Pastor’s Blog

I seek to post a blog each Tuesday and Thursday at about 9:00 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

June 17, 2021

“By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him.  “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it it’s already very late.  Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”  But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”. . . How many loaves do you have?  He asked.  “Go and see.”                                                                                                            Mark 6:35-38

 This is a part of Mark’s account of the feeding of the five thousand.  The interaction above must have seemed unbelievable to the disciples.  I suppose that nothing was unbelievable in the truest sense after being with Jesus.  Still, his comment that they should give this massive crowd something to eat is amazing.  John’s account includes Jesus’ inquiry to Philip asking him where they might buy bread for the crowd.  His response is that eight months of wages would only buy enough bread for each one to have a bite (John 6:7).

The comment, ‘you give them something to eat,’ stirs a reaction that we often feel in regard to ministry.  Not me, not capable, not sufficient, not yet might often be our response. Jesus called them to see what they had.  Andrew reports that they have one boy’s lunch.  That apparently was all that they could find, or perhaps the boy overheard the discussion and volunteered his lunch. 

I am moved by the lad’s willingness to give what he has to Jesus and to the good of the whole.  I think that such a willingness to yield what we have, what we are, what we can do is especially pleasing to God.

There is no way that this small amount of food was considered adequate.  Yet, it was with Jesus.  He took what was offered and multiplied it for the feeding of all who were present.  Everyone was satisfied and there were even leftovers.  I think that the point is well-made that our small gifts and talents are sufficient in the hands of Jesus to meet the needs that come.  Of course, the difference is all in what God is able to do.

I have seen God do remarkable things through willing lives.  These things can happen in one occurrence.  Often the remarkable is something that unfolds with steady faith and practice.  Such practice can greatly influences another’s life or the lives within a family, neighborhood, workplace, or church.  This passage helps us to think of willing vessels, who offer what they have for God to use for greater effect and purpose.

You may have some obstacle or challenge that is before you today.  You may not be adequate.  It is often good to recognize that.  Yet, with Jesus, little is adequate.  Bring what you have to our great Lord.  Try it today.

 

June 15, 2021

“I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall.  I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks.  One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung gate. . . The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. .  .  And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy.  The women and children also rejoiced.  The sound of rejoicing could be heard far away.”              Nehemiah 12:31,38, and 43

 The book of Nehemiah is great testimony within the Bible.  There is much there about prayer, dedication, perseverance, faith and much more.  I hope that you might take time to read the whole thing.

There are those who are creative in worship and praise to God.  Here, I have given you just a few verses that capture some of that.  The walls of Jerusalem have been completed, as well as many other acts of becoming faithful to God.  So a celebration is unfolding, with real design.  Two large choirs were a part of the celebration and worship.  The words of Nehemiah 12:38 lead me to believe that these were choirs of men.  Often we don’t hear many men sing in our church choirs.  At the Asbury Theological Seminary graduation a few years ago, the congregation sang, “And Can It Be,” the great hymn of Charles Wesley.  Those present were men and women, but there were a large portion of men that made up the singers that day.  The sound of strong men’s voices singing the praise of God was moving.  I’m sure it was that day as well.  Two choirs marched into position and then started singing, perhaps back and forth.  It must have been something to experience.  Then the women and children joined in. 

I am particularly struck with the last sentence that I gave from the book, “The sound of rejoicing could be heard far away.”  There were no sound systems or microphones, but the sound of joyful singing carried beyond the immediate location.  There was loud and joyous singing.  The best part was that it was because God had given them great joy.

They had undertaken a great endeavor for God.  They had persevered at great sacrifice and personal effort.  They had made alterations in their lives to honor God once again.  They had taken the Scriptures that had been rediscovered and yielded to them.  Now, there was singing, celebration, and a joy that led to loud singing.

Perhaps we might know such joy as well if we were willing to rediscover the Scripture, yield to them, and give our energy and effort to do what might be necessary to rebuild a family and a faith in the living Lord.  May it be so.

June 10, 2021

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”           John 14:27

 People have much stress in life.  I read one survey that sited its respondents stated work as their biggest stress.  Money came in second as the cause of stress (probably feeling one doesn’t have enough). Children, health, marriage, and parents were also listed.  Only five percent said that they had no stress and 19% said that they only have a little.  To live is to have stress, it would seem.

Jesus had tremendous opposition and certainly knew that a sacrificial death was ahead.  Yet, he was able to maintain a sense of peace.  He did not seem to be irritable, or frantic.  How did he have such peace? 

While we might say that Jesus was God and so was what we are not, it is also true that he was fully human.  I believe that he was able to maintain a sense of peace because he took time away and alone to be in prayer to the heavenly Father.  We find him separating from the disciples in the evening and at other points, early in the morning.  In such times, he not only expressed himself, but no doubt heard and enjoyed the Father’s presence.

Jesus spoke the words above to the disciples before what would be the most difficult of times in their lives—his separation from them and his death.  His words do not come at an easy time or one free from stress.  In the midst of what lie ahead, as well as beyond, Jesus offered peace.  He made it clear that his peace was different than that which seems to be offered by the world.  His peace was not the ease of more than enough money or a lessening of stress because the new job is better.  He offers the peace of relationship with Him that is steady, good, and faithful.  He offers life together, much as he had life with his Father, as he was here upon the earth.

I believe that the peace that Jesus offers is now also present in the help of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit now is available and resides in us as Christians.  We can become more accustomed to the working of the Holy Spirit and more attuned to His leading.  We can also know the peace of His abiding presence, much as the disciples knew that experience with Jesus.

Stress will likely be an ever-present reality for us, but it need not steal the peace that Jesus can and does give.

June 8, 2021

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”   1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 Some time ago I came across a fictional story of a man who was doing some hiking in an area unfamiliar to him.  He came upon a barn.  He went inside and found it to be a storehouse of seeds.  As the story goes, he discovered that this was a storehouse belonging to Satan.  There was an associate that seemed to manage the seeds within.  Looking upon the seeds, the hiker was intrigued that most of the seeds seemed to be of one type and quite plentiful.  He was able to ask the associate about the type of seed and why it was so plentiful in the stockpiles?  The reply was that it was seeds of discouragement.  It was quite useful for their work.  They had so much of it because it will grow in many environments.  The hiker asked one follow-up question, “Is there anywhere where it won’t grow?”  The associate was not really wanting to answer, but mumbled that there was one place—a thankful heart.

While the story is fictional, it makes a great point—while discouragement is ever-present, a thankful heart is a strong remedy. 

I think that most of us face the challenge of discouragement.  It can come at unexpected times and places.  We might be doing quite well, but then a thought, an event, a chance memory, a comment of another, brings the discouragement to our hearts and minds.  The Apostle Paul’s word to give thanks is good advice.  To do so in all circumstances seems to counter the many different times, places, and occasions when discouragement is likely to try to take root.  It has been said that if one is truly thankful and praising God, it is not likely that they will also be depressed or discouraged.

“Be joyful always,” is to mark our living.  How is that possible?  Pray continually.  What might be the focus of our prayer?  Give thanks.

As a new Christian, I was concerned to know the will of God.  It is still a desire of my heart.  While some aspects of God’s will may be a mystery, this desire is not.  To be joyful, to pray continually, and to give thanks are God’s will for us.  We can know this and seek to obey this instruction.

Are you facing discouragement this day?  Take a moment right now to pray and to thank God for some blessing, for strength God gives to face a challenge, for the life that we have in Christ, or for the hope that we have that no thing we face is permanent. 

Seeds of discouragement need not grow up in our lives!

 

June 3, 2021

“Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

                                                                                                John 4:37-38

 We have just experienced another Memorial Day.  We remembered the sacrifices that have enabled the freedoms that we experience today in our land.  We have reaped the benefit of others labor.

Spiritually speaking, we have also been the beneficiaries of the work of countless faithful servants of God.  I, personally, have benefited by the efforts of family, Sunday School teachers, pastors, college and seminary professors, and others for my spiritual well-being.  There was a Sunday of initial commitment for me.  It happened to occur in the church where I was a regular attender, but came on a Sunday when my faithful pastor was not there.  He had planted, but another reaped.

I realize how many of you have been engaged in the sharing of faith and life in Christ.  You have been careful and faithful servants of God as Sunday School teachers, VBS leaders, Bible study teachers, and witnesses of Christ.  Your work and efforts are greatly used of God.  You may not have been on the receiving end of those who lead another to Christ, but you have prayed and paved the way.

As a pastor, I have been appointed to serve a number of churches.  I have not been a church planter.  The churches that I have served have had people there already when I came.  I did what I could to further the work.  So, here also, I have reaped in some ways, and planted in other ways.

Let us thank God for all who have been a part of our journey.  Let us also not grow weary in seeking to be a planter or harvester, whichever the case may be.  It is good to be a part of the work that makes eternal difference!

June 1, 2021

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor know him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”         John 14:16-17

I have begun in my Sunday sermons to preach on the Holy Spirit.  I am excited to do so, because I feel that while we know some things about the Holy Spirit, much remains to us a mystery.  Yet, the Holy Spirit is God—God with us, just as Jesus, God the Son, Immanuel, was God with us.

I will not try to repeat my sermon of May 30, 2021 here, but I do want to repeat some of the things I shared, perhaps in a slightly different way.  It is the grace and love of Jesus that he would ask the Father for the one who would come and be for the disciples and for us, what he was for them.  The Holy Spirit is the answer to Jesus’ request of the heavenly Father.  I mentioned that the word, another, in verse 16, carries with it the meaning, another of the same kind.  The Holy Spirit is a counselor, a comforter, a helper, or an advocate of the same kind as Jesus was.  This is quite a remarkable gift that has been given.

While we may not know or understand all the ways in which the Holy Spirit may carry out these roles, they are no less true.  I think that we have experienced the Holy Spirit’s work many times, without crediting the Spirit with what has happened.  Some might wonder what the need is to credit the Spirit?  The Holy Spirit brings glory to the Son (John 16:14), so the Spirit doesn’t seem to emphasize His actions.  This is much the same as how Jesus, did what was in the Father’s mind and heart to do.  Jesus said on a number of occasions that he did not speak or act of his own doing, but just what the Father would have him do.  To know that God is working in our midst is such an encouragement to us.  To see and recognize this work, then, will be a way to thank God for His kindness to us.

Today, I want to especially focus on the word of Jesus, “and he will be in you.”  God, the Holy Spirit, will reside in the believer.  God will be always with us, because he is within us.  Again, we may not at first recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, as being the Spirit at work.  I do believe that we can know and be led by the Spirit, as we recognize what the Spirit is like and how that leading and presence will manifest itself.   It will be a great blessing to know when and how the Spirit is leading.  It will give us confidence and encouragement.  I hope that I can help with some illustrations and examples, in the sermons ahead and here in these blogs.  For now, I hope that some excitement might begin to build in your heart, as you think about God the Holy Spirit alive within.

We thank Jesus for asking the Father for this best of gifts!

May 20, 2021

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest one each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”                                                                       Acts 2:1-4

 In about a week and a half, we, here in the United States, will celebrate Memorial Day.  It will be a chance to remember the sacrifices made, especially the sacrifice that included the giving of one’s life in military service for our country.  Times of remembering are important.

We, who are Christians, remember events that are so important to our lives as well.  We remember in particular, Christmas and the events of Easter week.  The birth of our Savior marked the dawn of God’s saving plan.  The events of Easter week, which included the death and resurrection of Christ, are at the heart of our forgiveness and our hope.

I wonder if when remembering significant events we include the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?  This Sunday will be Pentecost Sunday.  Some churches might take note of it, but many may not.  I know that most Christians and Bible students know of the event, but I wonder why it is that we don’t think of it as one of the most significant of events in the plan of God for Christians?

Perhaps it is because we don’t know quite all that has come with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  There is some mystery as to how the Holy Spirit may equip, lead, teach, and guide the Christian.  At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus told them that he would not leave them as orphans, but would ask the Father to send another Counselor.  Later, Jesus would say that it was actually good that he go away, so that the Counselor could come.  This Spirit of truth would guide them into all truth.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a dramatic way.  It was unmistakable, with obvious signs, including the sound of a mighty wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in other languages.  Beyond these things, we see a transformation in the lives of the disciples.  This transformation did not come with the birth of Jesus, with the death of Jesus, or even with the resurrection of Jesus.  It came with Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

As we think of the event of Pentecost, maybe we can take time to recognize this most wondrous of gifts—the Holy Spirit.  We can remember and give God thanks for the person of the Holy Spirit.  Even more, perhaps we can begin to open ourselves to a new interest in the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

May 18, 2021

“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD.  So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”         1 Chronicles 10:13-14

Here in 1 Chronicles we have a summary statement of Saul, the first king of God’s people, and of his death.  As has been the case with many that you might read about in the Old Testament, a person’s life might be defined by acts done that are dishonoring to the Lord.  Saul is described here as being unfaithful to the LORD.  He did not keep the word of the LORD.  He consulted the witch of Endor, instead of praying to God.  Other acts of unfaithfulness could have been mentioned, but the Scripture records these.

I want to say that when we are in need of guidance, it is always wise to turn to God.  God, alone, has insight into the way that is the very best.  God’s desires for us are also for our good and the good of others. 

I was watching the latest episode of The Chosen. While not all of the events of the television series are biblical, I was struck with a way in which the episode had Jesus’ actions toward the crippled man at the pool, directly impact the outcome of another man.  God can and does many things that have multiple layers of effect.  Our desire to seek the Lord, may not only affect our lives, but numerous other lives, because of what is done.

Saul’s life had a direct bearing on many lives.  His position, like that of many kings who would follow, could turn the course of things toward godly obedience or away from it.  Something that seems as small as whether we seek God’s guidance or merely go forward as seems best to us may in the end be no small thing.

We may read the verses that precede these and see that Saul was wounded by enemy archers.  Apparently, the wound must have been severe.  Saul, rather than be captured alive and tortured by his enemies, ended his own life by falling on his sword.  Yet, in the passage above, the Bible says that the LORD put him to death.  We might think that the two things are contradictory.  I see it this way—Saul ended his life, but in reality, God allowed his death, as a judgment on his sin and as a way to give the kingdom over to David.

How important are our actions, big and small, in the plan of God and in the lives of others.  May we seek the Lord and live in such a way that our life becomes for us and for others are a source of life and not death, a means of blessing and not a cause for judgment.

May 13, 2021

“In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. . . He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as David his father had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. . .Hezekiah trusted the LORD, the God of Israel.  There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”  2 Kings 18:1, 3-5

In my last blog I referred to a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord, but did not remove the high places.  It is good to read of another who also did right, but went the whole way in honoring God.  We know the names of many biblical persons, but we may not know the name, Hezekiah.  We ought to know him.

As I just said, he honored God in his own life, but also did that which would help the nation to honor God as well.  He acted to remove the things that were a snare to the people.  He removed the high places so that there would no longer be worship to idols and all that went with it.  He smashed other items of pagan worship and cut down the Asherah poles that were phallic symbols and associated with fertility gods and their worship.  He even got rid of the bronze snake that God had instructed Moses to make, but had become an item of idol worship.  As king, and as one of the key spiritual leaders, he did that which removed temptation to engage in practices that dishonored God.  He helped to get the nation back on track.

Such courage and faith sets him apart among the kings of Judah.  No doubt there were those who wanted to continue the wicked practices and others who may have profited by these things.  They may not have been silent.  Still, he went forward with what was right, perhaps at some cost.

We may not be in such power today.  We are not living in a country where our government leaders are spiritual leaders, although they might be Christian men or women.  So it is more difficult to imagine how we can get rid of evil practices in our midst.  I do think that we, as Christians, should exercise our voting wisely.  If there is a way to elect one who will stand for God-honoring practices, that one should get our vote.  I do seek to vote for those who express a desire for practices that honor God.  We find that Christian persons may be in more than one political party, so it may take some discerning.

We might also pursue those places and ways to seek to effect good in our communities.  Sometimes, it only takes one voice, to help to convince others to do that which is right. 

Certainly, we may see the tide of life around us go in a less than God-honoring way.  We can still pray, live, and seek in our areas of influence the good that God desires.  You do have influence in your family and in your friendships.  Our positions can be firm without being mean-spirited or “holier than thou.”

May we thank God for the Hezekiahs.  That is one biblical name that doesn’t seem to have caught on.  It would be great to see more Hezekiahs, not just in name, but especially in heart.

May 11, 2021

“He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done.  The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”                2 Kings 15:3-4

 As a part of my reading through the Bible this year, I am reading currently in the book of Kings in the Old Testament.  As I read, there is much that I really don’t understand.  Often a king is in place only a short time and then is assassinated.  The one who did the assassination, then becomes king.  It seems to be the strongest took the right to become king.  There was often much deception and political intrigue.

Beyond such things, there was the issue of whether the king of Israel or of Judah, would do that which was right before God or do that which was evil.  Remember that Israel and Judah were God’s people and their leaders were not just political, but had a major role in whether the people would honor God or not. 

The king in the above verses was Azariah.  To his credit, he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.  Unfortunately, after such a statement, comes the fact that he permitted the high places to remain.  The high places were the places of idol worship and of prostitution related to it.  So Azariah did what was right, but he allowed evil to remain in this area of his reign.  In doing so, the people continued to practice that which was dishonoring to God and against his commandment to have no other gods before him.

While each of us may be in a much different setting, I think that at least one lesson is obvious.  If we allow evil to persist in an area of life under our control, it will not be good.  We might not be responsible for a nation, but what responsibility do I have?  I certainly have responsibility in my own life.  Do I also have responsibility in my family?  Do I have a responsibility over other employees?  Do I have spiritual oversight in the church?  What is my place in my neighborhood or community?

I was reading for preparation of this week’s sermon.  I am focusing on Jesus’ words about being salt and light.  John R.W. Stott wrote about the work of salt to preserve.  It is a negative work of sorts.  Salt has been used in the past to prevent decay.  He makes the point that if we don’t actively do the work of salt in our places of influence, then decay will result.

We start in our own lives, trying to let the Holy Spirit prune out completely that which is not pleasing to the Lord or helpful to our lives in Christ.  We may then be in a place to humbly seek to put in practice or keep in place the values and God-honoring practices that will preserve life and godly values.   We may have more influence to preserve good than we realize.

Azariah did what was right, but failed to do more that was within his power.  Today, is a day to consider how we may humbly seek the right, both personally and in the broader circles of our influence.

May 6, 2021

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do on be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”                                   Matthew 6:5-8

 

Today is the National Day of Prayer.  It seemed fitting to maybe draw our thoughts to prayer on such a day.

Today will be a day of public praying.  That is always something that is “tricky”.  By that I mean, that we are praying to God, but we can’t help but know that others are hearing what we say.  There is always the temptation for the person praying to be more concerned with how others think of one’s prayer, than how God thinks of it.  So the instruction that Jesus gave above is quite helpful.  Go by yourself and pray.  Pray sincerely and without needless babbling on and on.  God knows your heart and it will not be because of many words that your prayer is heard.

Isn’t it strange that we think sometimes that our prayers are not heard (or answered in the way that we expect), because we haven’t used the right words or prayed long enough? 

Yet, there are times when we do pray in public.  When such is the case, I think that a silent prayer might be offered before the public time, to try not to be concerned about whether our prayer seems well to others, but instead is most pleasing to God.  I don’t know exactly how to describe what humble praying is like, but I think that we often do sense when it is so.

Chiefly, today, we pray to God, because it honors God.   It acknowledges our great need for God.  We know that without God all hope is misplaced.  Our hope is not even in prayer, but in the God to whom we pray.

So whether in public or in private today, we call out to a faithful God and seek to do so in a way that especially honors God.

May 4, 2021

“And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”               Romans 8:30

 I have said repeatedly of late that there is mystery in the working of God and in life.  I don’t know exactly what the above verse implies.  It does seem that there are those who are destined before they even live, to be God’s called, justified, and glorified.  There is the foreknowledge and complete knowledge that the omniscient God has, which we do not.  To know before hand is not to make something happen.  God may very well know, yet allow for our free choice.

I was reading in Erwin Lutzer’s book, Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters.   He describes how in the midst of troubling circumstances that some are drawn to God, while others are inclined away from God.  I remember reading once that the same sun that melts butter hardens clay. 

How do we respond to trouble?  How do we bear up under injustice?  How do we deal with life circumstances that are often hard, unwelcome, and persistent?  Do we as Job’s wife counseled, “Curse God and die”?  Do we respond as Job did, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

The same circumstances can bring about very different responses.  I cannot adequately answer all the questions related to trouble.  I have, however, put my trust in a good God, however God may appear to me or to others.  I do not seek to put my finger into the air at every event to see if God has been good or faithful.  For me, that was settled long ago when Jesus gave his life for all sin upon the cross.  Do we need a constant relief from every earthly trouble?  Isn’t it enough to know that God, through Christ’s death and resurrection, has given an eternal remedy for my sin?

I may not always delight in trouble or face it with the kind of courage or grace needed.  I hope that if I do not do so initially that I will come around in short order.  That is a part of the faith that I can give.  Such faith is so needed in our day.

I will leave to God the full understanding of how such things as predestination, calling, justifying and glorifying work.  Even so, I will seek to live as one who is a part of such things.  I hope that you will, too.

April 30, 2021

“His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”            Job 2:9,10

 I am thinking this morning about how we face trials.  Some of you know the story of Job, recorded in the Old Testament book of Job.  Job was a righteous man and blessed by God.  Chapter one presents insight into the activity of God and a conversation between God and Satan.  The Lord actually made mention of Job to Satan.  “Have you considered by servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil,” (Job 1:8).  Thus, began an opportunity by Satan to put Job to the test.

It should be noted that God did not bring about Job’s suffering directly, although he allowed it.  It should also be noted that Satan could only take things to the extent that God allowed him to go.  Job also did not know what was behind any of what was happening to him.  Even at the end of the book, he is not told of the details of the “why” that we are made aware.  These are all things worth pondering.

There are things that are happening in our world and even in our lives that are beyond our knowing and searching out.  Whether we have a hand in some of these consequences, or whether, as in the case of Job, he did not, we may not always clearly see.  Yet, these mysteries are not mystery to God.

If Satan is allowed to put to the test, he still has boundaries that contain what he can do.  God is the ultimate authority over Satan.  One day, God will bind Satan and cast him into the lake of fire, but until then God allows him some activity.  Again, there is some mystery here.  Satan may do his purposes, but God can and does turn even the activity of Satan for His ultimate good.

Our understanding of all that we encounter may be just as mysterious as to the why’s of it, as it seemed to be to Job.  He could not know why such a wave of trouble was sweeping over him.  He answers his wife with such words of faith, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  Later, he will struggle, not so much about the why, but about God’s presence.  He knows that if he could speak directly to God, that his concern would be addressed.

Erwin Lutzer in his book, Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters, wrote “. . . we need a hope that is not dependent on whether things work out, or whether the pain ends, or whether we see the answers to our prayers.  Trust in God, yes; but trust in Him even in the face of setbacks, discouragement, and unending grief.”  Such maturity of faith is so valuable and God-honoring.

You may be facing things today that are mysterious.  There is much mystery in life.  Yet, in the midst of the mysterious, is a God who is ever-faithful.  We cling to Him, even though we don’t see all of the plan.  We give Him our trust and rest in His presence.  We seek to remain faithful until the Day, when all will be seen and known.

April 27, 2021

The LORD was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. . . I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart so that there will never have been anyone like you , nor will there ever be.”            1 Kings 3:10, 12

 You may be familiar with the invitation God gave to Solomon.  God had said to him, “Ask whatever you want me to give to you,” (1 Kings 3:5).   Sometimes we might recall the genie and the lamp and three wishes.  Maybe you have thought about wishes.  Perhaps you would ask with one of your wishes for more wishes.  God is certainly not a genie.  God did, however, give Solomon an unusual opportunity.

He chose not personal gain, such as wealth or long life.  He, rather, chose that which would enable him to fulfil the calling on his life. 

I believe that God would be honored if we asked him to give us that which will enable us to be a more usable vessel.  It need not only be for a specifically spiritual purpose.  Lord, will you help me be a wiser father?  Lord, will you help me to be a more attentive employee?  Lord, will you enable me to be a better listener?  Certainly, we could ask for help in a ministry role as well.

I want to read more carefully the wisdom words that Solomon shared.  I believe that the book of Proverbs is, for the most part, Solomon’s wisdom.  Ecclesiastes is likely Solomon’s words, too.  God said the He would be more wise and discerning than anyone had ever been.  It makes sense, then, to read and to consider the wisdom that God gave him.

Today, may we seek to be usable to God.  Our part may be small or it may be large.  In any case, may we be God’s woman or man in the place where we are.  To ask God to enable us to be more usable, is, in my opinion, a God-honoring prayer.

 

April 22, 2021

“The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  Psalm 24:1

 Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day.  It is a day when we especially think of taking care of the planet.  Clean-up days and recycling are among the activities of this day and week.  Thoughts of how we can reduce pollution and take better care of the planet are in many people’s minds.

