine.

 

April 21, 2020

Line Of Ants Clipart

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hand to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”

                                                                        Proverbs 6:6-11

             Don’t be a sluggard!  If you didn’t know what the word meant, but someone called you that, I think that you would know that whatever it means, it wasn’t a complement.

What motivates you?  Is it a kind word?  Is it a word of encouragement?  Is it a kick in the seat of your pants?  I think the writer of Proverbs is choosing the latter approach here.  He uses a potent word for lazy.  He chides the one who lies in bed too long, and asks how long?  He tells the consequences of getting into such habits:  poverty and scarcity. I don’t know if it motivates, but he does make his point clear.

The writer does give a positive example in the midst of his instruction.  He calls us all to consider the ant.  The ant is a remarkable creature.  I never had one of those things that had sand inside a see-through container.  Maybe it came with ants.  I’m not sure.  I think that there might have been one at school.  It allowed the observer to see what the ants were doing below the surface.  They are quite a busy set of creatures.  They all seem to have a function and get after it.

I have watched ants from time to time.  They almost seem to have some kind of radar, as they negotiate a certain pattern to or from their place of origin.  Ants can carry things that seem much heavier or bigger than what you might expect.  The Great Creator has taken wonderful care to design them.  There might be a lazy ant, but I don’t think so.

These days are so challenging to us because we are having to cease from work or find new ways to do it.  I walked by a neighbor’s property yesterday.  The father apparently is a heating and cooling worker, based on the words on the van in his drive.  I noticed that the back tire on the van was flat and since he and his young family were out in the yard, I mentioned it to him.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I’m not going to be moving it for another three weeks.”

It is good for us to work and do meaningful things.  Just like the ant, we were created to work and to do.  Adam, the first of our species, was given a job right off the bat.  As Christians, we were also created for purposeful work.  Paul writes, “For we are Christ’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,”  (Ephesians 2:10).  You may not always know just what that work is, but it is good to ask the Lord what you might do for Him this day, as you wake in the morning. You might be attentive to the nudges of His Spirit.

Let’s follow the ant’s lead, even in these days.  Let’s get after the work that is still within our ability to do.  Let’s honor God by working.  May there be no sluggards here.

 

April 16, 2020

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

                                                                                                Romans 5:3,4

I got an unwelcome guest last week:  poison ivy.  Actually, I think it may be poison sumac.   In any regard, it has come for a visit and decided to stay for an undetermined length of time.

I know something about the poison family of plants.  I know what the poison ivy plant looks like.  I know that they often grow at the base of some trees, in wooded places.  I’ve heard that if you wash your hands thoroughly, shortly after possible exposure, that you can avoid the irritation.

Well, none of that knowledge helped me.  We had a storm with high winds.  Trees came down near to our home, but not on our property.  There is a wooded area behind my house which belongs to my neighbor.  I noticed that he had a tree down near his house.  I offered to help, but he said that he was ok with it.  He did mention that a sizable tree came down in the woods and I could cut that up, if I wanted.  I have a chain saw and I like to use it.  “Sure,” I said.

I had on long pants, long sleeves, and gloves.  The tree did have a rope-like vine wrapped around it.  I cut it and ripped it off in pieces.  I was caught up in my chain saw activity.  When I was done, I didn’t give any thought to soaping up.  I had on gloves and long sleeves.

But somehow the guest found its way in to my wrist and even one of my lower legs.

I’ve read some of the myths and facts about poison ivy and its relatives.  The article I read said that scratching is to be avoided, not because it spreads the irritation, but because it might cause scarring.  It also said that the duration of the experience could last up to three weeks.

One of the highlights of my wake-up each day is to look and see if my guest has decided to depart.  It hasn’t yet, as of a week, but it seems to be rounding up its things for a departure.

