A Word From the Pastor - Archives
From the Pastor's Desk: July- August 2017
We in America are really blessed. We have our liberty and then have the freedom to celebrate that liberty. There are many countries where liberty is written down for the world to view, but in reality,there is no freedom.
Our missionaries are constantly under the threat of not being able to enter certain countries or to return to certain countries after furlough because of religious intolerance. Again, in America, we are very fortunate that America has moved from just religious toleration to religious freedom.
So, in a real sense, as we come to another Fourth of July we are celebrating more than our Independence. We are celebrating the fact that our nation is a nation where a person can worship God according to the dictates of his own heart without interference by the government.
Maybe the words to the famous patriotic song “God Bless America” should read “God BlessED America,” for He has surely blessed our country abundantly.
Keep the Son in your eyes,
“He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful (Psalm 98:3).”
I’ve had the joy of helping a number of couples come together in marriage. It’s such an honor to be a part of the commitment couples make to one another in the spirit of love. Sometimes however, I wonder if they forget what’s anticipated in the vow they’re making. After stating their own name and the name of their intended spouse, they promise to love and cherish one another for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health; from this day forward until death do us part. It can’t be forgotten that the marriage vow anticipates good times and bad, but never the breaking of the commitment to love one another. The only thing that can break that commitment is death.
Like the wedding vow, God’s promise to love us anticipates good times as well as bad. We easily sense His love in the good times, but His love is present in the bad times as well as He loves us through them. When our relationship with God is strained, or we sense the loss of our security or health, God’s love is actively pulling us through those challenges toward himself, demonstrating His love by weaning us of our love for anything else but Him. This is how He fulfills His promise to love us in good times and bad. We fulfill our promise to love Him when we trust and cherish Him more for all of His loving work.
There is one distinct difference between the wedding vow and God’s promise however. Death can break the marriage vow, but in many ways death makes the promise of God real. The physical death of the Son of God breaks the power of physical death to separate us from His love. Our dying to the spiritual power of sin opens the door for receiving the fullness of God’s love for eternity. So then, even physical death cannot separate us from the love of God. The only thing that can is the lack of our own spiritual death to sin. For those who have accepted the saving work of Christ, God’s love is eternal. Bad times cannot separate us from Him. If fact, nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
“In everything let us give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
(1Thess 5:18). “
Although I’m writing this for our January newsletter, I’m writing with a few days remaining before Christmas. So I’m still fondly remembering the Christmases of my youth. I remember one Christmas when I really, really wanted a bike. Mom had a habit of teasing me, saying things like: “I don’t think Santa is going to bring one this year” or “You know you’re too little for a big boy’s bike”. Then came Christmas morning. I rushed out of bed and encountered all the gifts under the tree. They were so beautiful, but there was no bike. No problem. I knew the routine. I would have to open up all the gifts, and then ask: “Is that all there is?” She would always keep that special gift hidden to be sure it was the last to be discovered. So after opening all my gifts I asked the big question and she said: “Check under your bed”. Under my bed? Who could get a bike under my bed? I rushed back to my room and looked under the bed and there it was – that special gift…a guitar! A GUITAR!!? What am I going to do with a guitar? Where’s the bike!! Suddenly every gift I received was tainted and I hated that guitar. My life was ruined all because I didn’t get what I wanted.
Even as adults we can get that way sometimes. We want something so badly that all of our hopes are centered on getting it. Then when we don’t get what we want everything is terrible. We forget all the blessings of what we have because we’re miserable about what we didn’t get. With a new year upon us, we have to determine how we will look at the future. The choice is yours. Will you focus more on what God has given you or more on what He hasn’t? If you’ve received the great gift of His salvation, then in everything let us give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
One of my fondest memories of Christmas was being allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve. I remember sitting in the living room with the tree lit up, presents brightly wrapped underneath it, and that fancy color wheel casting shades of red, blue, yellow and green everywhere. Each year I would get so excited about opening that very first gift until mom would say: “Open the gift from Aunt Mary”. My heart would sink. “Really mom? The one from Aunt Mary?” The problem was, Aunt Mary’s gift was a wallet. How did I know it was a wallet? Because last year it was a wallet and the year before it was a wallet …it was always a wallet. Where’s the joy in that?
Sadly, many Christians approach the holiday season with the same joyless attitude. They complain about how commercialized the holiday has become or how the world has taken Christ out of Christmas. Instead of excitement for all Christmas represents, they display gloominess over the worldly promotion of Santa Claus and gift getting year after year. Is it possible they’re contributing to the very thing they dislike? We know Santa is a myth and reindeer don’t fly, but complaining about those things takes our focus off of the truth of Bethlehem and a Savior born. And let the world try to take Christ out of Christmas. It’s impossible – the celebration is about Him. If we spend all of our time complaining about what the world is trying to do, we lose the opportunity to tell the world about all that He has done. My focus on that silly wallet stole my joy from all the gifts still left to be unwrapped. Don’t let your focus on this silly world steal your joy. Focus instead on getting to share the good news of Jesus Christ in winsome ways. Speak of Him to friends when you hear carols on the radio. Tell of His wonderful birth when gathered together with family. Speak of His redeeming work whenever you can and let the world do what the world will do. Regardless of its efforts, we have joy at Christmas because we have Christ. Let’s help others by sharing our joy in Him.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." —Psalm 23:6
On occasion it’s good to take a look back and consider how God has blessed us over the course of life’s journey. Everyone’s journey is different, but for those who know God we can talk about His goodness and mercy having followed us all the days of our lives. In fact, the truth of God’s love expressed to us this way is why we can be thankful in all circumstances. His steadfast goodness and mercy should fill our hearts with gratitude.