How we care for all the things entrusted to us should be our concern. 

We sometimes speak of “our earth” or “our planet.”  It is the one on which we live, but it is ultimately, God’s.  God has created it and all that is a part of it.  God created us as the climax of His creative work.  I wonder sometimes about the earth after God’s creation, before sin had come into play.  Much changed as sin entered in, and that change had direct bearing upon the earth.  Even now, the physical things of the earth await a new creative work.  These things long to more fully declare the glory of God.

While we can treat our planet better, and do that which will enable the health and well-being of those upon it, still we await God to do the more complete restoration.  We also await God doing in fullness that act of recreation in us.  We have seen some of the great acts of God in His salvation work unfold in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We wait as the other actions will come into play. 

Until such a time, we seek to do our little part.  We seek to be good stewards of our resources, but also give our attention to the ways that we reflect honor to our Creator.  We seek to love our neighbors and pursue peace and their well-being.  All things are needful.  

“The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

April 20, 2021

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”      Numbers 6:24-26

 The Lord told Moses to give this blessing to Aaron and his sons as a blessing to use to bless the Israelites.  Twice it has in it a reference to the LORD’s face.

I our age of technology, we have many avenues to see the face of our loved ones, even when we cannot be in their physical presence.  Our two adult sons and their families live quite a distance from our home here in Ohio.  We talk regularly with both of them on the phone.  That is quite a good thing.  Although we have the capability to do facetime or skype, we don’t often do so.  I’m not sure why we don’t, because it is quite good to see the faces of our sons and their family.

I was reading in 2 Samuel this morning.  David had a number of sons, all of which he loved.  In a tragic set of events, one of his sons raped his half-sister.  Her brother, Absalom, had in his heart to kill this half-brother because of what he did to his sister.  Eventually, he would do so. Absalom fled from his father, David, and kept removed from his presence for three years.  He longed to see his father’s face.  Through some mediation, he was eventually able to return to Israel, yet he still did not see his father.  Eventually, he sent word to his father, David, that it was of no benefit to return home, if he still were not able to see him.  Finally, David summoned Absalom and he came, bowed down with his face to the ground before the king.  And the king kissed his son (2 Samuel 14:33).  Absalom finally saw his father’s face.

We know that Moses longed to see the face of God.  God kept him from this literal seeing because for Moses to see His face would have meant his death.  God’s holiness would have been too great for a sinful man.  Instead, God allowed him to see something of Himself as he viewed God after passing by him. 

One day, the Christian will be able to see the face of God the Father, and that of God the Son.  We will be made fully holy, through the righteousness of Christ, in that day.  It will be the greatest of delights.  To see His face is to be in His presence.  It is to delight in His company.  It is to be with Him, in a way we can only experience in part now.

What a great blessing was given to Aaron to use.  What a great experience it describes.  We think of many things of blessing, but may we stop today to consider this one—to see the face of the LORD.  

April 15, 2021

“Then Jesus told them this parable:”           Luke 15:1

 This verse precedes three stories that Jesus told that have to do with something lost and found.  The first was a lost sheep.  The second was a lost coin.  The third was a lost son.  One person called Luke, chapter 15, God’s lost and found section.  These stories are easy to remember and the point that they make stays with you.  The final one includes the reaction of the son who stayed at home.  It presents a contrasting reaction to that of the loving father to his lost son’s return.  It challenges the one whose sin is less obvious and challenges their grace and willingness to share in the joy of the ‘lost being found.’

One person described a parable as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  The best stories are not just memorable, but convey a point that it clear and memorable as well.  Jesus used many stories and these, as well as other biblical stories, are the parts of the Bible that we often most remember.

I spoke last night with a former parishioner from a church I served nearly twenty years ago.  She volunteered that she remembered one of my sermons. I am not sure I remember any of them.  She went on to tell me about it.  It was not so much a sermon, as an illustration.  When she spoke of it, I did also remember it.  I said that I remembered it, now that she mentioned it, but was not sure of the point I may have made.  She, however, did remember an application.  I was amazed.  Not that my sermon was so memorable, but that she remembered the story and especially the application of it.

She said that she often tells other people that story and its meaning.  I believe that is one of the reasons that she has remembered it, after all these years.

I am thankful for the stories of Jesus, for the stories of the Bible, and for the stories of life that each one of us may have.  Those that give witness, hope, challenge, and joy may be the best sort of story.  Those that help us to remember, not just the story, but the point are rich resources for our living.

Today, maybe there is a story that has meant much to you.  Can you bring it back to mind?  Can you tell another the story and what it means to you?  Perhaps it will be a part of another’s cadre of stories that have enriched their life.

April 13, 2021

“Jesus wept.”              John 11:35

 You might know this as the shortest verse of the Bible.  It is a great one to know, if you need to recite a verse from memory.  I don’t choose this verse today for its shortness.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  The Bible says that Jesus was with Lazarus’ sister Mary.  He saw her weeping, along with some other Jews who with her.  He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  Then it says, “Jesus wept.”

Jesus knew that death was temporary.  Jesus knew that he would soon conquer death with his death and resurrection.  He knew better than anyone else these things.  He had done a little theological reasoning with Mary’s sister, Martha.  Yet here, he does not seek to do so.  He shares in the grief that they are experiencing.  He does not just have empathy for them, but he also seems to have grief himself.

There are times for reasoning.  There are times for giving answers and for seeking to explain.  Yet, in life and in many situations, we are wise to simply share in the difficulty and in the grief that another is experiencing.  You might have a good explanation for the “whys” of life, but it will be of little help to the one in pain, at least at that point in time.

I have been with people in some very difficult places.  I have been with a family where a car accident has taken the life of their senior in high school.  I have been with others after a suicide.  I have been with many at the death of a loved one filled with cancer or some other unwelcome disease.  I have never felt that the right thing to do at that moment was to try to explain the why of the experience to the grieving one left behind.  The best I might do is simply to be present and perhaps cry with them.

God does have answers and understanding for each situation.  Yet for us on this side of life, we may not fully appreciate or see God’s plan or purpose or permissive will until we are on the other side of this life.  There is much mystery in God’s ways.  Still, I fully believe in the goodness and wisdom of God.  For me, the death of Christ for my sin-sick life, and for that of others, is proof enough that I can trust Him.

Sometimes in sermons, I may come on strong.  I might challenge myself and others to face adversity with faith and without fear or complaint.  I would not likely take the same approach in the presence of one in grief.  I apologize to those who may feel that a sermon is lacking in compassion in the places of deep distress.  I will try to do better to consider those who may be in such a difficult place, as they come to worship.  There are some answers, but we might not want to lead with them. They can come down the road.

Jesus wept.  These are powerful words describing a most compassionate Lord.  May we be compassionate as well.

April 8, 2021

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”           1Peter 4:10

 Did you ever receive a gift, but not use it?  I have a little stash of underwear and t-shirts, maybe a pair of gloves, that I received as gifts, but as yet, haven’t used.  Occasionally, I have given someone a gift, but when I have asked how the gift is working out, they may reluctantly say that they have not yet used it.

While there may be reasons for not putting a gift to use, when it comes to clothing or a gadget, it is not to be so regarding spiritual gifts.  Peter tells us that whatever gift that you have received should be used to serve others.  The Apostle Paul also spoke of spiritual gifts.  He said that each person (Christian) has at least one spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7).  In that same verse it states that each gift is given for the common good.  Our gifts are to be used for the greater good of the whole.  Spiritual gifts, like parts of the human body, are all needed for the overall health of the Christian community.

God has given us gifts out of His grace.  God has counted us worthy to be engaged for the good of the whole.  We matter and what we can offer is of value.  Some gifts are more attention-getting, but all are greatly needed.  During this COVID pandemic, we began to video record our services.  If it were not for the men who have done the work behind the scenes, those services would not have been available.  I might be seen, but their work and service was invaluable.

Our lives and our gifts are given to us to use faithfully.  Peter says that we should use what we have as a faithful steward of God’s grace to us.  We often think of the stewardship of money, but the stewardship of talents or gifts is needed as well.

What gift or gifts have you received?  Are you using them in some way for the good of others and for the glory of God?  If not, can you look for ways in which to do so?  The church will be better because of it, and you will have a sense of purpose and value.

April 6, 2021

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

                                                                                    Psalm 19:1

 I am an Ohio boy.  I’ve lived in Ohio almost the entirety of my life.  I sometimes forget that other places may not experience the things of nature that I do. 

The Bible says that that the heavens declare the glory of God.  That is certainly true.  The glory of the blue sky and of magnificent clouds is a great testimony of God’s greatness.  The first time that I was able to fly on a jet and see the clouds from a position above them was glorious.  The night sky is also a thing of wonder.  At the McKinley Museum they have a planetarium.  It was there as a school student that I learned some of the constellations.  Forty years later, I see some of these constellations on a clear night and give God my praise.  How beautiful was the sun rising on Easter morning this Year!  The heavens, indeed, declare the glory of God.

Here in Ohio, the things on the ground do as well.  I love to see the daffodils in the spring.  We have some in our yard and I enjoy the color as spring unfolds.  We took a hike at a local county park and saw daffodils scattered throughout a field.  It was not a groomed, mowed area, but a field.  Yet, there they were declaring the glory of God and the coming of spring.  The hyacinths and their pleasing colors and aroma also show the magnificence of our God.  The forsythias are glorious.  The flowering trees will also present another element of wonder in the days ahead.  Even the greening of the grass that we experience in the Ohio spring, turns the browns of dormancy into the greens of life.  I don’t know what other regions experience, but I’m glad to be able to experience this wonder of transforming life here in Ohio.  It often comes, as it did this year, at Easter.

How fitting for nature to give us this additional blessing that helps us to acknowledge God and God’s work of restoration and of the renewal of life.  Nature certainly responds.  I wish that we were able to do so, as willingly and regularly as does nature. Our hearts are often slow to respond to the wonder of God and to act accordingly.  We accept the witness and may not even give credit to the wonderful Creator.

May it not be so.  Instead, let us respond to God.  Let us give God our praise.  Let us praise Him with our lips and in our hearts.  Let us yield to his will and way.  The heavens declare the glory of God.  The earth does as well.  It only seems fitting that we might declare His glory, too.

April 1, 2021

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:  The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”                                               1 Corinthians 11:23-25

Today, is the day within Holy Week when our Lord Jesus ate that Last Supper with his disciples.  We take the time this morning to think of that event and to remember what it symbolized.

I read recently how the Old Testament, and then the New Testament, point repeatedly to the sacrificial death that Jesus would endure on our behalf.  I will not take the time in this blog to lay out all the many ways that this occurred.  I will, however, say that the Passover celebration, was one of those events that so clearly pointed to the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sin.  The occasion of the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  This was certainly not a coincidence.  It was part of the detailed plan of God.  Jesus is the ultimate Passover lamb.  John the Baptist, on an earlier occasion, had spoken of Jesus saying, ‘look the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’  The Passover lamb was slain and its blood was put over the doorposts in that time of exit from slavery in Egypt.  All the homes that were under the blood were spared the death of the firstborn.  So, too, all those who are under the blood of Jesus, by faith in his sacrificial death for sin, come under the protection and forgiveness that his death brought.

In the taking of communion, we remember what Jesus has done for us.  Both with the bread and then with the cup, we are told to remember.  Recently, I talked with a lady who told me how her memory is failing.  She relies on notes and her husband to keep track of things.  Whether you have a good memory or not, we sometimes forget, even the most important things, without reminders.  As we take communion, we remember the sacrifice of Jesus.  As we recall the death and resurrection each Lent, we have a chance to remember.  Certainly, there has to be a beginning, in order to remember.  So, I hope that for some, this connection between the day of this last supper with the disciples, with Passover, and with the death of Jesus on the cross for our sin will be the beginning of this most significant of events that we must never forget.

Even in heaven, it will be remembered and celebrated.  Revelation, chapter 5, pictures an event in heaven.  There it speaks of seeing a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne (Rev. 5:6).  This is clearly Jesus.

Let’s take a moment to remember today, and give God thanks for this gift that enables our forgiveness, relationship with God, and life eternal.

March 30, 2021

“I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is the sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”         Romans 7:15-19

 I turn to this passage as an illustration of the complexity of life, even within one’s own life.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this struggle and many can relate to it.

It has been debated by some whether Paul is talking about his life before becoming a Christian or after it.  It would be a simpler world if we could conclude that it was before.  If it was, however, a reality that Paul struggled with even after coming to a new identity in Jesus Christ, then it presents the challenge of most complicated sort.

I listened to a presentation by Professor Glenn Loury, which he gave at Brown University in 2016.  He presents a challenge to the listener, because as he speaks on the subject of racism, he does not seem to hold the position on one end of the spectrum or the other.  Rather, he holds out the difficult and complicated place in which a person of color often lives.  I feel that I only know so very little of this. 

In a similar way, I often wish that I could convince persons in the midst of family conflict, to yield up their focus on self, for the greater good.  It is often very challenging to do so.  We find it so hard to be humble, to listen, or to not feel the need to be heard or to be right.  One wants to love and to be loved, but our actions and choices sometimes make it difficult to do so.

This morning, I simply acknowledge, that in so many ways I am engaged in a struggle.  I may wish to be beyond the struggle, but I have to live there.  I have to be open to acknowledge my own “not there yet” status.

There is a word of hope that Paul presents, after these words and more.  It was this one, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 7:24, 25a).  Jesus Christ continues to be our Savior.  The Holy Spirit continues to help us in the life work, as sanctifier.  I am a work in progress, and there is further to go for me and for most of us.  Yet, God will and does help us.  I pray that I will be willing to cooperate in all God wants to do in me.

March 25, 2021

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”                                                                                Psalm 46:10-11

 Is it easy for you to be quiet?  Some people don’t need to say much, while others can’t hardly keep from speaking.  Then, there is the inability to quiet oneself from activity. Can you do that?  Are you able to be still in that manner?

This psalm is a powerful one.  It is a great help in times of real tumult. There are times ahead when literally the earth will give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea (verse 2). I think that this psalm has often been a help to people who are facing times of great uncertainty or difficulty in their lives.  I turned to it at the beginning of the current pandemic.

What does the psalmist recommend at such times?  The psalm writer calls to mind the faithfulness of God—God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  What do you know God?  What do you know from the Bible about God’s character and nature?  What have you experienced personally with God?

Next, the psalmist pictures heaven, it would seem.  He writes, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,” (Psalm 46:4).  He speaks of this realm as able to stand amid the uproar of the nations (Psalm 46:5,6).

The verses above, particularly the first of the two, invite us to a knowledge that quiets the heart and calms the soul.  We rest in the faithfulness of God, in our knowledge of God’s goodness and ability to do that which is right and good.  You might need to be reminded to think in that direction today.  If so, will you ask God to enable you to be still before Him, and to rest in God’s faithfulness?

 

March 23, 2021

“So, as the Holy Spirit says:  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.””                            Hebrews 3:7-9

 Today is always the day to act.  There might be a few exceptions, but certainly not when it comes to responding to God.

I know that we are slow to seek God’s forgiveness, as crazy as that may sound.  Perhaps, it is the knowledge that God does not simply want a cheap expression of sorrow.  God wants a sincere repentance that will or should correspond with a change of heart, mind, and action.  Maybe for some, the weight of sin and wrong are so difficult to bear that we are inclined to think our sin too great for God to forgive as well.  You may have other reasons why you might hesitate to seek the forgiveness of God.

God pursues people.  God the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of people.  If you have a recognition of sin and are sorry for it, that is the working of God.  Don’t resist it.  If you do, your heart will be less sensitive to respond to future prompting by the Spirit.  As the writer to the Hebrews said it, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. . .” 

The voice of God might be soft as a whisper.  Yet, if you are quiet of spirit, you can and will hear it.  It will not most likely be audible, but it will be real.  If you hear the voice of God, respond today. 

I hear of some who know that they are on a fast train to hell.  They believe in hell’s reality.  They don’t really want to spend eternity there.  Yet, old habits are hard to break.  Fears and worries trouble a life.  Perhaps, such a one does not know how to reach out to God.  Such a person may feel hopeless and powerless.  It is in reality a good thing to sense your own powerlessness.  Pride is the great hearing-inhibiter. If you are keenly aware of your great need and powerless, likely God’s voice is speaking to you.  Listen for it.  Then, respond to it.

God is the great Redeemer.  God is the one who honors the sinner’s humble plea.  Admit your need and cry out to God.  God will meet you there.  God will hear and respond.  You may not feel any different, but you can trust God’s promise to hear the sincere prayer.  Begin to live by faith in what God can do.  Seek God.  Listen for other directives.  Listen, by being attentive to the Word that God has given you (the Bible, and more specifically the writings of the Apostle Paul.  These writings were given to Christians.)  Hear and with God’s help, seek to obey.  God will be with you.

Hearing is a wonderful gift.  Sometimes, I have a hard time hearing a person who is speaking.  It is a blessing to hear.  Can you hear the Spirit speaking to you today?  If you do, please respond, and keep on listening and responding.  It is the life of faith and the very best way to live.

March 18, 2021

“Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.””           

                                                                                                                                                Luke 9:62

Quite a number of years ago, when a parishioner learned that I like to garden, he dropped by a hand held plow and cultivator of sorts.  You may have seen one or have one.  It has a wheel in front and then behind the wheel can either be the little plow blade or a number of prongs for cultivating between rows.  Two wooden handles extend up from the single wheel.  The only power source is the one who stands behind the handles.

Although I’ve used it much over the years, I especially like it for making rows.  I put the little blade in place, fix my eye on a point on the other side of the garden and push.  I’m always amazed at how straight the row is as a result.  On the other hand, if I turn around to see how straight I’m going or look away from my goal, the row is anything but straight.

I was reminded of Jesus’ words to some would-be disciples.  People were pledging their willingness to follow him.  Yet, as they did so, one wanted to first wait until his father’s death.  Another would follow after he had a chance to say a number of good-byes.  Jesus then spoke the word that came that I have written above, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in my kingdom,”  (Luke 9:62).

Jesus calls us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to him.  We cannot one minute serve him and the next look back to what life may be like if we hand not chosen to do so.  Nor can we truly follow him, if we literally keep turning back to selfish or sinful ways.  To do so in plowing makes for crooked rows.  To do so in life makes for a crooked or sinful life.  The error is self-evident.

Instead, by faith, we focus on giving ourselves, moment by moment, to Jesus.  As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. . .” (Hebrews 12:2).  As we fix our thoughts and desires on pleasing him, the life we leave behind  runs straight and true.

March 16, 2021

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”       Psalm 51:3

 A mother was helping her son with his spelling assignment and came to the words ‘conscious’ and ‘conscience’.  When she asked him if he knew the difference between the two, he responded, “Sure, Mom, ‘conscious’ is when you are aware of something and ‘conscience’ is when you wish you weren’t.”

It is really a blessing to have a tender conscience that is informed by an accurate understanding of the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit works within a tender conscience to reveal sin and enable one to turn to God for forgiveness and to turn away from the sin.  David, the author of the verse above, seems to have such a conscience.

He did, however, seek to avoid the truth that his conscience was revealing.  He had committed several grievous sins and covered them up without being found out.  It seemed that his conscience was not convicting.  Later, when the Prophet Nathan came to him and revealed his sin, his grief over it was very real.  Perhaps, he wished that he wasn’t convicted, but in reality he was so thankful to be freed from the crushing weight of unconfessed sin.

Sometimes our sins are hidden from others.  Sometimes our sins are buried within our hearts.  Yet, for the believer, sin needs to be brought to surface and sincerely confessed.  It can then be turned from and life can go forward with a clear conscience.

You might want to take the time to read all of David’s prayer of confession and desire for forgiveness in Psalm 51.  If your conscience is revealing a buried sin or even a fresh and close to the surface one, turn to God.   Give thanks that God will not let sin go, because its effects are so damaging.

March 11, 2021

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:  “Moses my servant is dead.  Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River in the land I am about to give them—to the Israelites.”   Joshua 1:1-2

 This passage signals a transition from Moses to Joshua.  That is stating the event without emotion.  In reality, Moses was larger than life.  God called him, my servant.  We know something of the kind of man he was.  God spoke directly to him.  He prayed and God seemed to alter His plans, because of Moses’ appeal.  He brought the people out of slavery in Egypt and led them in the wilderness for 40 years.  He was a great man of God, yet God called him the humblest of men.

To experience Moses’ death was certainly an event like no other for the people of Israel and for Joshua, too.  Joshua was Moses’ aide and particularly close to him.

Last evening, a radio icon and personality, Joe Tate, passed away.  He was the long time radio and television broadcaster for the Cleveland Cavaliers and also radio broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians.  I never met him personally.  Yet, with many such persons who are in our lives because they are a part of something that we enjoy or follow, we feel as if we know them.  His closing words, at the end of a broadcast, ring in my ears—“Goood night, everybod-y.”

Of course, there are many who are much more personal and close to us, who end their earthly race.  Their deaths are far more substantial and impacting than that of an announcer or television personality. Still, we see the transitory nature of life.  We say as many have said before us, ‘My how time passes.’  Death of those we know, of those with whom we share life, and of those who somehow add to our lives by their personalities, still touch us.  So I pause to write about it this morning.

We all have our place in life.  For some, the place may seem rather inconsequential, while for others, the impact has broadening circles that far exceed what one might imagine.  For those who are a part of Joe Tate’s family, they might not think of such as me, as being affected by his death. Still, I am.  He shared in some memories and simple joys in my life.  I appreciated his work.

Joshua was readied to take the reins and God was now going to use him.  While he had his grief, there was work to be done.  So too, we move through big and small issues of grief, yet likely have more to do in God’s plan for us.

I simply pause to acknowledge my humanness this morning.  I pause to say that Joe Tate was appreciated and I found his work, well-done.  I appreciate so many gifts that God wraps in a person.

March 9, 2021

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your minds in Christ Jesus.”         Philippians 4:6,7

Last Sunday, I preached on seeking to subtract worry from your life.  Worry and anxiety are so common to our experience.  They certainly are common to the one who is without faith in Jesus Christ.  All too often, we who are Christians are not too much different.

I had intended to share an illustration related to worry, but left the story on my desk rather than taking it with me to the pulpit.  So I’ll share it here.  J. C. Penney was a Christian man, from a long line of Baptist preachers.  He was unwaveringly honest.  He never smoked or drank, and he was a very hard worker.  But in 1929 when the Great Depression hit, Penney found himself in crisis.  He had made unwise commitments and they had turned sour.  Penney began to worry about them, and soon he was unable to sleep.  He developed a painful case of shingles and was hospitalized.  His anxiety only increased in the hospital.  His mental state deteriorated until, as he later said, “I was broken nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope.  I had nothing to live for.  I felt I hadn’t a friend left in the world, that even my family turned against me.”

One night he was so oppressed he didn’t think his heart would hold out, and expecting to die before morning, he sat down and wrote farewell letters to his wife and sons.

But he lived through the night, and the next morning he heard singing coming from the little hospital chapel.  The words of the song said, “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you.”  He entered the chapel and listened to the song, to the Scripture reading, and to the prayer.  Suddenly, something happened.  He said that he could not explain it, but what he could only call a miracle came.  He said that he felt as if he had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight.

All worry left him as he realized more fully than he had ever imagined just how much the Lord Jesus Christ cared for him.  From that day J. C. Penney was never plagued with worry, and he later called those moments in the chapel “the most dramatic and glorious twenty minutes of my life.”  I would add that we would not know of him, except that by God’s grace and with God’s help, worry did not hold him back from the life that would unfold.

To simply know the goodness and presence of God, should ease our minds and free us from worry.  Yet, we are often unable to do so, except we put something else in the place of worry.  The Apostle Paul says that we should pray and give thanks. 

Let’s try that today.  May the peace that came to J.C. Penney come to you.

March 4, 2021

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”   Psalm 127:3-5

Today, is the birthday of our first son.  He is now 33 years old.  Wow!  It seems like just yesterday that Mary told me that her water had broken and we needed to call the doctor and get to the hospital.  As they say, ‘time flies’.

Our two sons have been a blessing to us.  I feel privileged to have them in our lives.  They are each unique and with their own personalities, talents, and strengths.  I feel especially blessed that they have come to their own personal faith in Jesus Christ.

If sons are arrows, than I wouldn’t have many in my quiver.  I had better be a good shot! I know that not everyone is blessed with children.  God has His purposes and plans for each of us.  We don’t all have the same course and are certainly not blessed in the same way.  For those with children, or those who don’t have any, there is still the possibility of sharing meaningfully in the lives of younger generations.  Sometimes an aunt or uncle can be a great influence and blessing to a young boy or girl, teenager, or adult. 

Not all children are easy to raise or are obedient or compliant.  We ought to be slow to judge the parenting or raising of another’s children.  I do think that when a child is seen as a gift from the LORD that we respond to the child in a different way.  Discipline, patience, perseverance and other things may be required at different points and in different measures, but we can recognize that God has given that one to us for a good purpose.