There are often such things in life that must simply be endured.  You may not have asked for the experience or wanted it.  You may have done all in your power to avoid them.  Yet, they have come.  Not all of them, end in a three week time frame.  Some of them, although they pass, leave scars where you have fought against them.  I will not try to name the adversaries.  You can probably think of a few.

The Apostle Paul was quite familiar with suffering.  You can read one of his lists of hardships in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.  Yet, Paul found a way to let suffering do a good work in his life.  In the passage from Romans he wrote how suffering can produce perseverance.  Perseverance can produce character.  Character can produce hope.  A life tested and tried, that relies on God through Jesus Christ, reveals a real hope that is a great witness to what God can do.

Poison ivy does not rise to the challenges that many of you are facing.  It is simply a light-hearted way to think about facing challenge and relying on God.

Press on my friends for the glory of God.

 

April 14, 2020

A pair of Northern Cardinals | Cardinal birds, Birds, Beautiful birds

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

                                                                                    Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)

             One of the things that have come for me in these days of a slower pace and more time is an opportunity to watch the birds.  I was sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window when a flash of red caught my eye.  It was a male cardinal, famous for its bright red coloring. I noticed that it seemed to be especially focused on a large shrub in our flower bed.  I would see it go in and I could trace the color bouncing among the branches.  I could see movement in the top of the shrub as the little springs would jiggle as the bird did something beneath them.

To my delight, I also saw a female.  Not all bright red like the male, but beautiful in her own right, with that crest on her head and some red there, in the midst of a tan coat of feathers that almost blended in to the browns surrounding the area.

They are no doubt a pair and I believe that there is a nest within that shrub.  I have watched them pulling out worms from the surrounding area and going about the hidden nest.  I did a little bit of study this morning about the beautiful birds and learned that they are also beautiful singers.  I listened to a recording of their songs and recognized that I have heard their music without knowing the source.

Jesus told those who were hearing him one day to look at the birds.  I didn’t know at the time of first watching that I was following Jesus’ instructions!  He didn’t draw attention to their appearance or to their song, instead he used them as an illustration of the heavenly Father’s care and provision. While watching the birds, I noticed their efforts and activity, but ultimately God had placed the resources they needed within their reach.

The simple message that Jesus gave was that we, too, can trust our heavenly Father to care for us.  We are more valuable to God than are the birds.  If he cares for them, he will care for us.

I this time of many worries, we do well to take hold of Jesus’ words.  I hope that you, too, will have a chance to ‘look at the birds.’  Don’t just marvel at their ways, but let your mind go to the wonderful Creator.  Then, speak a prayer in your heart, of praise and of request that God would help you to put aside worry and to live in his faithful provision.

 

April 9, 2020

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” 

                                                                                    John 13:1

 On this Holy Thursday, we look back to that same night when Jesus would show to his disciples many things.

First, as the Scripture states, he showed them love.  It says that he showed them the full extent of his love.  This was another way of saying the completeness of his love.  We know that in all that Jesus did while upon the earth, love was at the core of it.  Yet, we want to pause to think of the tenderness of Jesus to his disciples on this night of the Last Supper.  Jesus considered how his disciples would react to his death.  The words of John 14:1 are especially tender toward them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Then he tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will return for them, that they may be together again.

It is often common for some to put in an obituary, the heading, “Together Again.”  The one who has passed has been preceded by a spouse that had died.  It comforts those that remain to think of their reunion.   Now Jesus, even before his going, gives them these words that he hopes will comfort them in the difficult time after his death.  Jesus was not so concerned about his own death, as he was concerned about these that he loved.  Other words of comfort and love are expressed in the verses that follow in John.

Second, Jesus continued to teach his disciples.  He modeled for them the servant’s heart.  He took the role of a common servant and washed his disciple’s feet.  The disciples would not have done this task for one another.  Peter’s reaction especially displays how having Jesus wash his feet was not something he could bear to have done.  It would be like us having the President or someone in high position do the most lowly of things for us.  We can hardly bear it.  Yet Jesus wanted his disciples to have this heart in their ministries.  He wanted them to not think about greatness, but in humility to think of others first.  I this day when we are continually drawn to focus on the champion and on who is the best at whatever task, it is good to think about having a servant’s heart.