His goodness imparts to us what we don’t deserve. His mercy withholds from us what we do deserve. When we are hurting, God pours out his goodness to meet our needs, comfort our hearts, and give us strength to endure. When we sin, His mercy withholds quick discipline, patiently waiting for our repentance. We may think we are basically good, decent people but if we are truthful with ourselves we come to the same conclusion Paul did. We rarely do the good we want to, but the evil we don’t want to do we keep doing (Romans 7:19). Yet God works through this reality to pull us toward Him, becoming more like His Son as we develop Christ-like character. His goodness and mercy are His means for doing that. Let’s not take either for granted. Rather, let his goodness and mercy give rise to our praise and thanksgiving: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who will deliver us into glory with Him (Romans 7:24-25).
“But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness
(1 Tim 6:11).”
Recently an employee asked me to pray for her because she “really, really wanted” a job which had become available. Her attitude was so stinky however. She felt like she deserved it and wasn’t going to get it, and that was making her a little bitter. I’ve been that way before. You want something so badly you start fantasizing on how getting it will solve so many problems. And then you’re left with the belief that someone is keeping it from you, and you get upset…not just with them, but the whole world. Your family suffers, your friends suffer, your work suffers, and you suffer – all because you’re convinced you won’t be happy unless you get the thing you want. It’s weird! What we should want is to enjoy our family, our friends, and our work. Instead, we sacrifice those very things with the belief that a new job will make them all better.
Paul wrote about such thinking, reminding Timothy that “true godliness with contentment is great wealth”, but those who crave after earthly riches “fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin”, piercing “themselves with many sorrows” (1Timothy 6:6-11). Obsessing (or craving) a new job, if left unchecked, will cause more harm than good – even if we think we want it for all the right reasons.
Our greatest pursuit shouldn’t be happiness springing from a new job, new relationship, or new anything. Our greatest pursuit ought to be the blessings that come with godly living. We must shift from thinking that a thing will make us happy to believing God will bless us, regardless of the thing. The blessing for us is found in the gift of godliness with contentment, which comes from wanting more of God than anything in the world. That’s a message we need to hear and I hope to share with that employee. If she’s like many of us however, she may not want to hear it. She really, really wants that job. What do you really, really want? Something that will make you happy or more of the One who will make you blessed? Only the latter brings everlasting contentment.
I recently read a report that included photos of strange fruit and vegetables being harvested near Fukushima, the sight of Japan’s nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011. The pictures showed “figure 8” peaches, tumor ridden tomatoes, and Siamese twin corn cobs. What amazed me was that the nuclear event didn’t destroy the plants or their growth cycle; it only corrupted the DNA to the point of making the fruit appear quite grotesque compared to what it ought to look like.
The Bible talks a lot about fruit. In particular, Paul talked of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our ability to demonstrate these traits is difficult however. That’s because our spiritual DNA has been corrupted by a catastrophic event that took place in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they condemned us all to bear fruit far different than what God intended. It is as Amos proclaimed: All of us have turned the fruit of righteousness into bitterness (Amos 6:12).
Fortunately there is a way to restore our original, intended DNA. It’s restored through faith in Jesus Christ. That faith enables us to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. How do you know if you’re acting on that faith? Ask yourself: “Am I loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled?” “Do I strive for peace?” In our next series, we’ll look into the book of Matthew to give us guidance on how we can demonstrate these virtues. I look forward to being with you as God directs our steps in the month ahead.
Many have predicted the return of Jesus at specified times. In the last decade, at least 6 evangelists have predicted dates ranging from 9/6/94 to 5/27/2012. While many found their predictions fascinating (or a little fanciful), those who know the Scriptures well enough know that Jesus himself said “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36). Is it really important for us to know when Jesus will return? I admit, when I hear these predictions they capture my attention. I ask myself, “What would I do if I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow?”
The busyness of life can lead us to live like Jesus won’t be returning for a long, long time. Yet the Scriptures tell us that He can return anytime, and it will be “at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40). Along those lines, the encouragement isn’t to focus on when He’s coming back. The focus is on the importance of being ready for His return. We often think that “being ready” means not doing certain things. However, being ready is more about doing things; pursuing holiness and seeking to please Him in all we do. Jesus taught that being ready means living for the will of God now (Luke 12:47).
Are you ready for Jesus’ return? What would you do if you knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now? Would you sell everything and give it to the poor? Would you double your efforts to get family and friends saved? Would you clean up your act and quit doing the things you fear might upset our Lord? If we’re living today as God commands, pursuing holiness (1Peter 1:16) to the glory of God (1Cor 10:31), the only proper answer would be: “Nothing more than I’m doing today”.