In the Biblical days, children were a means of not only continuing the family’s name and heritage, but were a kind of resource for one’s care and help.  The Scripture above alludes to such things.  Many matters were settled, for example, at the city gates.  To have those who might stand with you, could be a help.

While we might talk of biological children and family, it is good to be a part of the family of Christian faith.  To share life together is a blessing.  I am thankful for spiritual men and women in my life.  It is a blessing to know that there are those who pray for me and who would seek to help, if needed.  I hope to do the same for others.

So, today, I am reminded of this gift.  Perhaps, you can think with me of such blessings in your life.

March 2, 2021

“So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. . .At that time we took all his cities. . . All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars. . .Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaites.  His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long. . .”                 Deuteronomy 3:3-5,11

 Is God able to keep His promises? 

Many of you know how when coming out of slavery in Egypt and before entering the Promised Land, that 12 spies were sent into the land to check it out.  They brought back a report.  The land was indeed good.  But ten of the twelve shared a negative word.  It included the statements that the cities were large with walls up to the sky.  The people, they reported, were also stronger and taller.  You can read one of the reports earlier in Deuteronomy 1:26-28.  Due to this report of fear and unbelief, those who were 20 years old and older, who came out of Egypt, did not enter the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness during the 40 years of wandering.

When God did enable them to begin to take possession of the land, note what happened in the above passage.  The greatly fortified and wall cities were of no consequence, when God enabled the victory.  The giants of the land, those men of great size, were not able to overcome the hand of God that was with Israel.  Yes, there were those who must have been of great size and height, as is indicated by the size of the bed.  Yet, this size was nothing to God.

God is faithful and able to do what He promises.  This gives me great hope and confidence.  We may not know all of what is the best of God’s desires for us.  God’s wisdom and purposes are often beyond our knowing.  Yet, the promises that God has declared can be fully trusted.  I love Jesus’ promise to his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am,” (John 14:3).  Jesus was giving them assurance of a heavenly home.  I believe that he does the same for us.  I love Jesus’ words in the great verse of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever lives and believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God is surely able to keep his promises.  The Apostle Paul affirms this, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when in Romans 8, he begins with, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and ends with nothing “else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You may need today to be reminded that God is faithful.  Trust Him with whatever might be causing fear or worry today. 

February 25, 2021

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”     Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

 I can appreciate a sharp tool when it comes to cutting.  I have tried at times to cut wood with a dull chain saw.  It not only will not cut well and take much longer, but it is hard on both the saw and the operator.  On the other hand, a brand new, sharp chain can glide through wood and make the effort very effective, pleasurable, and also easier on the operator.

What about the possibility of sharpening one another?  I think that it is easy enough for us to see how this might be so.  Teachers aid in the sharpening of understanding for their students who will listen and apply the principles offered.  Coaches can sharpen the skills of the athletes under their care by helping them to discipline their bodies, improve their skills/techniques, and to follow a strategy for success.  Some may enter an apprenticeship to be able to learn from one skilled in a trade how to do the work effectively.

I believe the author of Proverbs was thinking especially about living a God-honoring life.  Here, too, we may be of real benefit to one another.  In a positive sense, the pastor or Sunday School teacher, may help the parishioner or class member gain insight into a Bible passage and how to apply such a place to everyday life.  Certainly, parents can do the same with children in their homes.  Christian friends can share new insights from God’s Word or from an experience with those with whom they share life.  We can encourage each other in our challenges, to keep the faith and to press on.

As I stated in my last blog, sharpening may mean that some material on the axe is removed.  Sometimes in the sharpening of another, something abrasive must be used to get the desired result.  It is hard to be corrected—that rubs. Yet, this may be needed for the good.  It is hard to have flaws revealed or to be challenged to think or to act differently.  We often resist such “sharpening”.  Yet, when it is done with humility and with a desire for good, it is one of the best kindnesses that can come to us.

It is a blessing to have such people in our lives.  I hope that you might have such a one.  Perhaps there is one who has even been that for you, although they have are no longer living.  Still another, may have been that for you although it has been through the medium of their writings or a TED talk or some other way. 

Whatever the means, we benefit from the sharpening that can come from a trusted source.  It is one of the blessings that God designed for the body of Christ.  Someone has suggested that we might all have a couple of levels of such relationship.  On one level, you might benefit from the insight and experience of someone more mature.  On another level, you may be a Paul to a younger Timothy.  Sometimes, a Christian friendship allows us to do so back and forth.

May you consider the sharpening benefit that you have received in your life from the life of another.  This may be a time to thank God for such help or to express thanks to the one who has done that for you.  May you also be open to the help that you may be able to offer.  You will likely not seek it out, but have it sought out by another.  Even so, you may be open to it, if God seems to bring it into your life.

It is great to be “sharp” for life in Christ.  We could all benefit. 

February 23, 2021

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”                        Matthew 5:14-16

Many of you will recognize these words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount.  “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said.  We know that Jesus was the light of the world.  Yet, he said that his disciples would be, too.  I think that it is fair to conclude that Jesus would also include those of us who are current disciples of his in this statement.

Jesus encourages us to let our light shine before others.  What is our light?  It is the actions and activities of our lives.  We might also include our motives and intentions, but these cannot be seen directly by others, except as our actions line up with them.  Jesus did expect that our lives would be a pleasing witness.  He said that our lives could and should bring praise to our Father in heaven by those who observe the way we live.

At times we feel that we are not far enough along to be a witness for Christ.  We may feel that with more experience and maturity, we will someday be the witness Jesus had in mind.  I like an illustration that I read recently.  A reasonably new Christian was asked about his witness.  He said that he was only a learner.  His pastor challenged him with this thought—when does a candle begin to shine?  Does it only shine after it is half burned up?  “No,” came the Christian’s reply. “It shines the moment it is lit.”  “That’s right, so let your light shine right away,” was the pastor’s encouragement.

Whatever our length of relationship with Christ, we are witnesses.  Our light shines in the midst of a culture that is quite distinctly different.  We all may humbly feel that our lives are not as fully what God would have them to be.  Still, let us, in humility, live for Christ, seeking to bring honor and praise to God. 

As some of us used to sing as children, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”  Amen.

February 18, 2021

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”                                                                                   James 1:27

 Usually I don’t like to talk about Christianity as a religion.  I would prefer to think of it as a relationship with God.  But since, the author James, does so, I will as well.

As we think about our Christianity, our faith, we want to do that which is pure and faultless before God.  We want to please God and make sure that we are getting it right.  People may at times find fault with what the church or Christians do.  Christians may even find fault with what other Christians do.  But what does God say is pure and faultless?

James mentions some of the most vulnerable of his day, orphans and widows.  He says to the Christians of that day, that the Christian is going to “look after” them in their distress.  They have no one to protect or provide for them.  Our day may have others who are especially vulnerable, but these two groups were especially in need of Christian generosity and care in that day.  As Christians, we ought always to have our minds and hearts open to those in real need.   Are there those in need around you today?  Is it in your power and ability to come to their need?  Such a basic kindness and love is to mark our lives.

The government makes provision for some who are vulnerable.  In part, this has sometimes convinced us that we no longer need to be concerned.  Still, there are those who need our care and concern.  It may not always be financial.  It might be that there are those who lack a support network of listening or of wise counsel.

James also appeals to us as Christians to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.  He isn’t talking about air pollution or the like.  He is speaking of moral pollution.  The world, about which he is thinking, is a mindset of thinking and of behavior that is against the things of God or the desires of God.  The world represents a self-centered orientation.  It promotes a pleasure-driven life.  Lusts of the eye and of the heart for the things that are outside the will of God are often the ways of the world.  How can we avoid being squeezed into the thinking of the world?

I think that we have to continue to strive to know God and to know His Word, the Bible, rightly understood.  We read and pray.  We check our hearts and motives.  We ask the Holy Spirit to create in us a pure and clean heart.  We ask other mature Christians to give us an honest assessment of what they see in us and the choices that we are making.  We guard our conversations.

Christianity, at its best, is so very good.  It is helpful, generous and kind.  It is honoring to God and lived in a way that seeks to please God.  It is obedient to God’s principles and the practices that God has given.  Even so, it is not just a “works” religion.  It is works born out of a love for God, and a response to the love of God poured out on us.

This Lenten season, may we especially be tender-hearted to the most needy around us.  May we also guard our hearts against worldly desires that go against a God-honoring life.

February 16, 2021

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”                                                                                  Psalm 40:1-2

 I think most of us would like to have such a testimony. 

We can relate, at some level, to a very difficult time or place in our lives.  It used to be a common expression to say, “that is the pits.”  It is the reality of life in a sinful world that it can be ‘the pits,’ at least at times.

Do we pray at such times to the living God?  Do we not just voice a quick prayer, but truly cry out in sincerity?  What is it that we ask for in prayer?  Is it to be lifted out of the pit?  Is it to learn something more of God and His strength while we remain in the pit?  Our prayers might be quite revealing of what we view as of value in our lives.  Do we want free of the trouble?  It is normal to desire it to be so, but could we have faith to ask to become stronger to endure what is needful?

David, the author of the psalm, says that he waited patiently for the Lord.  God is good and God works in a timing that can work His purpose.  Can you and I wait patiently for the Lord, when we are in the pit?

It is such a blessing to know that God turns to us and hears our cry.  For Job, this was as valuable to him as was the answer to his inquiry to God.  It is more obvious to us that we have been heard when we are lifted out of the pit.  When we are set in a better place and enable to stand once again, we can declare that God has done it.  It is wonderful to declare that God has heard our prayer and come to our aid.  Yet, to be met in the midst of our need and assured of the presence of God, is also of great value.  It, too, is worthy of a voice of praise.  The Apostle Paul plead with the Lord to remove ‘a thorn in the flesh.’  God told him that He would not do so.  Even so, God would give him grace sufficient to bear it.  So because God was in it and gave him an answer, Paul said that he would glory, instead, in the weakness.  God’s presence and answer were a solid place to stand as well, even if he still remained ‘in the pit’.

God is worthy of our praise this day.  God does hear our cry.  God is at work for good in the lives of those who love and fear Him.  May our faith enable the testimony of David, to be true of us, no matter just how the prayer is answered.

February 11, 2021

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”     Luke 19:10

Have you ever been lost?  Most of us have been, as we made a wrong turn or got away from the places we know.  All of us are spiritually lost, when sin is a reality in us.  We don’t like to be physically lost, nor is it pleasant to think that we can be spiritually lost as well.

It is always a blessing to be found.  It is the heart of God to seek and to save what was lost.  This is no small thing.  The Son of Man is Jesus.  He made this claim about himself.  He did so in the context of the events surrounding a tax collector named Zacchaeus.

Tax collectors were thought of about as highly then as they are today.  They were often put in the same group with prostitutes and other notorious sinners.  Yet, Zacchaeus had a desire to see Jesus.  He climbed up in a tree to catch a glimpse of him as he passed that way.  Jesus did come that way, and as he did so, he looked up into the tree and spoke to him.  He called him by name.  That must have been quite a surprise for Zacchaeus.  How could he have known him?  He asked him to come down and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home.  Would he really want to stay with him?  Indeed, he did.

Jesus was ever willing to save the one who knew he was lost.  He did so in ways that gave hope and compassion.

While all Christians would likely say that we want the whole world to be saved, sometimes our desire for someone who has offended us or hurt one we care about, limits our real desire for their restoration.  This may be a day to ask ourselves if there is one who we may wish would remain lost? 

It is as we remember that we were also once lost in sin and couldn’t really find our way, that we begin to think differently about another who may not be so different from us. 

May you join me in this prayer?  Lord, thank you for being ever interested in the one who is lost.  May you enable me to encourage the one, within my life, who may need the encouragement of a sincere smile, a helping hand, or a word of hope.  We all need the help of the Savior to find our way home.  Help me to never forget.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

February 9, 2021

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down and the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.”

                                                                                    Matthew 7:24-25

Foundations are vitally important to a structure and its ability to withstand challenges that come.  What is visible might be impressive, but it is what is underneath the surface that will determine its strength amid the storm.

Recently, I watched an interview with Christian thinker and defender of the faith, Ravi Zacharias.  The interviewer asked questions of him.  A series of questions seemed to relate to whether it made any difference as to the beginning, if the conclusions a certain thinker seemed good.  For example, if a person seems to maintain a life of morality, does it matter why he does so?  Ravi did appreciate the value of a moral life, but he said that because the man did not have a sound foundation for his living, the fragility of that life could show itself when put to the test.

Our Christian faith and life is built on the foundation of the character of God.  The words of Jesus, “these words of mine” from Matthew 7, are founded on the character and nature of God.  Putting these words into practice gives one’s life the foundation necessary to withstand the storms of life.

Storms of life are sure to come.  “In this world you will have trouble .  .  .” Jesus said (John 16:33).  I have not known a single person who has not experienced some kind of trouble.  Some troubles are of our own making.  Some troubles come because we live in a sin-filled and sin-affected world.  Either way, troubles do come.  What will sustain us in such times? 

It is not just knowing the Word of God, but it is in putting such words into practice, that a life is on the solid rock.  One example of this may be the way we face the death of a loved one or friend.  If we know that those who have trusted in Jesus Christ’s atoning death for sin, will be forgiven and will enter into life eternal with God, then we can grieve in a different way.  Certainly there will be sadness in their absence from on lives, in the short run.  Yet, we know that this is not all there is for them or for us.  So, we are able to press on.

I am thankful today for the solid foundation of putting the Word of God into practice.  It does not just look good in pleasing times.  It will hold up in times of trouble.

February 4, 2021

“Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary who worked very hard for you.  .  .  Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.”

                                                                                    Romans 16:5b, 6, and 8

In this sixteenth chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul has a litany of friends and family about whom he expresses love, friendship, and appreciation.  What a blessing to share life and faith with others.

This morning I write with the passing of a man of faith, John Snoderly.  John went into the presence of his Lord yesterday afternoon.  While his earthly life was long in many respects, it never seems quite long enough for those who have shared meaningfully in his life.  We grieve the loss of the gift of his friendship and of his life.  We have shared many things with John over the years.  We will have a chance to think and to remember him in the days ahead.  At this moment, we just pause to acknowledge our sense of sadness, even as we have great hope for John and have a great thankfulness for his life among us.

The Apostle Paul shared in the lives of many.  They also shared in his life in rich ways.  I believe that such places as the end of Romans are not just meant to be add-ons that we might quickly skip over as irrelevant to us.  Instead, they are reminders of the tapestry of life together in the Christian faith.  God never intended for us to live the Christian life alone.  We are, as he writes in another place, members of one body—all needed.  Some may have very visible roles, while others have quiet supportive roles. 

Paul acknowledges quite a number in this chapter.  I have only included three of them.  Today, I think of John and give God thanks for him.  He was a faithful servant of the Lord in the life of the Lakemore United Methodist Church and in the other circles of his life, where he lived the faith. 

We will miss you, John, until we see each other in the land of the living.

February 2, 2021

“You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?”  If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken.  That prophet has spoken presumptuously.  Do not be afraid of him.”          Deuteronomy 18:21-22

Today is February 2, 2021.  Some of you know that it is known around here as Groundhog Day.  I listened this morning to a broadcast of the proceedings in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Punxsutawney Phil was brought out and he saw his shadow.  That, they say, means that we will have six more weeks of winter.  Before he came out, there was great praise for this rodent as the prognosticator of prognosticators.  Later, on the radio news, it was reported that the National Weather Service says that he is about 40% accurate.  If I know some simple math that means that he is wrong 60% of the time.  He doesn’t even get it right half the time. 

I would have to conclude that Punxsutawney Phil is a false prophet.  The above passage says that we need not fear a false prophet.  Earlier, in Deut. 18:20, Moses writes, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”  It was a serious matter to claim to speak a word from God, when such was not the case.  The main indicator of this was whether the words of the prophet came true.

Now, I am not suggesting that we put the famous rodent to death.  I know much of that is just kind of fun.  It gives a rather obscure place in Pennsylvania some notoriety.  Yet, it does give me a chance to talk about God’s Word and the trustworthiness of it.

No one wants to be lied to or deceived.  When we are, we are at the very least disappointed or far worse.  In fact, truthfulness is the foundation of a marriage, the court of law, and really most all relationships of life. To know that God’s Word can be trusted is critical. 

Much of our hope as Christian believers rests on the promises of God.  Is God to be trusted?  I believe that we have the record of God’s faithfulness revealed.  While some of the prophecy past might have been misunderstood, we, looking back can see the trustworthiness and accuracy of God’s promises.  God has shown himself to be faithful and true over and over.  His truthfulness is not 40%, or 50%, or 85%, but 100%.  Anything less than entirely trustworthy would negate any confidence in Him.

We always have the possibility of misunderstanding.  If something seems amiss regarding God’s truthfulness, the fault likely lies in us, not in God.  The Bible calls us to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

Let us give thanks to God today for His faithfulness, His truthfulness.  Let us count on His promises and look with hope to what God has in store.

January 28, 2021

“Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your god is giving you to possess.”   Deuteronomy 19:14

Some of us are studying the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.  It is guidance for the people of Israel, as they enter into the Promised Land.  The insights and wisdom that it shares is worthy of our attention.  It may not apply directly to us, but it shows us the heart of God.  The lessons learned can be applied to our lives and situations.

The guidance here given shows how God values honesty.  God’s people were not to act in a way that might provide advantage over another, when it was done in a deceptive or improper way.  We can imagine someone moving a marker so that the property they had increased (likely without buying the additional land).  Such dishonesty reveals lack of character that the one doing so possesses.  God hates deception.  God hates lying, which may take many forms, including this one done without words.

In addition to the deception being practiced, there is also an underlying desire for gain without effort.  This is often a problem for us.  We want to receive something for nothing.  Lately, I have received numerous emails and texts that I have “been chosen” or won something of value.  I am assuming that these things are a scam and I have not opened them or claimed my so-called prize.  Yet, I must admit that it is appealing to think that I could receive something for nothing.

Ultimately, do we trust the Lord to be our provider?  Will God be able to give us our daily bread?  I have found God to be a great provider in my life.  Certainly God has provided for my salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Beyond that, God has given to us through the church, resources enough to have all that we have needed and more.  God is trustworthy and true.

So today, I am reminded to seek to do the entirely right and honorable thing.  I don’t intend to move any markers, but even more so, I don’t want to move the markers of God’s Word, which might be more of a challenge than property markers.

January 26, 2021

“And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant, but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life and no razor will ever be used on his head.”                              1 Samuel 1:11

 Growing up, we used to sing a hymn, Give of Your Best to the Master.  Maybe you know the hymn.  The chorus goes, “Give of your best to the Master; give of the strength of your youth; clad in salvation’s full armor, join in the battle for truth.”  Sometimes the words of a song come back into your mind.

I can’t think of a greater gift than to give your child to the Lord.  The above verse records the words of Hannah.  She vowed that if God would give her a son, she would give him into service for Him.  Children were a blessing of God, and to be married and not able to have children was seen as a terrible tragedy or even a curse.  So to be without children was a great burden on her heart.  For her, to give her son, did not mean to let him become a minister once he was grown, but to offer him to the priest for service once he was weaned.  This most likely would have been by age three, or before.  God did give her a son and she kept her word.  As difficult as that must have been, Hannah knew that God had blessed her and she prayed rejoicing in her heart for God’s goodness to her.  You can read her prayer in 1 Samuel, chapter 2.

We think of Thanksgiving as the time to consider the blessing of God in your life, but why not do so at the end of January?  We can count our troubles, but counting blessings is far more profitable.  How are we responding to the blessings of God in our lives?  It is wise to do several things.  First, it is good to give God thanks.  I heard a story of a boy who was invited over to a neighboring family for a meal.  The boy was surprised that they did not first stop to give thanks to God before eating.  He must have had a look on his face or perhaps he didn’t dive right in to his food.  The father of the home asked him why he wasn’t eating right away.  The boy said that in his family, they always pause first to give thanks to God for the food.  “Oh, we don’t bother to do that,” said the father.  “Do all those at your place pray before they eat?”  The boy thought for a minute and then said, “No, come to think of it, there are some who don’t.”  “Now those are the enlightened ones,” the father declared.  “Tell me who they are?”  “I was thinking of our pigs,” the boy replied.

Second, a great way to respond to God’s blessings, is to give of one’s self.  Hannah gave her very own son.  At times, God’s people strayed from giving the things of real value to them.  Instead of bringing perfect animals as sacrifices to God, they started bringing those which were injured or had a defect in some way.  Malachi 1:8 records God’s indictment through the prophet, “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?  When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong?  Try offering them to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?  Would he accept you?  Says the LORD Almighty.”  Are we giving our best to the Master?  Are we offering back to God that which is of value to us?  One of the things of most value to us is our time.  Are we giving to God, time for service, for study, for worship?

Finally, we can respond to God with our tithes and offerings.  For the children of Israel, the tithe was ten percent and the offerings were additional.  I don’t think that we have to be dogmatic about a certain percentage.  The Apostle Paul was confident that if Christians thought of God’s goodness to them, that they would surely be generous.  Giving is one of the most freeing acts.  A person came to the door of a home where a family lived.  A man was seeking help.  The boy said that he went to his own piggy bank and emptied it, giving all to the man.  Years later, he commented that it was the most freeing thing that he had ever done.  It is a blessing to respond to God’s blessings. 

Today, I want to give of my best to the Master.  Will you join me?

January 21, 2021

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”  Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.  That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.”                 Psalm 122:1-4

The King James Version of the first of these verses came to mind for me this morning.  There it says, “I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”  I rejoiced.  I was glad.  Both of these expressions carry with them the idea of joy, and of delight.  The occasion of this gladness was being able to go to Jerusalem to worship the LORD and to take part in one of the three festivals that were required of each adult Jewish male.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 16, Moses instructs the people to go on three special occasions to the place that the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name.  We know that this place would be Jerusalem.  It was there that the temple of the LORD was constructed.  Jerusalem is at a higher elevation than the surrounding geography, so it was accurate and literal to say, let us go up to the house of the LORD.  Those three occasions were the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles.

One of the things that I was drawn to related to this ‘going to the house of the LORD,’ was that it was an occasion of joy.  It may have been required, but it was no less a delight to do so.  In Deuteronomy it uses the word, celebrate, to describe the keeping of these occasions.  Celebrate the Passover (Deut. 16:1).  Celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:10).  Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:13).  I know that it may be possible to celebrate occasions without joy, but certainly joy was the intent.  I imagine that these occasions were much as vacations may be to some of us.  To also consider such times as large gatherings of relatives and friends make such times almost a reunion.  It was also possible to eat meat, which may not have been the usual practice for most.  Some of the rituals and practices associated with these occasions were filled with memories of God’s work and blessing in their lives.

It has been my privilege to worship in the house of the Lord for most of my life.  I did not fully realize how much of a blessing and privilege this was until we were limited from doing so.  When we were able to begin to meet for the parking lot service, later for some small Bible studies, and then later still, for indoor worship, it brought gladness to my heart.  Even now, I look at people who have gathered for indoor worship and I think of how I appreciate and have been blessed by their lives of faith.  I can also think of many who I do not see, but know are also seeking to worship and are doing so by virtue of internet possibilities.

God wants us to delight in Him.  Sadly, sometimes worship is perceived as a duty.  We all know that there are times when we may not feel so inclined to do much of anything, including worship.  Still, I am thankful to be able to go to the house of the Lord and to worship with others.  God is altogether worthy of it.  I hope that you can think of your time with God and with others in worship with a sense of joy and of gratitude. 

Could we say from our hearts, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the LORD?”

 

January 19, 2021

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or the left.  Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”          Deuteronomy 17:18-20

 In our Thursday morning Bible study we have been studying the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses is still with the people of Israel.  He is giving them instructions from God as they are about to enter into the Promised Land.  The passage that I typed above relates to the desire that the people will have for a king.  When such a desire comes, and a king is put in place, these instructions are given for that king.

For God’s people, a king was not necessary.  God was to be their king and their ultimate ruler.  But as we know, they wanted what the other nations had.  God would allow them to have this desire.  Yet, different from the other nations and their kings, Israel’s king was to be a spiritual ruler as well.  We see how this plays out.  When Israel’s king was godly and faithful, idolatry was either forbidden or removed (if it had been allowed by a previous king).  When Israel’s king turned from God and God’s law, the people also went astray.

When I read through the Old Testament in the past, I don’t remember coming upon this passage.  Israel’s king was to have a personal copy of God’s Word (the portion that existed at the time).  The king was to read it and follow it all the days of his life.  I am sure that somewhere along the line, this practice was forgotten. 

What a good gift it is to have God’s Word.  How able it is to guide a king, or anyone, in that which is good and pleasing to God and for our good living.  How simple and yet profound is the way that God’s Word can truly shape living when it is read and applied daily.  How often we have experienced the negative results because we have simply left out the protective practice of reading God’s Word and applying to our living.