Finally, I will mention just one more thing.  Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He said to the disciples, that “he would not leave them as orphans,” (John 14:18).  The Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Paraclete (the one called to come along side), will be sent to them.  “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you,” (John 16:7).  Here on this earth, Jesus could only be in one place at one time, but the Holy Spirit could be within each one who loves and trusts in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will not be external, but internal.  We, who are Christians today, have been given the Holy Spirit, too.  We may not fully understand and yield to the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is still Jesus’ wonderful gift for his own.

We pause on this day of significance to think about our Lord.  We are drawn to Jesus.  We love Him.  We want to express this love in our tenderness to others, in seeking a servant’s heart, and in reliance on the Holy Spirit to be and to do all that would honor Christ.

 

April 7, 2020

 “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

                                                                                    Matthew 16:21

Some people speak of the time preceding Easter as “the Lenten Journey.”  It typically begins with Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter.  When we began this Lenten journey together, it was pretty much business as usual.  Some of you may have decided to give up something during Lent, as a way to experience some sacrifice for the sake of Christ.  Others of you may have desired to add on some good practice or spiritual discipline.  Few of us intended to enter into a time of isolation and solitude.  Nonetheless, here we are.  We are practicing a spiritual discipline, without desiring to do so.

Jesus did all that he did for us willingly.  Paul writes about Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, and tells us that Jesus willingly ‘made himself nothing. . . humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.’  He was not forced to become “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist called him.  Jesus chose to take on that role.

In order to do what he decided to do, there were certain things that he “must” do.  In the passage above, we see the word, must, twice used.  Jesus explained that he must go to Jerusalem, where suffering was sure to come.  He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

We have the possibility of forgiveness and a life reconnected with our holy God, because of Jesus’ must-dos.

We all are being asked, to observe some “musts” for the good of the whole.   I am struggling with my small “musts.”  Some have likened this stay-at-home order, social distancing, and other restrictions as almost like prison.  It is certainly not easy.  Yet, Jesus took on his “musts” without complaint.  He could see what would be the result.  The writer of the book of Hebrews put this purpose in the heart of Jesus, when he wrote, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame. . .” (Hebrews 12:2).  Jesus did his “musts”, yet did so because of the joy of what it could bring.

This is a unique Lenten journey.  It is one that we won’t forget.  In the “musts” that we experience, may we be humbled and thankful for Jesus’ willingness to do what must be done to win our pardon.

 

April 2, 2020

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“See I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”                                                                                                                                                                                           Isaiah 43:19

Sometimes in the midst of difficulty, we can give way to fear and lose hope.  I think that most of us are battling fear and looking for hope in these days.

God is our strong and ever-present hope.  Let’s not forget that.  Let us continue to take time to focus our thoughts and turn our hearts toward God.

A few days ago, I was thinking about all that might be.  It was beginning to weigh me down.  Then, I believe that God gave me a sign of hope.  I had planted some grass seed in an area of our yard that was disturbed last fall in a retaining wall construction project.  It was old seed, but I had it, so I used it.  I began to look for signs of growing grass.  In a word, there was absolutely not a sign of growing grass: nothing.  As you might remember, we got a lot of rain.  Two weeks passed.  I assumed that the grass seed had probably rotted, or that the seed was just no good.

Then on that afternoon, as the sun shone on that patch of grass, I saw little green hairs–  lots of them.  It was not dead or rotted.  My heart lifted with the unexpected sign of life.

Sometimes we may not see the good that God is doing.  We may not see it in this spread of COVID-19.  We might fear the worst.  Yet, God is a God of faithfulness, and a God of surprise.  Let’s lean whole-heartedly into a God who is faithful.