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

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.