As we are on the verge of an Inauguration, our President elect will likely put his hand on the Bible as a part of the swearing in process.  Wouldn’t it be great if he would also take a copy of God’s Word and read it all the days of his life?  We can pray that God will put or keep such a desire within him.  I believe that what is good for those in leadership is also good for those under it.  If having God’s Word and reading it is good for a king, wouldn’t it be good for us as well?

Today, would be a good day to start a practice of regular Bible reading.  Read so as to practice that which is God-honoring and life-giving.  There is a little guide for daily reading on the church’s website, under one of the other tabs.  You can find it and use it, just as you are finding this.

God is so kind to give us that which is for our good.  May God’s Word be in our daily lives, in our hearts, in our decisions, and in our actions.  To have it be so, will be a blessing.

January 14, 2021

“. . . I beat my body and make it a slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”              2 Corinthians 9:27

Last Sunday (1/10/21), I preached a sermon that had to do with discipline.  As I stated in that sermon, I am not talking about the kind of discipline that a parent might need to carry out on a misbehaving child.  Instead, I am talking about the kind of thinking and of behavior that carefully lives the life of a disciple of Jesus.

At the close of the sermon, I made the point that the Apostle Paul was concerned that he would get the prize and in no way be disqualified from receiving it.  It might be helpful to mention again that the context of Paul’s words are not related to salvation or to receiving heaven/eternal life.  Rather, the context refers to the life of the Christian, and the way one lives life.  There are rewards that God will give to the Christian related to the way in which one lives.  A few verses earlier, than the one quoted above, Paul says that the athletes in the games, who receive a prize, get a very temporary one.  The believer can receive a crown that will last forever.  Paul doesn’t want to be disqualified from receiving any reward that God desires to give him.

All athletes who compete in a contest are usually either aware of the rules, or are advised so, before the contest begins.  Maybe you can remember how before a boxing match, the referee gives the boxers a few guidelines.  That would be an example.  I wonder if we who are Christians are familiar with “the rules?”  That is the where I want to go with this little blog.

In terms of behavior, God gives us guidance for living in the Bible.  To the Jew, there were many guidelines given in the Old Testament.  There were the Ten Commandments.  There were rules related to appropriate dietary practices.  There were rules related to the practice of certain festivals.  In the New Testament, Christians are given guidance for the rules of a Christian life, largely in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  The Apostle Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, so for most of us, his writing are for us.

Passages such as Galatians 5:16-25, give us help in knowing how to live by the Spirit.  Verses 19-21, tell us what the acts of the sinful nature are.  These will disqualify the believer from rewards that could be ours. 

Culture of the day may redefine acceptable practices.  They may seem to institute “new rules or guidelines.”  Be very careful that you do not give way to such things.  To do so is to face the possibility of being disqualified for the prize.  Those who abandon the rules of the Scripture that relate to what God has declared, may be surprised to one day discover that they have been disqualified for heavenly rewards.  If Paul was concerned, so should we be.  We have witnessed others who although they have lived much of their lives for Christ, did something toward the end, or in the midst, which put a stain on their witness, and took them out of the running for reward.

I am not writing to discourage the one who has fallen short of God’s rules.  In such times, we can only run to God for forgiveness, with true repentance.  We can and must begin again, in humility.  Still, how wise it is to come to God’s Word and allow it to be the standard of what the rules truly are.  Culture may change the boundaries, but God’s Word will be the faithful standard.  Let us search carefully the Scriptures and seek to live those principles and practices God gives to us (bearing in mind those that relate especially to us).  Let us run a clean race and be able one day to receive the crown of a God-honoring life.

January 12, 2021

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.  You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”                                                                                 Genesis 41:39-40

The story of Joseph of the Old Testament is a remarkable one.  Joseph was one of the sons of Jacob.  You can begin to read about his life as a boy beginning in Genesis, chapter 37.  In that chapter, Joseph has dreams which he shared with his brothers and his father.  Later, the dreams of others are a part of his story.  There is a dream of the Pharaoh that is told to Joseph, that he might interpret it.

Pharaoh has been told that Joseph can interpret dreams.  We see something of the character of Joseph, when he tells Pharaoh that he cannot interpret dreams, but God can.  After God reveals the interpretation of the dream to Joseph and then through him, to Pharaoh, Pharaoh decides to entrust to Joseph the responsibilities described in the verses above.

God is willing to give wisdom to those who will humbly seek God, and God’s wisdom.  I have a verse of the day on my phone.  Today’s verse is from James, chapter 1, verse five.  “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking,”  James 1:5   (NLT).

We all could use more wisdom for living.  I know that I certainly need it. We can ask God, and God will honor our sincere and humble request.  To ask God, honors God, because it acknowledges that God is altogether wise.  Some of the wisdom we seek from God has already been revealed by God in the Bible.  While God could speak directly to us, and may, we can also discern the wisdom from time spent reading and considering His Word.  While some things in the Bible may be difficult to understand, there is much that is clear and helpful for the wisdom and understanding of what is true and good.  The Bible speaks to practical issues related to such things as money management, priorities for life, and godly character.  I am trying to not only read, but to daily ponder the words of the Bible. Some of the things that I read today may be a help for this day, or perhaps for a future time of needed insight.

We can see in the life of Joseph, a man who honored God and lived wisely.  He did so through much adversity in his early adult years.  Today, you might find yourself in need of wisdom.  I hope that you will ask God, and believe that he will guide you.  Wait patiently.  Keep an open heart.  Read the Bible for insight.  The word from God will come. 

God used Joseph and He can use those that will humbly seek His wisdom.

January 7, 2021

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD had done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD had made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”                                                                                                                                                                                                             Psalm 118:22-24

 I looked this morning for the last verse, in the verses above.  It is one of those verses that call us to find meaning and even joy in each day that is ours.  I wanted to bring it to mind because so often life is such that we are not so happy in the situation of life or so content with all that fills the days.  Even so, this day is a gift from God.  It still is something that has been given to us.  No matter what may be the circumstances that affect the day, still God has given it to us and there is joy to be found in it.

When I located the familiar verse, I was surprised to see what preceded it.  You might recognize the verses about “stone the builders rejected.”  In the New Testament, these words from the Psalm are quoted in reference to Jesus.  Jesus is the stone the builders rejected that has become the capstone.  Jesus was rejected in his crucifixion and death.  Yet, in his resurrection, he has become the capstone.  The capstone is the most important stone of the archway.  It holds all in place and secures the entryway.

I was greatly encouraged to see these verses together.  It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us cause to look at each day as something that gives us the opportunity to rejoice.  Even in life’s bleakest places, the hope that comes in Christ, gives us cause for hope and for joy.  There is another verse, Psalm 30:5, which includes these words, “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  Because there is a stone that has become the capstone, we can rejoice.  Jesus gives us reason to be hopeful in the day.  Weeping may be the temporary reality, but we don’t dwell on it.  Instead, we look with hope toward “the morning.”

If you find yourself facing discouraging or challenging things, don’t lose sight of Jesus Christ’s victory.  It gives us reason to press on in great anticipation of what will be.

January 5, 2021

“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”  Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”  The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”    Matthew 8:5-8

 You might be familiar with this interaction recorded in Matthew’s gospel.  If you were to read more of the passage, further explanation is present.  The centurion is a man familiar with the principle of authority.  He, himself, had exercised authority over other soldiers under his command.  He knew that Jesus also had such authority.  He understood that Jesus had authority over the condition of his servant.  He also recognized that Jesus need not be present, but merely had to speak the word of healing and it would be done.

Jesus commended the man for such understanding and for such faith.  In fact, Jesus declared that he had not found anyone with such faith in Israel as this centurion had.

The book of Hebrews declares that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” (Hebrews 11:6).  We see examples in the Bible both of those with faith and those who lack it.  Even in the same chapter of Matthew, the disciples in the storm reveal that they have little faith (Mt. 8:26).

Sometimes, as believers, we waiver between confident faith and little faith.  For me, I don’t doubt what God can do.  God is able to do all things.  It is that I doubt that what I may desire is the best that God knows to do. I read recently of a father who was asked by his daughter some request that was not selfish.  The request really was a good desire that was fitting with the father’s desires for his daughter.  He was happy to respond to her request.  The key in our seeking is whether the desire is God-honoring .  I believe the Holy Spirit can also help us to be led in God-honoring praying.

I want to begin my praying by humbly seeking to honor God as I come to Him.  I ask God to hear my prayers, but especially that what I am praying will most honor Him.  When we have such a submissive heart, I believe that we can and will see God’s responses.

Today, will you pray with me that we be people of the kind of faith that was true of the centurion?

December 24, 2020

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”                   John 1:10-13

 There is a lesser known Christmas song that goes, “Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger, Sweet little holy child, we didn’t know who you were.”

We didn’t know who you were.  Many still do not recognize him.

In our world we benefit from many things of which we do not know the maker.  We might know or recognize the brand, but we usually do not know specifically who sewed the item or who made the tool or who helped to assemble the car.  Years ago, we commissioned an Amish craftsman to make for us wooden kitchen chairs.  He did so, and when we picked them up and later looked at them more carefully, he had put his name, in his own handwriting, on the bottom of each one.  There was no doubt about who made them.  We knew and recognized his creation and could give him both money for doing so, and credit for his work.

It is amazing that Jesus Christ, God the Son, was and is our creator, but we might not acknowledge or know him.  We celebrate his birth, yet many think more of Santa than of Jesus at Christmas.  Those of us who know that Christmas is Jesus birthday, may still live in a way that scarcely acknowledges the reality of His Lordship over all, or even over our lives. This passage is somber, in that regard.

Still, there is a word that comes in the latter portion of these verses.  It is a little one, but most significant.  It is the word, “yet”.  “Yet to all who did receive him. . .”  This, “yet”, makes all the difference.  Not only is a new and wonderful relationship established, but the intention of the creator for the creation starts to come into right relationship and focus.  I have been made by Him with a purpose.  I have been created to live a life that acknowledges his Lordship and seeks to yield to His will and way.  I know that Jesus was not only born for me, but that he died for me and in my place.  He did so that I might truly live as a part of his family.  This relationship is not intended to be in name only.  We can live as God’s dear children.

So, on this Christmas Eve, we are grateful when we could say or sing, “Sweet little Jesus boy, we did know who you are!”

December 22, 2020

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.””

                                                                                                Luke 2:14

There are many things that are among the most precious.  High on the list is peace.    With the coming of Jesus, God was initiating a plan that would offer peace to those who would humbly receive it.

There are different sorts of peace.  There is the peace that some Moms long for when they say, “If only I could have some peace and quiet.”  There is a peace that is the cessation of war.  There is a peace that reflects a tranquility of heart and of mind.  It is sometimes stated with words like, “I’m at peace with my decision.”

The Jews greatly valued peace in several of these types.  As a people, they often knew something of an outward conflict with a neighboring enemy, and longed for peace.  They also experienced an absence of peace, because they strayed from God and God’s commands.  They desired an inward peace and in their greeting of ‘shalom,’ they wished others this kind of real peace in life and in one’s heart.

The NIV Study Bible includes these words in the study notes on this verse:  “the angels proclaimed a deeper, more lasting peace than that (the Pax Romana/Roman peace of external tranquility)—a peace of mind and soul made possible by the Savior.”  The Apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand,” (Romans 5:1,2).

Jesus came to bring a peace between a holy God, and a sinful humanity.  He bore the cost of that peace, as he died for sin upon the cross.  In the birth of Jesus, comes the One, whose purpose is to bring that greatest of peace.

Every day is a good day to receive the peace of God through the confession of sin and of true repentance.  Jesus has bought the gift.  It is up to us to receive it and open it up.  Some years I receive some good gifts which are not yet needed.  It might be a new packet of socks or underwear.  I may lay them aside in a portion of my closet.  I intend to open them later, when the need comes.  Sadly, sometimes I forget that they are there and may purchase others.  God’s gift is available, but its availability does not assure its receipt and use.

May you take full advantage of God’s peace through Jesus Christ.  It is one of the great gifts of Christmas.

  December 17, 2020

“Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will read sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”        2 Corinthians 9:6,7

 I was thinking a bit this morning about the generosity that I have heard about and witnessed this year and this Christmas.  Earlier in the year, I heard about a man who left an enormous tip for the waitress and other wait staff to split.  This person knew that many such persons were not getting their usual tips and wanted to help them.  This Christmas, I have heard of people who were extremely generous with the “Fill a Cruiser.”  This effort enabled gift cards to be given to children for Christmas and perhaps future Christmases, too.  At the food distribution yesterday, one recipient of food gave a donation of $20 to the food pantry.  It is unexpected for those receiving to give.  That is a generosity.

Generosity is something that seems to run counter to sinful, selfish humanity.  Often, people want to keep all that they have for their own benefit.  The Christian, however, has come to know the amazing generosity of God.  We often call this generosity, grace.  It is in the DNA of the Christian to seek to follow the lead of God.  I have found the people in the churches that I have served to be extremely generous.  I have often witnessed those that seemed to have very little among the most generous.

I grew up in a family of modest means.  My mother, especially, was raised in a large family who had to make little go a long way.  My Mom would often do without in order to help others.  She was frugal, in order to be generous or in order to be in a position to help.  God blessed her, and her “seed sown generously” reaped a generous harvest.

We don’t give, in order to be blessed materially.  We give, because we know that it pleases God and it is a blessing to those that may be in need.  There will always be reasons not to help another.  We may need at times to try to seek a response that will in the long run be better for another.  Still, in most cases, we can and should have a generous spirit.

If it is in your power today to be generous with some need that you encounter, I encourage you to do so.  It is a pleasing witness for you as a Christian, and a pleasing response to our generous God.  We will seek to do so, with a humble heart, and in a quiet way that does not draw attention to ourselves.

Isn’t it encouraging to see generosity and to be a generous person?

December 15, 2020

“Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”                                          Psalm 79:8,9

I was reading in the psalms this morning and these two verses particularly caught my attention.  Each phrase seems packed with meaning.

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers” is the first to consider.  I think that we would all agree that we have ample sin of our own with which to deal.  We don’t want to bear the sin of others or pay the price for the poor choices of those who are elders in the family.  It is, however, a reality that the sins of parents and grandparents often do affect the lives of their family.  So, too, the choices of a nation and its leaders can affect the lives of its citizens for years to come.  I think this is one of the reasons that the election and its results are of such concern to persons of various political persuasions.  Yet, ultimately God does only hold us accountable for our own sins.  We may be affected by other’s sins, but we are accountable for our own.

May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”  Our desire is not to be treated as we deserve, but for God to act in mercy toward us—and the sooner the better.  When we look at so many of the things of our life, particularly our sin, we can be overwhelmed.  Our needs are many, and our need is desperate.  Sometimes, when life is good and resources plenty, we may not see how desperate really is our need for God.  Still, as sinners, we are in great peril unless God comes with grace and mercy.  I think about Christmas and realize that God came into a sin-plagued world at a time just as troubled as our day.  God came and began a plan that would address our most desperate of needs.

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name.”  We appeal to our God and seek the help that God can alone provide.  We admit our need, our sin, and the sin of our fathers.  We need a Savior.  We need a rescuer.  God is that.  We appeal to God and seek God’s help, based on his character and nature.  God’s name represents all the God is.  That God is a saving, rescuing God, reveals his goodness.  We pray that in our rescue, His name would be praised—that glory would go to God, because He acts on behalf of the needy.

Deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.”   This is certainly not a demand.  It is a humble prayer.  It does not deny our part, our sin.  It asks for God to act on our behalf out of his good name.  God has a reputation of mercy and of grace.  We must never presume upon it.  I fear that I often have.  Still, we humbly appeal to God—for God alone can help us.  We want His name to be forever connected with how He has met us in our deep need and brought us through.

The good news of the coming of Jesus is God’s rescue plan.  It is God helping us at our point of desperate need.  It is God showing mercy.  It is God bringing forgiveness for our sins and charting a new destiny for us.  We bless God’s name this morning for being a God who has come to deliver.  We seek that forgiveness still and call upon His name.

December 10, 2020

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise—“that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.””                                              Ephesians 6:1-3

This morning I received a call from an adult son of one of our parishioners.  He informed me of an upcoming procedure for his mom, and asked if I might make a contact with her to encourage her.  I am most happy to do so.  As I was thinking about what to blog this morning, I thought of how this son was honoring his mother, even though he is no longer a child in her home.

Honoring of parents may come in a variety of ways.  It may come as we listen and obey our parents as children.  (The Apostle Paul has the clarifier, “in the Lord”, which indicates that what is asked of a child is something that is good and God-honoring.  Children are not expected to honor an evil desire.)  It may also come in adulthood as we seek to live in a way that continues to honor them and the upbringing that they gave.  My parents have died, but I often think of the lessons that they taught, both those that they gave through their words, and those that they gave by their lives.

I believe that we honor God by honoring our parents.  Sometimes our professions of love and of faith in God seem disconnected from practical life.  “How does one honor a God that is invisible?” someone may ask.  We can honor God in the very way we listen to parents and in the way that we express obedience, love, and care for our parents.

Parents are imperfect.  I speak from my own experience as a parent.  Still, God has set up this important societal pattern for the stability of the home and of a community and even of a nation.  I think that we can honor parents, even as their flaws are visible.  I am well aware that not everyone has had godly parents or even, good parents.  This makes honoring much more challenging.

The commandment, which the Apostle Paul quotes, is one of the Ten Commandments.  It carries with it a promise to the one who does honor it.  The promise of the commandment is the reward of a life where things go well, and of long life upon the earth.  These are both very obvious blessings for God’s people through the years.  How does one know God is blessing?  We can look at the way in which life has unfolded for a person, and look at the length of their years.  The blessing of God toward Israel was often obvious to the nations.

While we may face real adversity, even while being faithful to God and to parents, it is still a God-honoring practice to obey and to honor parents.  I want to lift it up today.

Those of us, whose parents are deceased, may especially think of times with them, at the holidays.  Let us honor them by living up to the best of life that they tried to teach and to live.

December 8, 2020

“Then they repented and said, ‘The LORD Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”                                         Zechariah 1:6b

 Reading in the prophetic books of the Bible can be challenging.  As one reads, there can be questions like, “What is the point of this vision?”  or “To whom was this written?” or “Is this something spoken of that has happened or is it yet to come?”  I will be honest and tell you that often I read, but am not sure just what to make of it.  Sometimes I go back, with the help of those who have given themselves to a specific study of such things, and try to understand more fully.

The passage above is one that makes perfect sense to me.  The prophet had given the people a word from God.  He gave them a straight-forward word.  They were told that their forefathers had been instructed to turn from their evil ways, but they refused to listen.  These forefathers are now dead, as are the prophets who brought them the word.  Will this generation listen to the same sort of charge?

They did.  They repented.  They admitted that God was right to hold them accountable and to punish them.  They did not just go on and do what they wanted.  They listened and owned their sin.

It is often hard to receive a word of correction.  We can deny the truth of such an indictment.  We can question the motives of the one who brings the correcting word.  We can justify our behavior.  We can compare ourselves with others and believe that we are no worse than others who claim to know God.  There are many ways to avoid the corrective word.

God always convicts sin for our good.  God may even use an imperfect vessel to deliver it.  Will we humbly receive the indictment of God?

I pray that we all will be tender toward God, as those who heard this word from Zechariah seem to be.  God can do something in and with the person who will heed correction, repent of sin, and seek with God’s help to live a God-honoring life.

We all fall short of the glory of God, but God has made a way to be forgiven.  It begins with honest confession and repentance.  It begins by saying, from the heart, “You are right, God.”  God meets us there.  God has provided a sacrifice for sin that is Jesus Christ.  We can be forgiven, because our sin is placed upon him.  This is the most wonderful provision that God can give to the one willing to respond to the corrective word.

December 3, 2020

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”                                          Luke 2:6,7

At our house we have begun to watch some of the Christmas movies and specials.  Last night, I watched the classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.  I especially love the part where the Grinch, after stealing all their Christmas decorations, gifts, and even food, expects to hear them waking to great disappointment.  He listens to hear them boo-hooing.  Instead, he hears them circling up to sing with joy.  I loosely quote the story, ‘He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming , it came.  . . It came without ribbons . . . without wrappings.’  To which the Grinch finally concluded, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Perhaps Christmas means a little bit more.”

The birth of Jesus, which is the source of Christmas, came away from home and seemingly, isolated from the those they knew best.   While celebrated by shepherds, who arrived, it was certainly not a normal birth gathering or celebration.

I write all this because many of us will likely celebrate Christmas this year differently.  Many of us did so with Thanksgiving, and expect to do so with Christmas as well.  I was talking with a person lately.  She told how Christmas, with the visits of family, is one of her favorites of the year.  This year will be different, because of COVID-19 and concern for everyone in the family’s safety and health, there will not be any of the usual reunions.

But COVID will not stop Christmas from coming.  It will come—because Christ has come.  Christmas, while it means many things to us, means more than something that comes from a store.  Christmas, means more than family gatherings, and family time—all things that many of us greatly cherish.  It, indeed, means much more!

Maybe for many of us, we will see Christmas come this year, with a quiet celebration with a limited number of interactions, or interactions that come in a different way.  I hope it will include, though, a recognition and a joy over the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We may not sing the song of ‘the Who’s’, but maybe our voices with lift up, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!”  Maybe someone, like the Grinch, will come to a new life, because of the way we display joy.

December 1, 2020

“Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you.  But again the LORD listened to me.”

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 9:18-19

These are Moses’ words.  Moses recounts to the people of Israel, who are about to enter the promise land, the actions of their forefathers and mothers.  They had sinned greatly by forming a golden calf and then worshiping it.  All this occurred while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the commandments of God.  It had really not been so long before that God had delivered them with a mighty hand out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.

Moses prayed on behalf of the people.

Moses fasted and prayed.  He lay prostrate before the LORD, humbling appealing for God’s mercy.

God listened and responded with the mercy Moses sought.

There is much about prayer that continues to be beyond my comprehension.  Is God moved by our prayers to do something different than God might have done without our praying?  Can we change the heart of the unchangeable God?  Does God purposely choose to limit His action or change it, because of the prayers of His people?  I know that God will never to an evil thing, no matter the amount of prayer, but God does seem to respond to the sincere and humble appeal of His devoted servants.

How the sin of our day must grieve the heart of God.  We have been so blessed by God.  We are the recipients of the wonderful grace of God in and through the meritorious work of Jesus Christ.  This is a greater work than the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptian captivity.  Still, we persist in an idolatry of sinful selfishness.  Why wouldn’t God set us aside?

Perhaps it is because of a humble host of intercessors—people who love God and pour out their hearts to God on behalf of the nation and its people.  Are you one such person?

I was told of a person, who in their later years, would pray for members of the family and others.  It was her work.  It was a main purpose for her living.  Will it be sometime in eternity that those prayed for might learn how the activity of God was shaped by such a person’s sincere prayer?  God allowed Moses to know that his prayers did influence the outcome of things.  I don’t believe that Moses’ purpose in retelling these events was so that he might be elevated.  Rather, I think that he was showing this group of people that God will hear our prayers and perhaps the result will be shaped by them.  Ultimately, we trust that what God wills is best.  We do not presume to ask God to do what will go against his will and way.  Yet, we do at times beg for mercy and do not do so in a casual way.

Oh, that there may be people, maybe you, that would stand in the gap for a person, for a family, for a church, for a community, for a nation, or for our world.  I cannot think of a more important work in our day.

November 26, 2020

I hope that you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day.  I am not intending to write a blog for the day.  Instead, I hope that you will take a moment to read this familiar psalm.

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know the the LORD is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

November 24, 2020

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”                             1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 As I write this, Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner.  It seems appropriate that I might write something related to giving thanks.

The simple instructions for everyday life that the Apostle Paul has given to the Thessalonians are ones that I need to hear this morning—maybe every morning.  Three practices are recommended  as God’s will for right living:  be joyful, pray, and give thanks.

Joy is not the same as happiness.  It seems to convey a deeper sense of well-being.  It is not dependent on circumstances as happiness often is.  We have joy because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, what we expect him to do in u, and what he will one day enable.  Peter, in his first letter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1 Peter 1:3-5).  I need this wider angle view of things so that I can live out of joy, rather than be discouraged by the challenges of the day.

Paul tells us to pray.  Sometimes prayer is not my natural inclination.  I might find that I want to vent frustration or complain.  I once read that every complaint is a prayer to Satan.  I don’t want to pray to the devil.  Can we be more inclined to give ourselves more naturally to prayer and to praying-as-I-go kind of living?  Can I be steady in an attitude of recognizing myself always before God—my life as a prayer?

Give thanks.  I know that a focus on thankfulness really does change your perspective.  If I take time to count my blessings, there are many to recognize.  Often blessings are hidden in difficult experiences and troubles.  Again, I found in 1 Peter a word that expresses that sentiment:  “These (all kinds of trials) have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed,” (1 Peter 1:7).

The added clarifier in each of the above instructions is that in each case the practice is to be done always, continually, or in all circumstances.  That is quite a difference-maker.  Most all of us have joy some of the time, pray on occasion, or give thanks from time to time.  The key is whether we can, with the Holy Spirit’s enabling, do so all the time.  I know that God has to help us or it just will not be.

So this morning, I am going to buck my natural tendencies and take Paul’s words to heart.  I am going to re-orient my mind and heart to these three practices.  I am going to take a few moments right now to get on the right path.  Will you join me?

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2020

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

Sometimes as we go through life, we see the heavy burden that another may be carrying.  If it were as simple as seeing a person with a heavy bag of softener salt or a big frozen turkey, we would gladly give them a hand.  Often the burden is not that which is a physical weight, but one that may be in the realm of the emotions or of the spirit.  Such burdens are often more difficult to allow another to help to carry.

It can be difficult to allow another to help with a burden.  Sometimes the burden is a very private matter.  The burden may be embarrassing to acknowledge to another.  Often the parents of one with an addiction carry such a burden largely in private.  Others bear a burden of a separation from adult children, maybe not just that they are separated by distance, but separated by some breakdown of relationship.  This, too, may not be voiced in a public way.  Others may experience something, like a miscarriage, when the pregnancy was not yet announced.  So, the couple may grieve alone, without support.  These are only a few illustrations of burdens that are real, but often are being carried without the help of others.

We may also, when carrying a burden, believe that to tell someone else may not change the matter at hand.  What can another do to change the situation?  We may feel that the difficulty is our “cross to bear.”  While it may be true that speaking of a burden, may not change the burden, it may help to know that others are lovingly with us in the midst of it.

The Bible calls the Christian to carry another’s burden.  It is a way that we fulfill the law of Christ.  What law is that?  It is the law of love.  God has established the church to be a community of believers who will come along side of each other.  It is our great privilege and responsibility to love in every day ways.  It may be through prayer that we carry another’s burden.  I know that I have been helped by another’s prayers.  I believe that private prayers are heard and of great value.  Even so, I believe that praying with a person, in their presence, may be an encouragement.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy prayer, but only a sincere one.

As a pastor, I sometimes am trusted with knowing the burdens that other’s face.  I am glad to try to help carry it.  I think that not all burdens have to be widely known.  Instead, maybe a few trusted friends can be those who will help to carry the load.

Later, in this passage, it speaks of carrying one’s own load (Galatians 6:5).  A load and a burden were clearly of different magnitudes.  There are some things that are loads that we can and should carry.  It gives dignity to life and to our personal involvement in the issues of life.  A husband should provide for his family.  That might be an example of a load.  A burden rises above the normal smaller things of life.  It is here that we can be of help and of blessing to those weighed down.

I hope that each of us can, at times, be the one trusted to help carry the burden that may come.  I hope also that we will trust another or maybe a few others to help carry a burden that we may have.

Let us carry each other’s burdens and so be able to really love and to care for one another.

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{We experienced a lack of phone and internet service from Nov. 15-18, 2020, so Pastor Jeff could not post his normal blog on Nov. 17.  Thank you for your understanding.}

November 12, 2020

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.  “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.  He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.  He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.””

                                                                                                            Daniel 6:26,27

Most of you who read this blog will remember something of the story of Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den.  You may not recall the details that led up to it.  You can read them in Daniel 6:1-25.  Let me just say that Daniel was faithful and God blessed him.  It made others jealous and they manipulated the king to issue a decree that would put Daniel out of compliance and lead to his being thrown into the lions’ den.

I can’t think of a more gruesome way to be put to death than to be mauled by a hungry group of lions.  Yet, there is a God in heaven that can shut the mouths of lions.  God did so for the protection and life of Daniel.  This is no small thing.

The king, who before this event, was not a believer in the Almighty God, witnesses this act of God and brings forth some of the most fitting praise to God that we might read.

The king, King Darius, called all the people in his kingdom to fear and reverence the God of Daniel.  What could it mean if people of our country and beyond were to do just that—fear and reverence the God of Daniel?  Sadly, we don’t see enough fear and reverence for God today.  Many act and live without such a fear or reverence.  Daniel’s life and faith, his stand to be a man who honored God, ultimately led the king and others to such reverence for God.  We might be such for some today.

King Darius praised God by declaring that he is the living God, who endures forever.  Some believe that God is no longer concerned with the affairs of people or may, in fact, be dead.  How wrong is such an assessment.  God is living and God endures.  His dominion will never end.  Daniel was rescued and saved by his God.  As Christians, we have also been rescued and saved by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For me, Jesus’ death upon the cross and his rising from the dead is the greatest sign and wonder upon the earth.  Jesus, by his sacrificial death, has rescued sinners from the power of sin, from the clutches of Satan, who prowls like a lion waiting to devour (1 Pt. 5:8).

So today, I join with this ancient king, to lift praises to the living God.  He endures forever and his kingdom will never end!

November 10, 2020

“Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his, He changes times and season; he sets up kings and deposes them.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.  I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.””                                                                                       Daniel 2:19b-23

 The selection above comes from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  It is the overflowing praise of Daniel to God, as God answers his prayer and gives him the content of the king’s dream and also the interpretation of it.  You can read the back story in Daniel 2:1-19.

In case you don’t, I will summarize it in this way.  The king has a dream and calls for all those who are the normal interpretters of dreams, to not just interpret, but know first the dream without his telling it to them.  They declare that such a thing is impossible and never has been asked before.  This angers the king and so he says that unless someone does what he asks all the wise men of the land will be executed.  This would include Daniel and his three famous friends.

When Daniel hears of the execution order and the reason for it, he calls his friends together and urges them to pray to God for mercy and for the understanding of this mystery.  During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.

Understanding of God’s will and way, particularly about the future, is the realm of the prophet.  I have been reading in the Old Testament and have seen that there are true prophets of God and those who also prophesy, but are not revealing the Word of God.  Often, the knowledge of who is truly the prophet of God only comes out after the passing of time.  Jeremiah, for example, was a true prophet of God.  His words were not welcomed by the hearers, but they were from God and came about in time.  Others prophesied what was a more-welcomed word.  It was not the truth.  They were accepted and their words were welcomed.  The outcome, however, proved them to be false prophets.

Last night I happened to watch a video of prophetic content by someone previously unknown to me.  He said that he had received prophetic words from God that went back to 2012.  I will not go in to the content, but his words had relevancy to the presidential election.  Was he a true prophet or a false one?  It was difficult to discern.  I have heard some tell me of those they know who received a word that former Vice-President Biden would be president and another who believed that God had told them that President Trump would return to the presidency.  It does not seem possible that both can be so.

How does one discern the truth?  We may need to wait and to see.  In the midst, we do seek God.  We pray to be obedient to God.  We pray to God for wisdom for those who may have to discern issues, such as these voting matters.  We pray for our nation and its people that we would value the truth and not react with violent acts, if our desires are unfulfilled.  God’s will and way may not always make sense to us.

The person that I watched, believed that God’s people should not focus on the circumstances that are before us, but that they should focus instead on giving praise to God.  I think that praise to God is always an appropriate and wise activity.  Yet our praise should not be limited to praise for receiving what we desire, but praise that ultimately acknowledges God who is worthy of it, by virtue of God’s character and nature.  I found Daniel’s praise to be so, even as God also did bring the word that he sought.

Let us be faithful to God, as we wait and discern.  Let us give God praise for who God is.

November 5, 2020

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love, into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”                                                                                                              Romans 5:1-5

I chose this passage largely because of one word—disappoint.  I imagine that many folks, in light of the election, the possible likely outcome of it, or just the waiting for an outcome have likely brought about disappointment.  Certainly, disappointment is not limited to election processes or results.  We seem to have an ample supply of things that can cause disappointment.  For those to whom Paul writes, suffering for the faith must have been a cause for some to be discouraged and disappointed.  We could certainly see how those who were living to honor God, might not expect that suffering would come as a result.

Suffering can be a part of our Christian lives, although most of us have not experienced much suffering for the faith, at this point.  Likewise, disappointment is also common to all of us on the planet.

I believe that the Apostle Paul frames things well for us.  He calls us to a great reality for the believer.  We have been justified through faith.  As a result we have peace with God.  It is not of our own working, but the result of Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection that we have this peace with God.  It is not just an experience for after death, but that which we can experience now.  Peace with God is really something upon which to focus.  Many other things may not be as we would prefer, but if I have peace with God, I can face such lessor things.

The Apostle Paul also tries to help us also focus our thoughts and living with a real sense of the hope that is and will be.  We rejoice, he says, in the hope of the glory of God.  God’s glory is never diminished, but we may not see it in fullness just yet.  Even so, we want God to get the glory that is rightfully His.  So we seek to live to the glory of God.  To face suffering, or disappointment, with peace, with faith, and with hope gives evidence of faith and glorifies God.

We also have a great asset—the Holy Spirit.  God not only gives us peace, hope, and joy, but he gives us His abiding presence through the Holy Spirit.

Let us not give way to a disappointment that lingers with us.  We might not be able to fully avoid some sense of it, but we replace such a feeling with the steady reality which is a good God, who gives a peace with Himself, and an abiding presence with us—the Holy Spirit.  That is enough.

November 3, 2020

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

                                                                                                            Romans 13:1

Today is Election Day for us here in the United States.  Many people have already voted or will seek to vote in person today.  I did so this morning.  At my poling precinct, there were computer problems and they were not easily resolved.  After about 45 minutes, standing in the cold, a poll worker told us of the problem (which we knew must be occurring) and informed us that she was uncertain when it would be resolved.  Some, with frustration, expressed that they had to go to work and this might be their only time in which to vote.  Several had to leave without voting.  I hope that they will have the opportunity to return later.  After about another 30 minutes, I was able to vote.

I was impressed that so many wanted to vote and were even willing to stand for over an hour in cold temperatures in order to vote.

The above passage does not address voting.  I don’t know of a Bible passage that does.  This passage does speak to the value of a government.  In our case, it is a government that is elected by the people. It might be debated whether all those elected have a heart for God.  I am sure no matter who is elected in this election, that there will be those who cannot see how God is in the process or could have established this.  Still, the Bible tells us that authorities have been established by God.  I think that this means that whatever or whoever is elected will somehow serve the purposes that God desires, directly or indirectly.

It is hard to accept election results when they go against your vote.  Ultimately, we must trust God to work out His plan.  It may be that life might be more difficult in some ways, but that too can serve a purpose for us.  If life is more in line with Christian principles, we may use that time well for spreading of the gospel and with a spirit of thankfulness.  God can and does use all kinds of leaders and governing to accomplish good.

Whatever the results of this year’s election, I hope that people will submit to the governing authorities for the peace of the whole.  I believe that to do so, honors God.  If we are asked to do something dishonoring to God, we may have to resist and bear whatever consequences may come.  In such cases, this also honors God.

I have not always prayed for our government leaders as often as I might.  I hope that I can do better in the future.  God does honor the prayers of His people.  May we be thankful today for the privilege of voting.  May we prayerfully cast our votes.  May we trust the Lord to ultimately use the outcome for good.  Amen.

October 29, 2020

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

                                                                                                John 14:27

 Repeated over and over again throughout the Bible is the admonition, ‘don’t be afraid.’  Alongside of this word is the positive word, ‘be courageous.’  It seems that we are prone to fear and have to be encouraged to not give way to it, and to instead exercise faith and courage.  Are you facing something today in which you need courage?

It may help you to know that Jesus spoke these words from John’s gospel.  The one who loves us with an undeniable love, encourages us not to give way to fear and troubling possibilities.  The peace that he would have us know instead will come through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus asked the heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit, for our real help.  The Holy Spirit, who is God, is able to do all that which is needed in any circumstance.  Mostly, the Holy Spirit gives us a sense that God is with us.

We almost always have in mind an outcome that would be desired.  Our Christian experience has showed us that this outcome may not be what was envisioned.  This doesn’t mean that God has slipped up or that the Holy Spirit was not able to help.  There are many things that are beyond our understanding.  Still, we can know that whatever may come that God is with us, in the Holy Spirit, and at work for our good.   This is the heart of the entire Godhead.

I wish for you, who find yourself in the midst of something difficult and uncertain, the peace of God.  I wish for you the peace that is wrapped up in the person of the Holy Spirit.  I pray that you might know this peace in a tangible way.  I believe that to know God’s peace will be better than anything, even a perceived desirable outcome.

May the peace of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, hold you steady, today.  Amen.

October 27, 2020

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord was confirmed to us by those who heard  him.”                                                                                               Hebrews 2:1-3

“Be careful,” is a word often spoken to children.  “Pay attention,” is another.  Yet, we know that it is not just children who need to be careful or pay attention.  This writer to the Hebrews tries to get those who would read to perk up and not just drift along in one’s thinking and behavior.

How do we get off track?  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  Often it is a process of drifting.  Sometimes I am scrolling down a document with my mouse on the scroll bar at the right of the screen.  I go down with the mouse, without watching it.  After a bit, my document won’t go down any longer and I look and see that I no longer have the mouse on the bar –I’ve drifted off.  There is a natural drift that seems to occur in life, unless we give careful attention.  It can happen with many things that regard discipline.  We might maintain good eating habits, as long as we give attention to them, but without attention, we often drift to eating poorly and regressing into the poor habits of the past.  It is equally true in the realm of spiritual things.

The writer here begins with a gentle kind of reminder.  Then, the warning gets much stronger.  It is almost like the intensity of volume with some alarms.  Have you ever been in a hospital room when someone’s I.V. machine sounds a warning?  If it is not addressed, it gets louder and louder, until finally, there is no tolerating the sound.  It must be heeded.

God has given a great salvation in Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection has secured for those who will respond, forgiveness and renewed life, even life eternal.  Yet, to receive this forgiveness is to be changed.  It is to live in light of it and to give witness to it.  It will require discipline and focus to live as God has enabled.  It must receive our dedicated attention.

Many begin a life in Christ, but regress into old patterns of foolishness.  For me, to begin the day with Bible reading and prayer, helps me to start the day off right.  I am also greatly helped by being regular in worship and in study with God’s people.  It keeps me on the course I want to live.  It helps me to avoid—the drift.

If you have found yourself drifting, why not think of a plan to help you stay on course?  Ask God for help.  Find another who might help you stay accountable.  We can live, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the support of others, the God-honoring life.  Let’s heed the gentle or not so gentle words given here.

October 22, 2020

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

                                                                                                Psalm 62:1-2

I think that that in every election season, we can be anxious, thinking that if a certain candidate is not elected, than all is doom.  We may also, think that if a certain person is elected, then all will be well.  I think it wise to put our trust in a better source.  I know that, like this psalmist, God is our only real refuge and alone is our source of confident hope.

Have you spent any time in the psalms lately?  They help us to think and to pray in a God-centered way.  Eugene Peterson, in his book,  Answering God, wrote, “ The Psalms. . . were prayed by people who understood that God had everything to do with them.  God, not their feelings, was the center.  God, not their souls, was the issue.  God, not the meaning of life, was critical.”

It is with such a perspective that the Psalmist, here in Psalm 62, relates that his rest, his salvation is in God alone.  God is his rock and fortress.

C.S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, wrote, “As I pray with the psalms I find my concerns, whether petty or important, leading me to God.  I discover that in the midst of the chaos that is my life, God is creating, saving, and redeeming.  And I can praise him for it!”

Life is so often distracting us from our God.  It need not.  Reading in the psalms leads us to focus and to praise God, in the midst of these things.  If you are weary or worried today, why not take a trip to the psalms?  You will often be taken to a place of praise to God.  It is a helpful re-orientation.  All of the psalms, with the exception of Psalm 88, end with some sense of praise or hope in God.  We can all benefit from more of that.

Some begin the day with some medication.  Perhaps we all might benefit by a prescription of a bit of time in the psalms this morning.

October 20, 2020

“Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.”

                                                                                                Proverbs 21:21 (NRSV)

Paul F. Boller, Jr. wrote in Presidential Ancedotes about a decision in the life of William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States.  President McKinley had to choose between two men for a key position.  He puzzled over which of the two men to choose until he remembered an incident a number of years before.

It was a rainy night and McKinley had boarded a crowded streetcar.  One of the men under consideration was also on that car, although he was not aware of McKinley’s presence.  An old woman carrying laundry struggled into the car, looking in vain for a place to sit.  The other man pretended not to see her and kept his seat.  McKinley gave up his seat for her.  Remembering this incident, which McKinley called, ‘this little omission of kindness’, led the President to choose against the man on the streetcar.

Kindness, particularly kindness without consideration of who may be observing, matters.  The writer of Proverbs 21:21 recognized that the pursuit of righteousness and kindness matters to God.  God blesses the pursuit of these things with life and honor.

Little things, such as an act of kindness, reveal an orientation to life that will not only make life better for others, but will bless the one who possesses it as well.  We often focus on big decisions and actions, but little things shape one’s character.

My mother had a heart for such things.  On a very snowy day, when I was probably about ten or maybe 12, Mom said to me, after we had shoveled out our driveway, “Mrs. Kromes is getting pretty old, let’s go down and shovel her driveway, too.”  We didn’t knock on her door, before or after the shoveling.  We just did it for her, seemingly unobserved.  Mom showed me a heart of compassion and a heart which thinks of others.  She modeled kindness.  It yielded a good and honorable life.  It was in alignment with a sincere faith in God, who calls us to love our neighbor.

Let us be conscious of those around us.  Let us be quick to think of what might be a kind deed.  May it not matter if it is noted by another.  Still, our decisions and actions, even small ones, may reveal a lot about us.  They might even be the difference in one who is considering Christ, and looking to see if our life is really any different.

October 15, 2020

“But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. .  .  So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.  In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom.  Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.”

                                                                                                2 Chronicles 33:9, 11-13

I gave you a more extensive passage at the beginning of this blog, but I wanted you to get a feel for the flow of it.  If you go back to the beginning of chapter 33, you will read just how far from the commands of the Lord that Manasseh would take the people.  Manasseh was king of Judah.  His behavior as king greatly influenced the people.  He was not only a political figure, but because he was the ruler of God’s people, he was a spiritual leader as well.

His actions were deplorable.  If you know the ten commandments, and you read the actions that he took, you see how he broke them with utter abandon.  The author of this writing says in verse six, “He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.”  To read what he did makes this summary statement fail to capture the level of evil that he carried out.  I will leave it to you to read the specifics.

God chastened him with a great measure of correction.  He is taken captive.  A hook is put through his nose and he is taken like an animal to a far off land.

Here in Babylon, he sought the Lord.  He humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed.

God was moved by his prayer.  God listened to his plea and restored him to his place back in his home land.

The mercy of God is beyond what we can imagine.  The response of God to a humble and repentant heart is beyond our conception.  To say that God is forgiving, is to barely recognize the level that God will go, when sincere repentance comes before Him.

Manasseh’s sincerity in humble prayer was witnessed by the way that he responded to the forgiveness and restoration of God.  He actively pursued the right and did the exact opposite of his former ways.  He led the people into faithful actions and worship.

It is amazing to read.  I am struck with the mercy of God as I write this.  Jeremiah wrote, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” Lamentations 3:22-23.

Let us never think that we are too far gone to seek the Lord.  Manasseh shows us the way back.  God shows us the extent of his marvelous grace in this account.  Even more, he shows us his mercy and grace in the sacrificial death of His own Son Jesus.

Praises be to the Living God!

October 13, 2020

“. . . For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. “My people, what have I done to you?  How have I burdened you?  Answer me.  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.  I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. .  .””                                                                  Micah 6:2-5

It is always easier to see the fault of another than to see one’s own faults.  As I read through the Bible and read about Israel, it is not difficult to see their sins.  They promise faithfulness to God, but then go their own way.  As God is forced to discipline them, they ask why they are being treated so.  They continue to practice certain religious practices, while at the same time they lie and cheat and carry on great injustices.  God is not honored by such things.  Their actions and attitudes have consequences that God cannot overlook.

God, here through the prophet Micah, asks Israel to tell Him why they think God is at fault in His actions toward them.  He declares how, in reality, He has been merciful and a God of help.  He brought them out of slavery in Egypt.   He sent Moses and Aaron and Miriam to lead them.  Have they forgotten His mercy and grace extended?   Do they really have a case against God?

I believe that we have the record of God’s dealings with Israel that we might know more of the nature of God and that we might have insight into the ways of humanity.  We are quick to blame God and slow to look within.

When things are amiss in our lives, we might inquire of God if anything is wrong in us.  It is not always so, but it is often our doing.  God will be quick to tell us, for God desires that we can turn from the wrong, seek His forgiveness, and turn to the right.  God desires to restore.  Over and over, God dealt mercifully with Israel, when they acknowledged their sin and turned to God in sincerity.  Alongside of the punishment that God had to bring upon Israel, is often the affirmation of the good that God will ultimately do for them.

As I was reading this portion of Scripture this morning, I couldn’t help but see a God who has been good in all His ways, a God who can only be good.  We might feel that we have somehow been wronged, but when truth is fully revealed, we will find that God has indeed been faithful.  Let’s be quick to seek the Lord.  Let us be quick to see the potential of fault that can lie in us.  Let us remember the faithfulness of God, demonstrated in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death for sin.  This event is the Christian’s great deliverance.  We should ever remember this event, just as Israel was often encouraged to remember the deliverance from Egypt.

God is ever faithful.  Let there never be any doubt.

October 8, 2020

“Come, let us return to the LORD.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.  Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him.  As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”          Hosea 6:1-3

 As I have written, I try to follow a daily Bible reading that takes me to one Old Testament passage and one New Testament one.  My reading has been in the Old Testament prophets and often they have words of correction.  It seems that Israel, like the whole of humanity, is often on a path away from the Lord.  God does not just let sinful ways continue.  God brought correction upon the people in various ways.  It is actually the goodness of the Lord to correct His people rather than simply tolerate their behavior.

My reading for today in Hosea was almost entirely that of Israel’s sin and consequently, the actions that God was going to take against them.  I don’t know about you, but it is difficult to read about another’s wrong and often persistence in it.  It matters not if it is a nation or an individual.  I find that it is often easier to see another’s sin than it is to see my own.  I might be saddened by another’s poor choices, yet not grieve over the sin or wrong that exists in me.  It is always wise to ask God to search our hearts and minds, and to reveal what, if anything, is amiss.

Returning to the book of Hosea, even in the midst of difficult judgment and correction, come such gracious words as I retyped above.  God is ever inviting his people to return.  The idea of repentance is that of making a turn, a change of direction.  God is ever calling us to turn from our selfishness, our sinfulness, and to come back to God.  The passage speaks of healing.  How our lives often need the balm of the Lord and the healing from those things of the past.  Literally and figuratively we need our wounds bound up.  God is willing to do so for the truly sorry.  The passage speaks of a time for correction (two days), but of a third when restoration will come.  I can’t help but think of the three days that Jesus was in the tomb.  Sin had taken Jesus Christ to the cross, but on the third came the resurrection.  Sin’s price was paid and hope reborn.

This morning we may need forgiveness.  We may need God’s healing salve.  If so, turn to the Lord.  Others reading this may not be in that place today.  For you, may you rejoice that there is a God who does bind up our wounds and forgive.  Praise God for his tender mercy and willingness to restore.

To read the prophets is a humbly process.  Yet, it is ever hope-filled, because of the ever-pursuing goodness of our God.  Praises be to our God!

October 6, 2020

“The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them: ‘“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’        Numbers 6:22-26

 You may be familiar with this priestly blessing.  Likely, you have heard a minister use it as a benediction or as a blessing at a wedding.  I was in choir at high school and we sang a song based upon this blessing.  Recently, LoveAkron sang a version of the blessing.  You can find a link to it on the homepage of this website under the worship listings.  Do you know this blessing?

God gives, through Moses, a blessing for the Israelites.  God wants to bless His people.  Sometimes the Israelites behavior, just as our behavior, does not permit God to bless.  God, like the best of parents, does not want to encourage negative behavior in His children.  Yet, God desires to bless.

There is a song that says, ‘Count your blessings.  Name them one by one.’  It is a good practice to recognize God’s blessings and be grateful for them.  When we forget our blessings or think that we are the source of them, things can go greatly amiss.

This morning, I was listening to the radio on my way in to the church.  A gentleman was talking about the difference that has come for many in the workplace, as the coronavirus has caused people to work from home.  While much can be accomplished in this way, one of the things that is absent is actual face to face interactions.  I know that there are zoom calls and the opportunity to see another’s face.  Still, this is somewhat different from being in person and seeing another’s face.  There is great value in seeing another’s face.  It is one of my great desires as a pastor, to see and to look at your faces.  I am eager to see more of your faces in the future.

A part of the blessing of the Lord to the Israelites was the idea that God would look up them “with His face.”  It is a blessing that the Lord will shine his face upon them and turn his face to them.  I assume that this was figurative language for God’s pleasure in relationship to His people.  It was descriptive of God’s approval and his delight.  No human, literally, has looked upon the face of God the Father and lived.  God is so holy and pure.

When we are upset with someone, we often will not look at them.  In contrast, when we are in love, we often can’t keep our eyes, and our face, turned away.  We want to look and to gaze at the one in whom we delight and love.

There is a great value in the blessing of the Lord.  It is something to desire—that we may one day look upon the face of God and have the Lord shine his face upon us.  I am so thankful that because of the forgiveness and the grace of God, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that I can come before the living God, and that God may shine his face upon me, upon you.

Let us desire it and know that through Jesus it is possible.

October 1, 2020

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?  “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

                                                                                                            Romans 9:20-21

The sovereignty of God is a concept that we are slow to understand or appreciate.  That God is sovereign means that God is ruler of all.  God is in charge.  God has the ultimate say.  We like to think that life is about us, and our desires or pleasure.

We receive the good that comes in life, with barely a thought, but often are slow to receive that which is difficult.  We may think that we are cheated somehow, when life is much different for us from that of others.  To think this way makes us the center of things.

As we read the Bible carefully, we see God acting as He wills.  Early in this same chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes Exodus, where God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,” (Romans 9:15).  In the passage above, we are reminded that God is the potter and has the right to make us, as God has seen fit.  In this chapter in Romans, Paul is declaring how God has chosen to show mercy to those who will by faith receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Those who are responding include Gentiles (non-Jews) who previously were ‘not my people’.  Nonetheless, God is calling Jew and Gentile who receive Christ, ‘my loved one’ (Romans 9:25).

It is a humbling thing to realize that much is beyond our control.

Yet, it is a freeing thing. To let God be God in our lives is to live in the world as God has created it to be.  We may wish to be the potter, but if it is not so, then we better find the purpose in being the vessel that we are designed to be.  Beyond our design, it is also wonderful to recognize that we have been shown mercy.  It is a gift to be able to be called, ‘my loved one’.  The humble of heart can hardly conceive of how this can be.  Life in the past may have been lived partly or entirely for oneself, not for God.  This is a denial of God’s sovereignty.  Yet, it is the wonderful mercy of our God that we have been shown compassion.

Today, rather than bemoan the things that seem to be unfair in our lives, let us instead be a peace in the mercy and grace of the wonderful God who has done everything well and good.  This is God’s world.  God is the sovereign.  God is potter.

September 29, 2020

“My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge.  For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.”                                          Proverbs 5:1-4

 There’s always free cheese in a mousetrap.  I was going through some of my illustration files and I came across this word on the subject of temptation.

There is always free cheese in a mousetrap.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

The writer of the Proverbs seems to say something similar.  In this case the adulteress has lips that drip honey.  That seems rather pleasing.  She has speech which smoother than oil.  It’s always nice to hear pleasing complements or other words.  Yet, like the mousetrap, danger and destruction are there as well.

How do we avoid such traps that come in the form of appealing temptations?  We must pay attention to wisdom.  We must listen well to the words of insight that come to us through God’s Word.  The book of Proverbs is a good source of wisdom and of caution in the areas that will often cause great damage.  It is a good practice to read and to apply the Scriptural insights to our lives.

I had a friend in college who was a devoted Christian and who walked the walk in a very humble way.  He was not a minister in training, but majoring in accounting.  He had a practice of reading one chapter of the Proverbs each day.  He read the same numbered chapter as was the day of the month.  There are 31 chapters in Proverbs, so even the longest months are covered.  I recommend such a practice.  After a while, the wisdom of the Proverbs begins to rest in your heart and mind.

We cannot help but face temptations.  They will come in different forms to all of us.  To be tempted is not to sin.  To give in to temptation is what is sin.  To play around at the edge of it, is to nibble cheese on a mousetrap.  Satan is the great tempter.  “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour,” 1 Peter 5:8.  We must not drop our guard and we must ever be alert to Satan’s ploys.

While some of the temptations of the past, may no longer hold the appeal that they once did, there will likely be others to take their place.  Let us pay attention to wisdom, and ask God to help us to exercise self-control and alertness to danger.  That we may live a safe and pleasing life that honors our Lord.

September 24, 2020

“At that time I pleaded with the LORD:  “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. . . Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.””                 Deuteronomy 3:23-25

Moses is making the appeal above to God.  God is about to bring the Israelites into the portion of the Promised Land, west of the Jordan River.  God has already made possible the receipt of the land east of the Jordan.  God has done so, to fulfill the promises made to His people.

You would have to know more of the story, to know that God said that because of the disobedience of Moses in an earlier matter, that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land.  Moses sees God mightily at work and perhaps thinks that God will have a change of heart in regard to his earlier decision.

Deuteronomy 3:26 records the words of God to Moses.  Here it says, “That is enough,” the LORD said.  “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.”  God is a forgiving God.  God has forgiven Moses of his sin.  Clearly God continues to use and to love Moses.  Still, God does not always remove the consequences of sin, with his forgiveness.  God does not do so here.  Like a good parent, God says, ‘Don’t keep asking me.  The answer is, no.’

God does do what grace enables.  God allows Moses to view the land from the top of Mount Pisgah (Dt. 3:27).  It reminds me of a grandpa who was watching his grandson.  The little one was told that if he did a certain thing, he would have to spend time in his playpen.  It would be a discipline measure, and the boy didn’t want to be put within it.  Yet, in a short period, the boy did that which required discipline and he was put by grandpa into the playpen.  The little one protested, but grandpa didn’t yield.  He did, however, join his grandson in the playpen.

God is always good.  He is merciful, yet he is just.  We will often receive the consequence of our actions, even as God forgives.  May we bear the right consequences that often must come, but may we also see the goodness of God in such times.

If you are bearing such a thing today, know that the discipline will come to an end, but the mercy of God will be eternal.

September 22, 2020

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  . . For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”                           1 Peter 3:15, 18

There was a song of some years past by Bob Dylan, entitled “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  In this song were lyrics which included, “But you’re going to have to serve somebody.  . . it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  This gives some thought to the dynamic of lordship.

I remember in my early Christian life, the issue of lordship was one often covered in sermons.  The question was often asked, “Is Jesus the lord of your life?”  or “Does Jesus have the first place or priority in your life?”

It is easy enough to say that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.  It may be quite another thing to examine how that might play out in your real life.  Would it have an impact on your spending or your utilization of the money that you have?  Would the lordship of Christ make you choose not to let your child participate in a sport that happened on Sunday morning?  Would you decide not to date someone who was not a Christian?  Would you be engaged in a ministry that would require a substantial commitment of your free time?  Would you return wrong change when to keep it would be to your profit?  How would God have me love my neighbor?  It is in such places that we begin to think more seriously about setting apart Christ as Lord.

I believe that self often comes into play in the area of lordship.  Ever since the fall of humankind, we have often thought of what will be best for self.  Much of life often is lived around the things that will bring me something that I want, i.e. pleasure, material possessions, ease of life, satisfaction.

Is it possible to let Jesus be lord of one’s life?  It must be a conscious choice.  It must be an orientation to life that enables me to ask the simple question, “Would this be honoring to my Lord?”  If it is, then I could do it.  If it is not, or does not seem so, then I would refrain.  (I do believe that God gives us the opportunity to make choices within the sphere of a God-honoring life.)

It is the death of Jesus Christ for me, and for my sins that motivates this orientation of lordship.  It was Jesus Christ who died to bring us to God the Father.  Without his sacrificial death, no amount of my own goodness, good deeds, or obedience would be sufficient.  All such action would fall short in some way.  This is a hard pill to swallow– that I cannot come to God on my own.  Many stumble over it.  Yet, it is the most freeing thing to know that God has made a sufficient provision for me.  I was meant to serve and to love God.  Jesus Christ has restored the broken relationship.  I can receive this provision by faith.  I can, then, serve and love, as I was intended to do.

A surrendered life to God is a life well-lived.  It gives purpose and direction in this time of living.  It sets the orientation of my life as it was meant to be and will be for eternity.  Maybe today is a day, to give more thought to who or what is lord.

Remember, you gotta serve somebody.

September 17, 2020

“Do your best to come to me quickly. . . Do your best to get here before winter.”                                                                                    2 Timothy 4:9,21

These are the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy.  They come at the end of his second letter to Timothy and at the end of his life.  Paul is imprisoned again in Rome.  This time he is in a dungeon chained like a common criminal.  Do you feel the real need he expresses?

The Apostle Paul has been strong for the work of ministry. He has endured much for the sake of the gospel.  You can read a partial list of his hardships in 2 Corinthians, chapter 6.  He has endured with faith and with a great passion for the churches.  He has had a thorn in the flesh that has been a constant trial.  In all these things, he has run the good race, fought the good fight, and kept the faith.  He is doing so now, as well.

Yet, even this man of faith, knows how valuable and needed are others with whom to share ministry and faith.  He appeals to Timothy to come, and to do so as quickly as possible.  He doesn’t shy away from expressing his real need for others.

During this time of COVID, especially at the beginning, all of us were urged to stay home, unless we absolutely needed to be out.   I have always considered myself, a bit more on the introverted side, rather than that of the extroverted.  I don’t have to be around people and doing social things all the time, or so I thought.  I discovered that I need people so much more than I realized.  I need their presence, even when not in conversation.  I benefit from their smiles, their handshakes, their conversations, and their faith.  Being with others is part of our God-given design.  It reflects the relationship that exists perfectly in the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Paul knew how valuable was the presence of fellowship, of life together, and of mutual work and support.

“Do you best to come quickly,” is Paul’s appeal.  I don’t suppose anyone could come quickly in those days.  Getting the message might be quite a process and took a great deal of time.  Still, as quickly as he could, Paul asks him to try to come.  Winter is also coming.  Paul may be cold and damp already in that dungeon.  When winter brings an added challenge, it will be even greater.  Pick up my cloak, which I left with Carpus, on your way.  Paul is in need.  God will help, as God has, but he also needs the help that another can be and can provide.  We all do.

Who might need you today?  Who might you need?  We can be a blessing to another.  Another can be a blessing to us.  If you need another, it is not out of bounds to ask.  If you sense another needs you, why don’t you try to respond.

We do need one another.  Thank you for being a blessing

September 15, 2020

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”                                  Ephesians 3:20-21

What can God do?  The answer in the above passage is, ‘far more than all we ask or imagine’.

I heard an amazing story on the radio yesterday that happened in a Moslem nation.  A ministry was conducting a Bible club for children.  400 children were involved.  Several of the leaders went to visit one of the children at his home.  They were expecting to meet his mother.  To their surprise, the father of the child answered the door in his military uniform.  He asked them what they wanted.  They answered that they were a part of a club for children and that his son was a part.  They knew that to speak about Jesus, to a military person, could mean imprisonment or worse.  They tried to be cautious and guarded in their responses.  He wanted to know what they were teaching him.  He was gruff and probing with his questions.

With courage and faith, one of them spoke more forthrightly.  We are teaching him about Jesus.  “What about him?” came the Father’s reply.  Having gone this far, the person went further to speak of Jesus as our savior, and as the One who is truly Lord of all.  It was risky.  They were invited in.  The soldier, to their surprise, said that he was glad, because he was having repeated dreams where Jesus was coming to him and speaking.  He asked if they might have a Bible.  They said that they had a whole trunk full of them in their car.  They went and got him one.  He promised to read it and asked if they might come back.  Who would have thought this would be the course of things?

Yet, God is able to do far more than we ask or can even imagine!  Praise God for His wondrous goodness and mercy.

I fear that too often my expectations of what God will do are far too small.  It is easy to think in terms of what might be reasonable or likely.  Can we open our hearts and especially our minds to something bigger?

I am not trying to convince you to think about impossible selfish ends.  I am not hoping that you will pray for something that is more for a person’s own pleasure or ease or escape from consequences brought on by poor choices.  I don’t think that the above passage is a blanket promise that has little to do with God’s glory.  Instead, I think it is entirely about how we might expect great things that are God-honoring.

An example of a God-honoring expectation is to pray for someone to come to saving faith in Christ.  Who would have conceived of a military man in a Moslem country being open to Christ?  But God was opening his heart.  A bit more of that story includes the fact that the man wanted to ask questions of someone about Jesus, but as a soldier, did not know who to ask or trust.  God provided.

We live at a time and place where our country, in particular, needs a fresh movement of God.  There are still many Christians in the land, but we must exercise faith in a big God.  We can and must expect, believe, and be ready to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I hope that you might be encouraged with this strong word from the Lord!

September 10, 2020

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”       John 14:27

These are wonderful and potent words of Jesus.  He spoke them to his disciples on the night of his arrest.  It would not be long after this that Jesus would die a death upon a cross for their and for our salvation.  Their sense of peace would be put to the test.

Tomorrow will mark the nineteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  It was a time of great upheaval and distress.  Americans were shaken by the events of that day.  Most of us, old enough, can remember where we were when we heard the news of planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and the other events of that day.  We all searched for a sense of well-being and peace in a time of great uncertainty and trouble.

I wonder if the disciples remembered Jesus’ words in the midst of such a turn of events.  Even though Jesus had spoken of his suffering and death, they seemed to be unwilling to conceive of it.  Could they come to rest in his peace, while the uncertainty of their present unfolded?  Can we find the peace of God, as a reality in our lives?

Life has its stages.  There were points in my life when I gave very little thought to peace or a lack of it.  There was too much to be cared for, too much responsibility for a growing family, to consider how I may have felt at the time.  At many points of life, we simply keep at it.  At other times and stages, we look for the special event or the upcoming occurrence, to bring some joy or peace to living.  I think of how I have at times, looked to the upcoming sporting event, or vacation, or family gathering, to bring some sense of expectation, happiness, or even, peace.

C.S. Lewis said it well when he wrote, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself.”  I have that on an index card, presently, on my desk.

Jesus offered peace to his disciples and to us.  It was a peace that rested in his person, his character, and his promises.  He said it was not like the transitory things of the world.  He offers it still.  It is not peace apart from Himself, but all wrapped up in Himself.

As we go through life, sometimes so busy that we don’t think about peace or an absence of it.  While at other times, we may be on an intense search for that which will bring it.  Let us come back to Jesus, to God, and find our peace in Him.

September 8, 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 Christ Jesus.                 2 Timothy 3:14-15

The words above were written to the young pastor, Timothy.  The Apostle Paul earlier had referred to Timothy’s faith, that had first lived in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice.  Apparently, these two women were instrumental in planting the seeds of faith in his life from a young age.  The Apostle Paul had furthered that education in Timothy’s life.

This morning, as I see the school buses out on the road stopping for children, and I know that most schools are now back in session (in some way), I pause to think about that valuable work of education.

As is often the case, poems are shared that know not the author.  I came across this one and felt it worthy to be shared in the context of this blog:

A builder builded a temple,

He wrought it with grace and skill,

Pillars and groins and arches,

All fashioned to work his will.

Men said as they saw its beauty,

“It shall never know decay,

Great is thy skill, O Builder,

Thy fame shall endure for aye.”

A teacher builded a temple,

With loving and infinite care,

Planning each arch with patience,

Laying each stone with prayer.

None praised his unceasing efforts,

None knew of his wondrous plan,

For the temple the teacher builded

Was unseen by the eyes of man.

Gone is the builder’s temple,

Crumbled into the dust;

Low lies each stately pillar,

Food for consuming rust.

But the temple the teacher builded

Will last while the ages roll,

For that beautiful unseen temple

Is a child’s immortal soul.

Education is so valuable, because it has the potential to shape the life of someone, who in turn, may shape many more.  I appreciate the work of the teacher.  I respect school teachers.  I also value the teacher in the home, grandmothers and mothers, like Lois and Eunice.  I value the spiritual teachers in my own life: family members, Sunday School teachers, pastors, college and seminary professors, and a host of parishioners.

It is our privilege, in these days, to continue to try to be godly teachers in both word and action.  It is our hope that inside the church building and especially outside of it, we are about the business that will outlast other material constructions.  Timothy was encouraged to continue in what he had learned and become convinced.  Let us also continue in our faith development.  Let us realize that even as we progress, we can help another in theirs.

September 3, 2020

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”                                      Philippians 1:20-21

             Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, wrote, “He who has a why to live, can live with a how.”

The Apostle Paul had a why.  His why was to live for Christ.  His why was to honor Christ with his living.  Therefore, the circumstances of his life were no of great consequence.  Any circumstance could be a place where he could live out his faith and devotion to Christ.  As many of you know, Paul was imprisoned at the time.

For many today, life has been at the least, challenging.  I think that all of us have said or thought, ‘I hope we can soon get back to the way things once were.’  When we add to the coronavirus dynamics, those which surround the concerns over racism and political division, or other challenges completely unrelated to those, we can become heavy-hearted.

We are wise to look to something, to a purpose for living, that is not dependent on circumstances.  The Apostle Paul has found that in seeking to living for Christ.  I think that he even gloried in the opportunity to display more love for Christ, because it was especially difficult.  James, the writer of the letter in the Bible that bears his name, wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.   Perseverance must finish it work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” James 1:2-4.  James also sees a why for living that is to become mature in our faith and life in Christ.  Circumstances of all kinds can then be a cause of joy, because they are the opportunity to grow and to mature in Christ.

I know that we can all lose sight of the why of living.  Yet, for us who are Christians, we try to keep it front and center.  Our lives are bound up with Jesus.

The Apostle Paul had a why, but he also had an expectation that this earthly life would come to an end and an even fuller life, after death, would continue with Christ.  I hope that you are also buoyed up with this perspective.  What we face is temporary.  What is coming is eternal.

So, by faith, we say, with each new day and challenge, “This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.”  I have a great why!

September 1, 2020

“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah.  In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest.  Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”                                                        2 Samuel 11:14-15

Wayne Barber wrote, “Isn’t it amazing how sin will take you further than you ever wanted to stray, keep you longer than you ever intended to stay, and cost you more than you ever dreamed you’d pay?”

The passage that is listed above is a portion of the whole biblical account of David’s sin with Bathsheba and where it led him.  I don’t believe that David had intended to commit adultery.  I don’t think that he had intentions of seeing to the death of her husband, Uriah.  He had brought Uriah home from the battle, in hopes of getting him to lie with his wife and be the presumed father of the child now conceived out of David’s adultery.  Uriah had, however, remarkable integrity and would not have sexual relations with his wife, while his fellow soldiers were in battle.  So David had to go further to cover up his sin.  In the end, the quote with which I began is illustrated.

David’s sins began with a seemingly innocent enough choice.  2 Samuel 11:1 tells us that it was spring, and the time when kings go off to war.  But David didn’t go off to war.  Instead, he stayed home.  He had time on his hands.  One evening he got up from his bed and walked around the roof of the palace.  It was from there that he spotted a woman bathing.  This led to adultery and to a pregnancy, and to the arranged murder, you just read.  If only David had done what a king was supposed to do in the spring.

How often we are caught up in sin when we allow ourselves to be where we ought not to be.  This can be in an inappropriate place, an inappropriate activity, and certainly an inappropriate realm within our thinking.  I have written an earlier blog which is based on James 1:13-15 which tracks a progression of sin.

David did not intend to go where he eventually went with his sin.  I am pretty sure of that.  Yet, he did go there.  The consequences were very severe.  Although David thought that he had covered up his sin, unconfessed sin will not be overlooked by God.  “Be sure your sin will find you out,”  (Numbers 32:23), is certainly true.  We are also given insight, through the Psalms, that even when the sin was not brought out in the open, the sin was weighing heavy upon him.  Nathan the prophet told David what would be the consequences of his sin.  These things are recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 12.

What can we take from this?

How wise the believer is to occupy oneself with meaningful work and other fruitful activities.  It is often in excessive leisure and inactivity that the mind and heart are available for the unproductive, and even sinful. How wise one is to recognize the potential harm that does come with sin.  Perhaps we can let even this biblical account convince us that sin has grave consequences and often takes us much further than we ever intend to go.  It is hard in the midst of temptation to recognize how serious the consequences will be.  The old sinful nature, with help from the tempter, will convince us that the pleasure of the moment will be worth whatever the consequence.  It will not be so.  How wise, instead, to recognize the spiritual battle we are in and equip ourselves for it.  The Apostle Paul wrote that we should put on the full armor “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes,”  Ephesians 6:11.

David would come to the place of true confession of his sin, repentance for it, and to the appeal to God for forgiveness and mercy.  God did forgive him. Yet, other consequences did remain.   I am not discounting the wonderful grace of God that we all so desperately need, but instead, I am cautioning, in order that we might not have to experience all that is likely to come with sin.

Let us be wise in these days.  Let us give ourselves to the Lord and to meaningful activity for the Lord.  Let us be ever vigilant.  May our lives be lived for the glory of God.

August 27, 2020

“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. . .and then knelt down before the who assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.  He said, “ O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.”                                                   2 Chronicles 6:12, 13-14

This passage is part of a prayer that Solomon offered at the dedication of the temple that he built for the Lord.  If you would take the time to read just a bit of the portion of the Bible just before this, you would be awed by the construction, the care given, the magnificence of the various items and structure, and the amount of gold, silver, and bronze used.  King David desired to build such a temple for the Lord, but he was not allowed to do so because he had been involved in much shedding of blood.  Rather, his son, Solomon, was allowed to take up such a building.  You may remember how Solomon, when told of God, that he might ask anything of God, asked for wisdom.

What I have given you above, is just the beginning of his prayer.  It is worth reading.  I will say more about it in a moment.  First, I want to note a couple of things mentioned in the passage.  It says that he spread out his hands.  I am not sure how he did this.  Did he lift them up to God?  Did he hold them out before him with palms up?  Were they more out at his side?  I don’t know and it doesn’t give that detail.  However he did so, it seems that he is doing so in an expressive way:  perhaps to include those gathered with him, or perhaps in an act of praise.  He seems to pray with a heart that is so full that to keep his arms and hands close to his body is not possible.  Second, he goes from standing to kneeling.  He is the king, but he bows before the King of all, the LORD.   He may have just completed a great building, but he knows who is truly great.  He bows as he prays.

His prayer, as I wrote, is worthy of your reading.  It begins with praise—there is no one like you in heaven or on earth.  As we ponder our God, I hope that your heart wells up in praise for our God who is like no other.  Who could imagine that God would so love the world that God would give His own Son to pay for our pardon?  Who would imagine a forgiving, and patient God, such as we have?  Who can imagine His greatness, as we consider the work of His doing in all created things?

Solomon goes on to ask that God might consider the humble prayers of those who appeal to him, in this temple.  He goes on to acknowledge that it is likely that God’s people will at points veer from the path of right.  He asks God to receive the heartfelt cries of repentance and to forgive and to restore.  Solomon seems to know that it is likely that persons will need forgiveness and the nation will as well.  His prayer reflects a humble request that God will forgive, when sin is acknowledged and forgiveness from God is sought.

A little bit into the his prayer, Solomon, even prays for the foreigner, who comes to this place in order to pray to the LORD.  He asks God to hear this prayer, so that all peoples on the earth may know God’s name and fear the LORD.  It is interesting that Solomon, while he knows of God’s choosing of Israel, also sees and knows that all people are of value to God.

Solomon prays that God will accept this place as a place of His presence and that God will remember him, even because of his great love and promises to his father, David.

Today, as we look to God, may we do so with a heart of praise.  May we find stretching out our hands a natural expression of our full hearts.  May we come humbly to God.  It may make sense to even kneel as we pray.  May we confess our sins and appeal to God, if we are in a place or time of great need.  May we know God as a God who does care and forgive, not just us, but others, as well.  Let’s take time to follow Solomon’s wise lead.

August 25, 2020

“The division of the gatekeepers: . . . His son Shemaiah also had sons, who were leaders in their father’s family because they were very capable men. . . all these were descendants of Obed-Edom; they and their sons and their relatives were capable men with strength to do the work—descendants of Obed-Edom, 62 in all.”

                                                                        1 Chronicles 26:1, 6, 8

In any Bible reading plan you may read in places that seem unconnected to your life.  1 Chronicles is part of the reading plan I am using for one day in August.  I pray before I read and ask God for something that may be of value for me or for others.  I read the above verses from chapter 26 yesterday.  I think that there is something here for us.

When we think of the ministry or Christian service, we often think of such activities as those of a pastor or of a Sunday school teacher or a missionary.  Those mentioned in this first portion of the chapter were of the tribe of Levi.  That means that they were of the priestly tribe.  Yet, not all of this tribe was those who offered sacrifices.  Some were given the care of the tabernacle and later the temple.  This group of men was entrusted with responsibility related to the gates.  According to 1 Chronicles 9:23, these men were in charge of guarding the gates of the house of the LORD—the house called the Tent.  A bit later it says that they were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God.  They would guard it during the night (and I presume the day) and were in charge of opening it each morning.  We might not think of this as a spiritual responsibility, but indeed it was.

It says something to me that these men took this responsibility seriously and were capable in that ministry.  They had the strength to do the work and gave themselves to it.  It honored God and the Scripture records it.

In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 7 records, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  It goes on to mention what some of these manifestations are.  Included were a message of wisdom, a message of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.  In Romans, chapter 12 we see another list that includes serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of other, leadership and showing mercy.  Some of these gifts are usually thought of in connection to Christian ministry, but a number of them may not be normally considered so.  Each one is given a gift from God to be used for the common good.

What has God given to you to use for the common good?  If you don’t feel that you have been given the gift that is related to preaching or teaching, know that God has given others as well.  Gatekeepers, who were protectors and defenders of the house of God, were equally valued.  In our day, there is a great need for encouragers, and people of faith and persons of mercy.  You are needed and of great value in the life of the people of faith and in our world.

Could you and I be counted among those who are thought of by God as capable women and men?  Do we have strength to do the work?  I believe that both can be true, whatever our season of life or place within it.

Let us do what we can do with a sense of purpose, value, and strength for the work.  May it honor God.  Don’t discount your place.  Gatekeepers were honored by this reference to them.  So can you be honored for your faithful service.

{Pastor Jeff had a week of vacation that included Aug. 17-24, 2020, so no blogs were posted during that week.}

August 13, 2020

“The relatives who were fighting men belonging to all the clan of Issachar, as listed in their genealogy, were 87,000 in all.”

                                                                                                1 Chronicles 7:5

I try to follow a bible reading plan.  It usually suggests a portion of the Old Testament and a portion of the New Testament.  It takes you through the whole bible in a year.  Sometimes the portion selected leads one to a passage such as the one above.

I chose this verse over others in that chapter that are a reciting of the actual names of the descendants.  It is hard to read all the unusual names.  There is purpose in the record, but we may not find it to be especially applicable to us.  I wonder if someone were to be looking for help from God, turn into His Word and read a passage such as this.  Would they turn from it in discouragement?

This is one reason why it is a good practice to be regularly in the Bible and not just on occasion or reason not to randomly choose a portion by opening it and reading.  As we read regularly, even such places serve to help us to see overall nature, ways, and workings of God.

While I believe that such passages show the development of the growth of the nation of Israel, I find a bit more to ponder in this reading.  This is just one of the tribes of Israel.  It is just a record of the fighting men at that point.  It is not a record of all the people on the earth at that time.  Yet the number is significant.  Do you ever struggle to remember someone’s name?  We all do.  Usually, we can remember those we see and interact with regularly.  Those who are a part of a more irregular pattern, or even a number of years between encounters, test our memories.

It is an awesome thought that God knows each one of us within the course of all time.  He not only knew the names of the 87,000 fighting men within the clan of Issachar, but all those alive in that day.  The population of United States is roughly 331 million here in August of 2020.  God knows each one of us.  It is something that boggles our minds.  God not only knows each one, but knows all of the details of lives, even the thoughts of our hearts.

Psalm 139 is a good passage to read concerning how God knows all about us.  One of the verses read as follows, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD,” (Psalm 139:4).  God is awesome and God’s knowledge of us, beyond our comprehending.

Yet, the wonderful word of the Scripture is that God not only knows, but is concerned for each of us.  The good news of the gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to die for our sins and in our place.  Such a God, the God of the Bible, is worthy of my praise.  Such a God is worthy of my life lived in a response of gratitude.

So I pause for a moment, and I hope you will, too, to consider the awesome greatness of our God.  God is beyond us.  That is for sure.  Yet, God delights to call us His sons and daughters, as we put our trust in Him.  Amazing!  To God be praise!

August 11, 2020

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

                                                                                                            James 1:13-15

             ‘When the alligators are crawling into your backyard, you know it’s too late to drain the swamp.’  I came across that sentence quite a long time ago and thought that it was worth writing down.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record or know the source to give proper credit.  I seems to fit with the passage above.  Let me make the connection in this brief blog.

There is pattern of sin that often unfolds.  James gives the progression and I have recorded it above.  First, it must be said that God is never the source of temptation.  God cannot be tempted, nor does he tempt anyone.  It would be against the nature of God and God’s holiness and goodness to tempt anyone toward an evil result.  God doesn’t desire that we have any part in evil.  God may allow difficulties as a means of developing perseverance or strengthening faith or trust in Him, but this is quite different than a temptation toward evil.

Second, James relates that temptation instead can find a beginning in a heart that has within it evil desires.  The evil desires of the heart are engaged by a temptation that finds its mark in that desire of the heart.  If we allow the evil desire of the heart to be engaged, sin is conceived and begins to grow.  Over time, it will grow and ultimately be birthed.  It seems that process is much like that of human conception.  The result is not something wonderful, as with the birth of a child, but that which is of great negative result—ultimately producing spiritual death.

The alligator statement with which I began, points out that it is folly to try to stop the process, if we have too long made provision for its natural result.  Better that we never begin with making provision for the possibility of the wrong thought or action.  Still, if we have done so, wisdom says that we should abruptly change the course of our thought and action.  We should drain the swamp.  I believe we do so through honest confession to God, repentance of our sin, even at the thought stage, and have a heartfelt desire that God help us move in a completely different line of thought and action.  Even in the early stages of yielding to temptation, there can harm.  Yet, it is always wise to turn back to God, no matter the progression or point.

I take time with this passage and this memorable statement, because I know that there is a process and progression.  With God’s help, we can overcome temptation.  1 Corinthians 10:13 has been a help to me.  It says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  There will always be a way to overcome, with God’s help.  Of course, God’s help will be of no use to us, if we desire to yield to sinful desires and choose that path.

Let me also make it clear that being tempted is not the same as yielding to sin.  Temptation is the opportunity to yield, but it is not sinful in and of itself to be tempted.  Jesus was tempted, but did not yield to sin.  He was able to live without sin and be our sinless sacrifice upon the cross.

So this morning, perhaps you could prayerfully examine your own heart and life.  Ask the Holy Spirit to do some examining.  If sin seems to be growing in your life in some area, drain the swamp now, through confession, repentance, and seeking the forgiveness that Jesus died to give.

Let’s not make provision for the alligators to be up in your yard!

August 6, 2020

“In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; del;iver me in your righteousness.  Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to same me.  Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.  Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.”

                                                                                                Psalm 31:1-5

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” James 5:16.  Yet, sometimes we fear that our prayers are inadequate.  Maybe we think that we are not putting the words together right.  Do I have enough faith?  Maybe we wonder if we are praying for the right things.  I think that we all have struggled with prayer, at least at points.

Max Lucado, in his book, He Still Moves Stones, writes, “Our prayers may be awkward.  Our attempts may be feeble.  But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”  How true.

The psalmist, David, clearly is trusting in his God, not in his ability to pray.  His words reflect this, in such phrases as “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge. . . Since you are my rock and my fortress. . .Into your hands I commit my spirit. . .”  When we turn to God in prayer, we are putting our confidence in God to know and to do what is best.  We are trusting in God’s character, yielding to His wisdom and will, and relying on His power.

Recently, I was studying for a sermon and read words of J. Vernon McGee.  He was writing about how Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and interceding for us.  He said something like this, even if we forget to pray, Jesus hasn’t forgotten.  It is encouraging to know that we have a God, and more specifically a Savior, who is the Son of God, that is ever praying and who helps us, as we pray.

So this morning, I turn to God in prayer.  I realize that God gives me the opportunity to express my thoughts and desires.  I am sure that my prayers are imperfect.  Yet, it gives me great confidence to know that the effectiveness of the prayer is not really in me, but in the God, to whom I pray.  Let us, therefore, pray continually, as the Apostle Paul encouraged (1 Thess. 5:16), knowing that God is ever helping and is the One who makes our prayers powerful and effective.

August 4, 2020

“. . . and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

                                                                                    Hebrews 12:1

             I was going through my illustrations’ file and came across an item that reflected a page in the journal of John Wesley.  It reads as follows:

Sunday a.m., May 5—Preached at St. Ann’s; was asked not to come back anymore.

Sunday p.m., May 5—Preached at St. John’s; deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”

Sunday a.m., May 12—Preached at St. Jude’s; can’t go back there either.

Sunday p.m., May 12—Preached at St. George’s; kicked out again.

Sunday a.m., May 19—Preached at St. Somebody Else’s; deacons called a special meeting and said I couldn’t return.

Sunday p.m., May 19—Preached on the street; kicked off the street.

Sunday a.m., May 26—Preached out in the meadow; chased out of the meadow when a bull was turned loosed during the service.

Sunday a.m., June 2—Preached out at the edge of town; kicked off the highway.

Sunday p.m, June 2—afternoon service, preached in pasture; 10,000 people came.

Citation:  Bob Hartman, Plugged In (9-16-97)

What do you make of that?  I find it amazing and encouraging!

What challenges are yours?  Are you able to persevere?  What spiritual battles are you facing?  Can you keep the faith and keep at it until the Lord brings a breakthrough?

I was doing some reading last Sunday and the focus of it was on the expectation of difficulty in the life of the Christian believer.  I am not sure that we have a mindset that expects life to be difficult for us.  Yet, the Bible repeatedly tells us that just as Jesus suffered, we might expect to suffer as well.  Troubles related to life in general and troubles that might be especially because we are seeking to honor Christ with our words and our lives, are likely to come.  We are wise not give ourselves over to “poor me.”

The writer to the Hebrews calls us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  According to Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, the word translated perseverance means passive endurance and active persistence.  We will endure what we must, but also keep at it.  We will not exit the race.  God has a unique race for each of us.  As many have said, the Christian’s race is a marathon and not a sprint.  Let us persevere to the end.

May you be encouraged in your race.  Don’t lose heart.  Keep the faith!

July 30, 2020

“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that that they may be one as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost . . .”

                                                                                    John 17:11-12

I was reading the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17.  It is the longest prayer of Jesus that we have.  What we call the Lord’s Prayer, recorded in Matthew, is really a prayer guide for the disciples.  Jesus gave it in response to the request of the disciples.  They asked Jesus, teach us to pray.  It could more properly be called, the Disiciple’s Prayer.  In any case, I would like to focus for a moment or two on Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the disciples, and I believe, indirectly for us.

I am particularly drawn to the concept of Jesus’ name.  Jesus asks the Father to protect them by the power of the Father’s name and then says that this is the name that the Father gave to him.  A few words later he states that he protected and kept them safe by this name.  How is one kept safe by a name?

It is clear that names mean something to God.  He instructs Zechariah on the name that his son be given.  God wanted him to have the name, John.  Others presumed that this boy born to elderly parents would be named after his father, but they named him as God had instructed.  The name, John, means “the Lord is gracious.”  In John the Baptist’s coming, the graciousness of God was unfolding.  Mary was also instructed, as she was told that she would give birth to Son of the Most High God, to name him a very specific name.  He was to be named, Jesus.  His earthly father, Joseph, was also given that same instruction, as to Mary’s son’s name.  We are told in Matthew 1:21 that “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  These names are not left to chance.

So I come back to the prayer of Jesus.  I have to believe that at least one possible name that kept them safe was that name, Jesus, which means savior.  It is the fact that Jesus was their savior, that they are eternally kept safe.  Our sin would condemn us.  The work of Jesus, upon the cross, saves us.  As we trust in Jesus and in his name, we, too, are kept safe from eternal death and damnation.

The name is only as good as the one who backs it up.  Your name, your reputation, is only as good as the consistency with which you maintain integrity, generosity, love, fidelity, and truthfulness.  Jesus could protect them by his good name, faithfully backed up by his life.  It is His name and all that is possible through it, and through Him, that we continue to be protected.

I am sure that I have just scratched the surface here.

I was reading Psalm 113 this morning.  In a repeated way, the psalmist writes, “praise the name of the LORD.  .  . Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. . .the name of the LORD is to be praised.”  No wonder some of the hymn writers have taken up this instruction.  “All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall.”  “Take the name of Jesus with you,” so writes another.  “Blessed be the name, blessed be the name, blessed be the name of the Lord,” pens still another.

This morning, while I don’t know just how it all works in the mind of God, I join to praise the great name of Jesus.  It is the name of the one who has worked my salvation.  It is the name that keeps me and protects me.  What a wonder!  What a name!

July 28, 2020

One Life

One song can spark a moment,

One flower can wake a dream.

One tree can start a forest,

One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,

One handclasp lifts a soul.

One star can guide a ship at sea,

One word can frame a goal.

One vote can change a nation,

One sunbeam lights a room.

One candle wipes out darkness,

One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey,

One word must start each prayer.

One hope will raise our spirits,

One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom.

One heart can know what’s true.

One life can make a difference,

You see, it’s up to you!*

            Most of us know a person, maybe more than one, who has made a difference in our lives.  Some may offer just what we need on only one occasion; but it makes a difference then.  Others have consistently been a powerful influence on our lives.  One life does make a difference.

            Each life is important to God.  Although Jesus died for the sins of the world, it was as if he did so for each of us, as if we were the only one.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness.  He is patient not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Each Christian is a vital part of the body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  The body of Christ is not all it can be if we do not use these gifts of the Spirit for the common good.

The value of one cannot be underestimated.  What can God do through you?  All that you will let Him.  May your life and mine continue to be used of God in the lives of others.

*I am not sure of the author of the above poem.  Therefore, I have not sought permission for its use.

July 23, 2020

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God, like a little child will never enter it.”  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

                                                                                          Mark 10:13-16   

My wife and I now have three grandchildren.  While we are not able to see them in person very often, due to where they live, we are able to view them by way of phone or computer or by way of still pictures.  I try to rotate each one’s picture on my computer screen.  I delight to see them.

It seems that in biblical days, including the time of Jesus, that children were often kept out of the flow of adult activity and conversation.  Jesus’ disciples tried to keep parents from bringing their little children to Jesus.  These parents wanted Jesus to bless their children with a touch.  His disciples must have believed that Jesus’ time and energy was much too valuable to spend blessing children.

They must have been a little surprised by Jesus’ reaction.  Mark records that Jesus was indignant.  I looked up the word, indignant, to make sure I understood its meaning.  The dictionary defines indignant as anger aroused by something unjust.  We should know something of ‘indignant’ in our day, for it seems that there is quite a bit of it.

Jesus wanted the children to come to him.  Dare I say that he thought it an injustice for parents to be prevented from bringing them or for a child to be kept from the experience of his touch?  We know that every person is of value to God.  It is in the heart of God for all to come to him.  That is Christian message of invitation—‘come unto me (Jesus)’.  Jesus welcomed the little children and took some of them up into his arms.  I like to picture that in my mind.

Jesus used the child as a metaphor for the person who belongs in the kingdom, particularly because of how a child readily believes and receives.  The smallest of children are trusting of those who they know.  A young child will believe what a parent says.  A child will believe the stories of miracles, without a question.  It is only later that a child will doubt and question.  A child will usually have great faith.  By the way, I love it when children pray.  They often ask God with such simple faith and out of love for the one for whom they pray.

Jesus valued children and we must, as well, today.  Most of the Christian teaching and modeling will have to happen in the home in these coronavirus days.  I hope that as a church, we can find some new ways to help.  If you are a parent and you have not been a part of Right Now Media, please go to the church website, lakemoreumc.com, and accept the free gift of access to this resource.  In it, you will find many resources for children, including Christian music for children and Christian videos/teaching geared for them.

Years ago, I came across this saying.  I am not sure who wrote it.  “One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in the bank, nor what my clothes looked like.  But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”

May you be blessed as you interact, as you pray, as you babysit, as you love children/a child for the sake of Christ.

July 21, 2020

“For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith.  I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.”                                                  1 Thessalonians 3:5

The Apostle Paul loved the people with whom he had shared faith and seen a response.  At times, it may seem that a preacher is more concerned about the number of those who respond to a message, than to the people themselves.  In such cases, it seems that pride and accomplishment is at the heart of the preacher’s motivation.  It was not so with Paul.

Earlier in that same letter he writes, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy,” 1 Thess. 2:19-20.  While some might read this as a self-serving motive, as we read the whole tenor of the letter, it was not so much about Paul, as about them.  He goes on, “So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.  We sent Timothy. . . to strengthen and encourage you in the faith,” 1 Thess. 3:1-2.  Timothy was so valuable to the Apostle Paul and to the work of ministry being done, yet he cared for this group of believers so much that he ‘short-changed’ his support staff to strengthen and to encourage them.

Why do I write this?  In these unusual days, I have lost contact with some of the congregation.  In part, it is my own fault.  At first, when we were all in quarantine, I was making phone calls.  It was easy to catch people at home, we were all there.  As that has lifted, I shifted more of my energy to work of the various preparations, mostly to the sermon preparation.  Now, some five months into this pandemic, there are quite a number of the congregation, that I have not seen or spoken to for quite some time.

I am encouraged by the numbers of folks who are coming to the parking lot services.  Some have come, now that we are doing inside the church worship again.  I see that there are a number of others who are watching the YouTube sermons.   I don’t know exactly who those people are, unless I have heard from them.  I have also had some contact with others, by phone or in person, for which I am grateful.

I am going to seek to reach out to those of you that I haven’t talked with for quite some time.  I am a bit embarrassed that so much time has come and gone.  Please know that it is not purposeful neglect.  You are in my thoughts and prayers.  I do think of you in preparation for my sermons.  I want to hear that you are well, as is your faith.  I want to strengthen and encourage you.

Recently, I saw one of you for the first time since the church ceased in-person worship back in March.  It was a so good.  I received a note from another that asked for prayer and mentioned hope of seeing each other at some point in the future.  I will pray and I do hope that it will be soon.  Christ Jesus is my great hope and joy, but you are right there, too.

So for now, I write, I preach, I pray.  I hope soon to see you or to talk with you, and to find you faithful.

I close this with the Mizpah blessing:  May the Lord watch between you and me, while we are absent from each other.  Amen.

July 16, 2020

“Even now,” declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”                                                                                   Joel 2:12-13

Real life in this world is challenging.  At times, it may not seem so.  At other times, we are knocked down by it.  I could mention times like a cancer diagnosis, or a miscarriage, or an unexpected loss of employment.  There are other challenges that come, that are as devastating as these and even more.

Sin is at the root of many problems.  It can be our own sin.  It may be that of others.  Satan is also very active in our world.  Peter described Satan as “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” 1 Peter 5:8.  We see how Satan was behind Job’s testing.  Job was unaware of the source, but he knew the full weight of the trouble.

In the book of Joel, God, through Joel, speaks of a day of wrath coming.  It is called, “the day of the Lord.”  You have heard me refer to that great time of judgment and of the outpouring of God’s wrath on sin.  The book of Joel speaks of locusts.  We know that locusts can devastate the land.  They can eat all living things in their path.  Whether literal or figurative, Joel speaks of a devastation that is coming.

Still, in the midst of judgment, God desires to redeem.  In Joel chapter 2, we hear a call to sincere repentance and a recounting of the nature of God.  In all situations, this two-part word is a wise focus.  First, we seek God with a repentant heart.  We ask, as David did, to search us and to show us, even secret sins, that may be present.  As I mentioned earlier, as in the case of Job, not all trouble is because of our own sin, still it is wise to turn to God with a humble heart.

Second, we look deeply into the character of our God.  To think of the character of God is to be buoyed up in the midst of the trouble.  To think about the nature of God is to have reason for hope.  I don’t think that we can plumb the depths of the grace and compassion of God, but we do well to try.

In times of great need and trouble, it may be difficult to do so, but if we can focus on the nature of God, it is true respite.  We might pray and grieve and mourn our predicament, but when that is done, we might turn to looking at the nature of God and resting in the true and wonderful God.

Perhaps this day is one of great challenge for you.  If so, would you consider, doing as Joel suggested?  Return or turn to God with a repentant heart.  Then, look to the nature of God.  Pray his character back to him in prayer.  Ask God to fill you with a new sense of who God is.

Joel’s words ring a needed message for me.  I hope that they might for you.

July 14, 2020

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”

                                                                                                            2 Corinthians 5:17

From time to time I notice the license plate of a car.  Sometimes it reflects an occupation.  At other times, I can see that it is someone’s name or probably their initials. Still other times, it might be a reflection of the kind of car.  I saw one the other day that made we ponder it for a bit.  Here was the license:  DRY1806.

I assumed that the license plate reflected sobriety.  I thought of the numbers, likely a date.  I believe that the owner may have been declaring a sobriety date that began January 8, 2006.  I might be wrong, but it made sense to me.

I have been around some who are a recovering alcoholic or drug user.  To mark a beginning date and to remember it seems to give confidence that the “higher power” that enabled this one to have a new beginning, and to help through days, months, and years, will sustain them in the present day as well.

I thought about life with God.  While not all Christians can name a day and year of beginning in Christ, many can.  As one minister friend I know said, ‘it may not be so important that you can name a date, but it is important that you know that you are in Christ.  If you aren’t sure, why not make this day, your date?’

Recently, in the sermon of July 12, 2020, I made reference to the little publication called “Steps to Peace with God.”   The Billy Graham Association has used it, and it is available to view on line.  It is a simple plan of how one can enter into a relationship with God, through God the Son, Jesus Christ.  I hope that you might take time to view the document or watch the YouTube sermon, where I give a quick review.

It is so important to have a beginning—a spiritual birth.  We have a physical beginning in life, and we need a spiritual beginning as well.  The license plate owner, who I mentioned, knew the importance and value of a beginning.

For the recovering alcoholic, each day of sobriety means progression.  So too, each day of life with God, can be a continuing to become what God has declared true.  By repentance of sin, and receiving of Christ, we are a new creation.  We are spiritually born.  Growth in a life with God is expected.  The present tense of the verb, “has come,” indicates that it is ongoing, that it is progressively coming.  We are living and growing up into this declared reality.  It might be translated, the old is gone, and the new is coming.

We do well to concern ourselves with the progressing in a daily life with God.  The old still has some power and appeal.  We must daily rely on God and on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  We ask God’s Holy Spirit to keep working to make us the new person we are in Christ.

I appreciated seeing the license plate.  That person wanted to both make a declaration, be reminded of the daily process, and also perhaps to be held accountable.

May we give thought to such things, today.

July 9, 2020

“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabus (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet.”                                                                                                Acts 4:36-37

This is just a little sentence that speaks of one man who acted with generosity and faith.  The context of these verses tells how in the early days of Christianity, believers were one in heart and mind.  They thought not of what they might possess for themselves, but shared what they had.

I am impressed that this man named Joseph was such an encouragement that they called him by a new name.  The name Barnabus, we are told, means Son of Encouragement.  We are often called a nickname, which may come because of physical trait, or a certain easier form of a name.  This man is called a name that represents a major characteristic of his life.

I could take time, as I have often done, to speak of some of things which Barnabus did that were so very encouraging.  This time, I would rather just focus on the blessing that does come through another’s life.

Barnabus was a blessing.  His life made others’ lives more full.  As people, gave thought, perhaps during his life, and then later, after it, they no doubt spoke of him with joy and appreciation.  I imagine someone might have told a story of how Barnabus did something for them that was so meaningful.

I write this as we have just experienced the sudden death of our friend, Dick Schwarz.  I so appreciated Dick.  He was not one to seek to be the focus of attention.  He did not need to self-promote.  He quietly and steadily went about active participation in the life of the church and community.  Dick was a steady man of Christian faithfulness.  He held leadership roles, but also washed dishes for Swiss Steak dinners.  He was extremely intelligent, yet he gave much time and energy to calling bingo numbers in support of the Springfield band.  He could listen to matters of heated debate and calmly offer some possible compromise.  Our lives were fuller, because of Dick’s life with us.

I have been so richly blessed by people of faith that have served their Lord in simple and profound ways.  We didn’t often give them a new name that reflected their great value in our lives, but we might have.  One person could have been called Faithful.  Another might have been renamed, Steady.  One more might have been called, Wise One.  Still another, might have been renamed, Selfless.

So many are the gifts of God to us.  Among the best are the lives of those who add to life by the  way in which they live.  I want to pause this morning and give God praise and thanks for people like Dick.  Maybe you can name some in your heart as well on this day.

We all are a mix of good, and at times, not so great.  Yet, what if our living could allow God to bring to greater consistency those attributes that God has given uniquely to us?  It matters not that we get a new name, but it could matter in the lives of others!

July 7, 2020

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”         James 1:2-4

Some places in the Bible are easier than others to read and to receive.  This one is straight-forward enough to understand, but not so easy to readily accept.

We all would like to be known as mature.  Sometimes, those of us who are older, may listen to a younger person, and think, ‘they just don’t yet see and understand.’  Life experience can teach a person a few things.  Many lessons are learned the hard way—by making mistakes or choosing the wrong paths.  It is not a given, that to be older is to be wiser, but at least it’s a possibility.  We all can agree that maturity is something desirable.

We all would also like to be complete.  Most of you have seen the Christian saying that was prominent some years ago—“Be patient.  God isn’t finished with me yet.”  To be complete is to be finished.  It seems that this work of completion is a lifelong process.  It requires learning and striving and cooperating with God’s Spirit.  There is much that needs to be finished in me.  I fear that God will have to do much more in death, to make me all he intends for me.

Still, there is a way to move forward in this life toward the goal of being mature and  complete.  James says that trials present an opportunity to let your faith rise to the test.  Trials give us a chance to persevere and to progress toward the maturity and completeness that God desires for us.

He writes of trials of many kinds.  Life is full of trials.  Some trials are minor.  Others are such that shake us to the core.  I enjoy some challenges.  It feels good to meet a challenge and overcome.  Other challenges have no presenting joy whatsoever.   I was talking yesterday with a colleague.  He said that he missed the course in seminary where they taught you how to minister during a pandemic.  Of course, he was joking.  This is a difficult time for those of us who count more face-to-face pastoral ministry as a part of our gifts and our calling.  I am trying to persevere.  Some days, it seems that I do better than others.

We all face trials of many kinds.  Can we, with faith, not only persevere, but ‘count it pure joy’?  I believe that to do so, can only happen with faith.  I do believe that God is good and ever at work for good.  Romans 8:28 has been a part of my faith life nearly from the beginning.  I believe it literally.  “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”  I realize that it has some conditions built into the promise—we must love God and be called according to God’s purpose.  I, like you, feel that these things are basic to our having Jesus as our Savior and especially, our Lord.

So with trust in a good God, we do seek to persevere through the trials of this day, and those of tomorrow.  We trust God’s Spirit to help us.  We rely on the support of others in our journey and seek to also be a support to others.

So let’s persevere today!  Let’s move the needle a bit more toward maturity and completeness in our faith.  May all be for the glory of God!

July 2, 2020

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”           John 8:31, 36

On this weekend when we will remember and celebrate our independence, I thought that it might make sense to pause for a moment and think about another freedom.

Jesus says two things that might seem contradictory.  First, he says that to be his disciple, you must hold to his teaching.  This would seem to some to be restrictive.  Second, he says that if the Son sets you free, you will truly be free.  So, there is an expectation of living out his teaching, yet in doing so will be freedom.  Can this be?

I think that a train is a good illustration of how in fact this is true.  A train is a powerful means of transporting goods or people.  One train of a time past was called, The Super Chief.  It could go over the Rocky Mountains without a slowdown.  One could say that is real freedom—the power to go over obstacles without decreasing speed.  Yet, The Super Chief was only free when it was on the train track.  Once it left the track and it soon was unable to go any further.  It could be argued that tracks for a train are very restrictive, but on the other hand, without them, the train has no freedom at all.

Christ has set us free from the price that sin has cost us.  The wages of sin is death, according to Romans 6:23.  “Yet, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” so says the remainder of Romans 6:23.  We have been made free in Christ Jesus.  We can be forgiven and made right with a holy God through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death for sin.  In order to live in that freedom, we must “stay on the tracks.”  Jesus calls us to hold to his teaching.

To hold to his teaching is to give us the tracks that we need to live in the freedom that is truly free.  To hold to his teaching is to live in harmony with God and in the ways that continue this harmony.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself.”  God has given us His Son, and in and through Him, is the happiness, peace, and freedom that we seek.

Our freedoms as a nation were brought at a great price.  They also call for some restrictive practices, like obeying laws and paying taxes.  I believe that those considerations are well worth it.  I find that good rules of order, do give life.  So, too, it is with life as a Christian disciple.  We have the guidance of Jesus’ teaching, which I believe includes the whole of Scripture.

May we ponder these great gifts today.  May we find in freedom a responsibility that enables one to be truly free.

June 30, 2020

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”        Genesis 2:2-3

Rest is vital to our lives.  Sleep occupies about a third of most people’s day.  We might at times rest less or sleep less because the demands of life require it or the stress of life prevents it.  It will catch up with us, if we don’t allow ourselves to rest properly.

It is interesting that at this very beginning of the creation events, God rested from His work.  In six days, God had done all that was needed or desired.  “The heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array,” Genesis 2:1.  “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing. . .”  Genesis 2:2.  We, who know the beginning portion of the Bible, know about the seventh day, set aside as a day of rest.  It seems that this seventh day was just as important, as were the six days of creating.  God was creating a period of rest.

Chuck Swindoll wrote a devotional book many years ago which was divided into four parts, reflecting our seasons.  It was called, The Seasons of Life.  Summer was referred to in his book as the season of rest.  For quite a few of us, summer often was that time of vacationing.  The kids were off from school.  The daylight hours were longer.  So taking a break from the usual work of life made sense, if you were able to afford it or to get the time off.

This year has been so unusual.  Adults and school age children have been home for as long as the summer break usually lasts.  Covid-19 concerns have slowed travel and many activities.  Resources for vacation may not exist.

Still, we need times in life for rest.  God has created the pattern for our help and blessing.  No matter your station in life, no matter the circumstances of our day, we all need this rest.  I often give thanks to God for a time to focus, not on all the other things of life, but instead to focus simply on God.  I am grateful for a time of doing so each week.  I need rest from troubles and a heavy heart.  I need to enjoy my Maker, and my Savior.  I need to rest in the goodness of God and in the strong hope that has come in Jesus Christ.  To break from daily routines, to rest in God, refreshes my soul.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,” so Genesis 2:3 says.  To be holy is to be set apart for some special use or purpose.  For Christians, since Jesus rose on the first day of the week, we set apart Sunday as our day of rest.  While the day may not be so important, the practice of setting apart time for rest is.  I know of no better rest than to spend time worshiping and focusing on God.

May you find your rest in God.  May you be refreshed and restored this summer by acts that move you away from your normal activities into more restful ones.  May it be so, whether you are able to get away or to stay home.  I hope, though, that in such times, you will take time to bless the Lord, to consider His Word, and to look toward His great promises.  In doing so, I hope that your spirit will be renewed for the tasks at hand.

I thank the Lord, this day, for His goodness in creating for us, a day, a time of rest.

June 25, 2020

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law. . . To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”      1 Corinthians 9:19-22

 This morning on my way in to the church, I heard the radio host and a guest talk about the changing climate of work in these coronavirus days.  They spoke of how those that may have lost a job or who may be looking for work, may need to “pivot” or re-imagine themselves and what they can do.  It may not be helpful, the guest said, to just think in past ways or experiences.

As I listened, I related what I was hearing to my own life, to ministry, and to the church.  We have made some adjustments, but for most of us, we hope that much will one day return to normal.  By normal, we mean the way that things were.  It has been said by some, that we won’t return to the way things have been.  We might return to some of the elements of the past, but probably with some different practices, and different mindsets.  I have written and spoken about some of the good that has come in terms of reaching some through the on-line format.  We have  reached some that we had not been connecting with before.

My mind went to the Apostle Paul and to the passage above.  The Apostle Paul probably could have sought to do things according to his preferences, but instead, he chose to adapt in order to better connect with the different groups that he sought to reach for Christ.  His desire to see men and women of all stations know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, was what he described as “winning.”

I hope that I can have this same heart.  What is most important?  How can I adapt in order to win or to save some?

What about you?

When it comes to preferences, we all have them.  One person likes traditional hymns.  Another likes more contemporary praise music.  One person likes to dress up for worship.  Another enjoys the freedom to wear more casual attire.  One person appreciates or needs the freedom to watch a sermon at a non-traditional time.  Another person feels that without worship on Sunday morning, life seems disordered.  One person enjoys the parking lot service.  Another longs to be back inside the church, and in the sanctuary.

Beyond these things, and in ordinary life, how can I find ways of connecting with those I encounter?  How can I have the opportunity to share faith and to invite others to the saving faith that I have come to know in Jesus Christ?  What about my relatives?  What about a classmate from years ago?  What about a new neighbor?  What about a facebook friend?

I appreciate the heart of the Apostle Paul.  It mirrors the heart of God and heart of God’s Son, Jesus.  Jesus constantly left one place to go to another, in order to reach some more.

My prayer this morning is this:  Lord, give me grace to adapt for your sake, and for sake of others.  Calm my fears of the unknown.  Give me courage to do whatever is necessary for your purpose to be accomplished.  In Jesus’ name, I pray.  Amen.

June 23, 2020

“I love the LORD for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”                                       Psalm 116:1-2

I was watching a video of three persons in conversation, Dr. Alveda King, Dr. Johnny Parker and Promise Keepers, chairman, Ken Harrison .  I wanted to get some understanding of the perspectives of those who may differ from me in background and experience.

Dr. Parker shared a question that he has often used for helpful communication, which on the occasion of a heated time of interaction with his wife, he chose to use.  He asked, “Honey, what do you want me to hear, that I am not hearing?”  His wife responded positively to such a sincere question.  That led to some real understanding.  It is a valuable question for us as well, for many arenas of life, including that of the racial tension that is so real right now.

He went on to quote the passage above and make the point that when people don’t feel heard, they don’t feel loved.  The opposite is also true.  When we feel heard, as did the psalmist, there is a sense of life, love, and joy.

This certainly is a time to seek to listen and to hear the voices of those who are deeply troubled by injustice experienced.  Face to face conversations can be the most fruitful, in my opinion.  Often in communication, we have to read the body language of the listener, to see if the communication is getting through or if there is confusion or anger rising.  With an honest desire to truly understand and a commitment to it, we can get to a better place of being heard and of understanding.  If this is not possible in person, perhaps we can at least listen to the voices of others in a recorded  or written format.

There may also be misperceptions in the other direction.  I am privileged in many ways.  There are privileges of which I am keenly aware.  I count it a great privilege that I grew up in a home of loving parents.  I count it a privilege that education was valued by my family.  I count it a privilege that I was taken to church.  I count it the greatest privilege that I came to see the need of repentance, the experience of grace and forgiveness, and enabling of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  There are a host of other privileges that I could name and many I have experienced without knowing.

The privileges that I have experienced do not limit my desire that others might have privileges, such as those I have mentioned, as well.  I want others to have meaningful lives.  I want to see others succeed.  I have tried to be an encourager. I believe that to be a part of the call to be Christian.

We are not all given life in equal measure.  Your challenges may have overwhelmed me.  Some of mine may have been difficult for you.  Life isn’t fair.  Life is hard.  I don’t seek to minimize the struggles that others have known throughout life.

I know that with every blessing and privilege there is accountability. To whom much is received, much is required.  Paul wrote, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful,” 1 Cor. 4:2.  That is the ultimate equalizer—that we are accountable to God.

I have heard African-Americans, like Dr. Parker and others, share their heartfelt fears and struggles.  I have tried, not only to hear, but to listen.  I have also heard others, who are against racial injustice, but who respond negatively to being included with the terms, white supremacy and white privilege.  It seems to make a generalization that limits the conversation.

Our bishop has called for 30 days of prayer.  May we seek to hear from our hurting brothers and sisters, to listen, to respond, and call out to the God.  May all know the love of a fellow human being, and the love of God that come through the gift of being heard.

June 11, 2020

“Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.”                                                                                                                                Daniel 2:27-28

In the days of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams.  He called for those that usually interpreted dreams.  They were willing to give him an interpretation of his dream, but he gave them an unusual challenge.  They were to tell him his dream and then interpret it.  He also told them that if they failed to do so they would be cut to pieces and their houses turned to piles of rubble.  Yet, if they were able, he would reward them richly.

These diviners couldn’t believe the request.  No one, in the past, had ever asked them to reveal a dream.  They were usually only tasked with interpreting it.  “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks!  No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer.  What the king asks is too difficult,” (Daniel 2:10-11).

Daniel and his three fellow Israelites would be included in those who would be put to death if they failed to give and to interpret the dream.  They were considered a part of the wise men of Babylon.

Together these four men pleaded with God for mercy and asked God to reveal the dream and its interpretation.  During the night the God of heaven revealed it to Daniel.

Daniel’s praise to the true God, flowed from a thankful heart.  You might look up his praise.  It is found in Daniel 2:20-23.

Daniel knew that the One True and Living God could know what no man could know—even the dreams of a man.  Whether God would be merciful and reveal it to him or to his friends was uncertain.  Yet, they appealed to God and let God do as God saw fit.

Why bring up the old story today?  There are things that seem impossible to us.  We could name quite a few this day.  There are things related to our world, our nation, our relationships with one another, issues of health, economy, and spiritual dimensions, the resolution of which all seem impossible to us.  Are not these sorts of challenges much like the king’s request to the wise men of the day?

Yet, there is a God who can bring about the answers needed.  God used Daniel and God may raise up others, who if they humbly appeal in mercy to God, may be given the word from God needed.  This is a time for us to call out to God.

We have had the deepest need of our lives, that of sin and of separation from a holy God, remedied with Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

God is willing to do all that is needed.  May we continue to seek the Lord and to cry out for mercy.

June 9, 2020

“Then the LORD answered, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on the tablets so that the herald may run with it.””       Habakkuk 2:2

 This beginning instruction from God came in answer to the prophet’s complaint.  I am not going to try to explain the context or the word that God gave.  I chose the passage for another reason, an indirect one to its purpose.

Here I see God saying that he wants to communicate in a way that will be unmistakably clear.  God wants to give a word that can be read and understood.  Even written words can be misinterpreted, but they have the potential of relaying a message that will be consistent.  We’ve all played that communication game, where an initial message is shared and then passed on.  By the time it reaches several people, much of the message is lost or changed.  Writing down something may have advantage at times over speaking.

Can we be agreed that communication is challenging?

I have tried hard not be political in the ministry.  Certainly, I have opinions and my own frame of reference.  You do as well.  If you desire to engage in a conversation about a particular current event, I think that conversation is a better place to exchange views, than it would be for me to speak from the pulpit.  On occasion, there is an event that is in the minds and hearts of people and seems to be an appropriate topic for prayer.  The recent events that began with the death of George Floyd seem to prompt a need to turn to God in prayer.

I don’t think that I communicated well in my public prayer that touched on the subject.  God knows my heart and my humanness, but those that listen in are not able to have those insights.  Public prayers can be speeches or perceived so, if one is not careful.

Here’s what I wish that I might have prayed.  I wish that I might have acknowledged the great challenges that continue in the human family. Sin has had a profound effect upon us and we live with the results.  When people in positions of power do wrong, it cries out for justice.  I wish that I would have prayed to the God of justice to enable those, who are able to carry out justice, to act in the ways that will bring it about swiftly.  I also wish that I would have prayed for the family of George Floyd, for their comfort, for God’s presence with them.  I wish that I would have prayed and asked God, in the words of the prophet Micah, that we might act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.  Many who are choosing to go to rallies are doing so to seek to express this desire for a better way forward together.  I wish that I might have prayed for them, that this desire for good would be kept in their hearts, yielding the good fruit of positive change.  I did express, in some of my comments before praying and in my public praying, a desire for people to choose peaceful ways to protest.  I do not see how acts of looting and violence help us to move to a better place.  Most at the rallies are not seeking violence or an excuse to carry out deeds of wickedness.  To not say so, seems to imply that all those in attendance share the same motivations.  I did express support for police officers who are seeking to do the good and the right.  These men and women are in harm’s way, as they seek to protect and serve.  I have been blessed to know many such police or law enforcement officers and greatly value them and their service.  That led me to voice that in my prayers.

There are other appropriate things that might have been mentioned or prayed.  I hope that I might think through, in my comments and in my public prayers, the impact of my words for those who hear.  I am sorry for what omissions seem to communicate or for errors in my own thinking.

Let’s keep striving together to love God and to love our neighbor.  I pray that God will continue to shape my heart and understanding toward my own weaknesses and faults.  I pray to be changed into the greater likeness of Christ.  I trust the Holy Spirit to work to this end.

Let’s keep working on communicating well.  Let’s seek to make “it plain” and to take time to listen to one another.  Amen.

June 4, 2020

{I have edited this blog from the one I previously posted.  I hope that it more clearly portrays my desire to love my neighbor well.}

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”                                                                                                                   Galatians 3:26-28

I chose the above passage in light of the recent death of George Floyd and the events that have unfolded.  George Floyd’s death was tragic, unnecessary, and wrong.  I don’t know all that led up to it and have not followed all the things that have unfolded since.   I am sure that his family is dealing with unbelievable grief. It must be so difficult to process a death that comes about in such a way.

Some of us live in a pretty isolated reality.  We may not need to think about race nor understand the struggles associated with it.  Events of these last days have caused us to look more closely at a broader perspective of life.

There are African-Americans who are attending protests in order to bring about greater racial justice.  Many others are attending protests as a statement of opposition to racial injustice and as an indicator of love and solidary with African-Americans.  It is important to clearly separate those whose intention is violence, looting, or some self-serving gain, from those who are seeking a positive change or those who with good conscience are trying to love their neighbor.

The Bible calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Perhaps we might start with our thinking.  Christianity has much to say about the value of each person.  The above passage speaks to the fact, that in Christ, we are of equal value.  Some of the categories mentioned in the above Scripture were certainly viewed, in that day, with a great amount of differing worth.  Yet, in Christ, the former ways of viewing people and life, are changed.

In addition to that passage, we could go back to the very beginning when God made us in His own image.  Our worth lies largely here.  We may live far from the image of what God intended us to be, but we have an innate worth, because we bear God’s image.  Recently, I have mentioned Ravi Zacharias.  He was a great defender of the Christian faith.  He had the rare ability to really be present in conversation with others.  He often held quite different passionate views from the one with whom he conversed.  I am told that he seemed to keep in mind the person behind the view, and that they were bearers of the image of God.  He dealt with all with respect and because he did so, was able to be heard and to present concepts that might otherwise been completely dismissed.

We might also pursue an active understanding of one different from ourselves.  If it is possible to know someone personally from a different race, and really share life together, good can come.  It is there that we might be able to talk, laugh, discuss, debate, and listen.  Then racial injustice is not just a concept, but something that my friend knows firsthand.

If we are able to keep a humble opinion of ourselves, we might respond better.  We can also pray and ask God to give us clearer understanding of our own short-comings, stereo-types, and fears.

I do long for a day when race isn’t a part of our evaluation of a person.  Instead, I long for the time when we might, instead, be judged by our character, our faith, and our life. My life has been enhanced by the richness of the human family.  I pray it may be so for all, especially in these days of turmoil.

I believe that we, Christians, can lead the way with God’s help and grace.  May it be so.

June 2, 2020

“I think it right to refresh your memory as long as I live in this tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.  And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” 

2 Peter 1:13-15

The Apostle Peter speaks indirectly here about his death.  He first refers to his body as a tent.  Most of us know something of a tent.  My sisters and I had a tent growing up.  We delighted to sleep in it on some summer nights.  It was a little adventure for us to leave the house and sleep outdoors.  On the other hand, we wouldn’t have wanted to live in it indefinitely.  We could leave it during the night and come inside the house if we got cold, or if it began to rain.  Our tent would leak, if it was wet and you leaned against it.   It had its limitations.  It was temporary.

The Apostle Paul also wrote of his earthly body and called it a tent (2 Cor. 5:1).  He expected to receive a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Peter also referred to his death as a departure.  I am certain that there are different sorts of departures.  Some are welcome and others come with sadness.  As I thought of the word, “departure” while reading this passage, my mind went to the thought of a great adventure.  In order to experience something new and great, one must begin, must depart.   Here in this passage, Peter was not  emphasizing the good that would lie ahead for him, with the Lord.  Instead, he emphasized what he was trying to do until that departure came.

Both men lived earthly life well, making the most of this temporary existence.  Peter was utilizing the time “in this tent of this body” refreshing their memories, teaching and reminding them of the truths of God.  Yet, when it was time to put it aside, he was confident of something better.  This is the way to live life.  Live it wholeheartedly for God.  Make the most of these days.  Yet, know that when this earthly life comes to an end, a new adventure with God, of a lasting eternal sort is ahead.  It is a great hope which enables us to live well, and die unafraid.

An evangelist and apologist (defender of the faith) by the name of Ravi Zacharias passed away recently.  He was a wonderful example of a person who lived wholeheartedly for God and even in death, died well.  You may wish to watch his memorial service.  It can be found on YouTube, along with many of his talks in churches, universities, and other settings.  His mind was sharp and he was able to use it to its fullest in defending the Christian faith and sharing his hope in Christ.  He was able to see behind someone of opposing view, a person who still was made in the “image of God.”  He treated each person with dignity and respect, while often disagreeing with them.  The Apostle wrote that we might do great things, but without love, they are of little worth.  Ravi did not miss the mark here.  He loved well.  I encourage you to consider watching his memorial or some of his work.

I am thankful for examples in my own life of those who both lived life well and also were eager for heaven.  May we be that for someone else today.

May 28, 2020

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

                                                                                                Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)

These are the familiar words that begin the third chapter in this most unusual book of the Bible.  What follows are a host of things for which there is a particular time.  The author usually picks two things that are opposite or contrasting.  If Solomon is the author, we know that God gave him tremendous wisdom.  These words seem to have the mark of wisdom upon them.  What might we learn from them?

We might do well to remember that things of a very different sort are a part of our lives.  We can “fight our life,” as one person put it, but we will experience some of a number of things nonetheless.   There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, so the writer pens in verse 4.  We might prefer more laughing and dancing, but we know that at times there comes weeping.  We mourn many things as well.  So, we accept each of these things in their place.

Some might say that we can appreciate some things more, because we experience the negative.

Has the COVID-19 experience enabled you to appreciate some things that previous to it, you might have taken for granted?  As some of us sat around a very large grouping of tables, with social distance and the wearing of masks, I thought of how nice it was to see the faces of our friends, to be able to hear their voices clearly, and to even experience a handshake or a hug.  I might have missed those blessings until a time came to refrain.

If there is a season for everything, then it seems to indicate that a season can come to an end.  Our seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter do merge into one another, but they do end.  That is not to say that they will not return, but they end at points.  I believe that this time that we are in, will come to an end.  I do not believe that these events are the end of things as spoken of in the Bible.  Life will be altered by these events and perhaps forever changed, but we will eventually have an end to this season.  That was true with the Spanish flu epidemic and polio and many of the other hard seasons.

The author almost implies that we should value each season somehow.  Could each season have a purpose that can be known?   Is the great author of life working a plan in the midst of these seasons?  Verse 11 concludes that “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  We know that the Apostle Paul said to the Romans that God works all things together for the good to those that love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  We may not fully understand what God has in mind through all the things that God does or permits, but there is a reason for the season.

I want to pause this day and ask God to give me a calm about this place and time, to live within this season with perseverance and grace, and to seek to help others see and know that we can trust a God who can do all things well.  May the same be true for you.

May 26, 2020

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

                                                                        (portions of Hebrews 12:1,2)

As I sit to write this blog, my mind went to one of the needs that I feel today.  Maybe you feel it, too.  That need is to persevere.

To persevere has some of the idea of patience within it.  In fact, the Greek word translated persevere is sometimes translated patience.  We have a great need for patience in these COVID-19 days.  We need patience for simple things, like seeking to allow some space or distance between persons as we go through a grocery store or wait in a check-out line.  We need patience as we wait for others to enable further openings or resumption of certain activities.  Even more so, we need patience with each other, as we can be quite divided concerning what we believe a person should do or need not do.  The right or the wrong of some of the requirements that have come will be debated.  The wisdom of doing or not doing certain things may not be easily discerned or may be intensely felt depending on your situation or sources of information.  It will be so important that we have patience with one another.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14 about accepting one another, without quarreling over disputable matters.  He wrote about seeking not to judge a person whose conscience may be “weaker” in regard to what that person may feel that they can do.  We will do well to consider the more important things that we hold in common and not let such convictions divide.  This takes patience and Christian compassion and love.

To persevere is to press forward through a difficulty.  These are days with a host of difficult things.  For some, the weight of the changes, press down hard upon one’s spirit.  For others, there are the increasing financial demands that come with loss of work or reduction of assets.  For others, there are the restrictions of certain important elements of human life, like the benefit of human touch.  I thought myself to be a reasonably introverted person who could be content without a lot of social contact.  I have discovered how I need and want to be near to people.  I have found that I greatly benefit from a handshake or a hug.  I have greatly missed seeing some of my friends from church that are in the more vulnerable group who may especially need to isolate.  I want to be present for those in need, but am not able to do all I want to do.

I imagine that many other challenges and difficulties could be mentioned.

To persevere is to see a greater good that is beyond the present.  It is much easier to live with only the present in mind.  Yet, such a life, often misses a perspective where we must persist in order to receive a more valuable future result.  Some of our older friends can teach us the lessons that they have learned about disciplined financial habits that have led to debt-free living and owning.  Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross.  He is the wonderful example of one who persevered through his suffering and death upon the cross to gain the possibility of restored relationships between humans and God.

There is courage in perseverance.  There is faith.  There is self-control and discipline.  Perseverance is one of Peter’s hallmarks of living well the Christian life (2 Peter 1:6).

So today, I write to myself, as well as to you.  Let us seek to persevere.  Let us do so as an act of worship, as an affirmation of faith, and with confidence in our God.

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.