(July 2013 This article inserted while the pastor was caring for immediate family members and out of town.)
Seeds of Devotion Encourage
By Julia Attaway (One of many contributors to Daily Guideposts)
Someone I work with on community projects—I’ll call her Sue—has a tendency to forget to follow through on things.
It’s aggravating. It’s so aggravating that sometimes I get fed up even before she lets me down. My thoughts of Sue are peppered with words like always (messes up) and never (is reliable). My actions are salted with sighs and rolled eyes and muffled groans.
A few weeks ago my 11-year-old, Maggie, told me about a podcast she’d listened to about something called confirmation bias. “That’s when you have an opinion about something, and then all you see is proof that what you believe is true,” she explained. Seeing that I needed a bit more clarification she added, “You know, like when you think someone is lazy. You stop noticing what they do, and only see what they don’t.”
My thoughts turned uncomfortably to Sue. I wondered how much of my frustration with her is due to her failings, and how much is due to my eagle eye for seeing them. There have been times when she did what she was supposed to.
Did I notice?
Did I give her credit?
Do I ever focus on her strengths?
Do I offer positive reinforcement when she does what she’s promised?
Perhaps the single most important thing I can do to improve my working relationship with Sue is to follow the advice of Paul, and remember to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I need to develop the kind of confirmation bias where I habitually see what’s good in Sue, so that both of us grow into the people God wants us to be.
“Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11.)”
My mother-in-law just celebrated her 80th birthday. In preparation for the celebration, we were asked to write a little note of encouragement to her. As I prepared to write something, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I met her. Kim had picked me up at the Emergency Room after I had cut my finger at work. For some reason, Kim thought this would be an excellent time for me to meet her mother. After reflecting on that time, I wrote these words:
Do remember the first time we met? There was me, bloody pants and stitched finger sitting beside your daughter. There was you, wondering if your daughter had lost her mind. Someone once said, “examine a girl’s mom before you consider marrying her – she’ll become like her mom”. I am blessed on two counts. I have the most excellent, loving mother-in-law a man could ever have…and I have a wife like her.
There is some truth to children becoming like their parents as they mature. The same things holds true for children of God. As we mature in our faith, we should look more and more like our Heavenly Father. That’s a difficult thing to imagine, but we have an excellent example of what that looks like – we have His only begotten Son, Jesus. As we mature, we should look more and more like Jesus, who reflected the character of the Father perfectly. Does your character look like the character of Jesus? Let us adopt as our goal in life to reflect the character of Jesus. In that light, our Father, who is quite pleased with the Son, will be pleased as well with those who are like Him.
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20)."
The bombings at this year’s Boston Marathon captured our nation’s attention and hearts. While we’ve learned some details regarding these tragic events, questions remain. What kind of person could do such a thing? Why would they do it? Perhaps the biggest question of all - where was God?
It is difficult to see the work of God when tragedy strikes. At the beginning of World War II, just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz received a call from FDR telling him he was now Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz flew to Hawaii and upon his arrival toured the destruction brought on by the Japanese. When his tour was over, a young sailor asked: “What do you think after seeing the destruction?” Nimitz responded, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make, or God was taking care of America”. What were those mistakes?
The Japanese attacked on Sunday when 9 out of 10 crewmen were on shore leave. Had they attacked on another day, we would have lost 10 times as many servicemen. Secondly, they bombed the ships but not the dry docks. Had they bombed the docks, ships would have to be raised and towed to the mainland for repair. As it was, repairs took place locally and ships were ready for battle sooner. Lastly, every drop of fuel for the entire fleet was stored just 5 miles away. Just one enemy plane could have strafed those tankers and destroyed the entire fuel supply – but no plane ventured that far.
In spite of the terrible tragedy in Boston, there is evidence of the work of God within it. We see His work in protecting many who were near the blasts. We see His work in the kindness shown by those offering free meals and lodgings to those in need. And we see His work in the unity brought on by a people resolving to persevere through it all. Let us pray for the continuation of God’s work, asking Him to enable eyes to see the love of God. And let us pray that, in seeing, many embrace that love in their hearts through faith in Jesus Christ. To God be the glory!
For centuries poets and philosophers have attempted to define what love is. It seems ironic that many have worked so hard to discover its meaning yet we treat the word so lightly. We often speak of love – we love our car, or our job or our favorite TV show - but is that really what love is? If we’re going to define love, we must look beyond the poets and philosophers, and beyond our frivolous use of the word to discover its true meaning.
If we really want to know what love is, we must consider what God means when He uses the word.
God is love. All that the Bible says about love can be attributed to God. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 can just as easily be used to describe God. God is patient, kind, and not insisting upon His own way. He’s not irritable or resentful; He doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. God never fails (1 Cor 13:4-8a). Since Jesus is God, He too is love. Looking at His life gives us a clearer picture of what love is. Since we are God’s children, we also are to possess the same attributes of love. We can only do that by listening to the Spirit of God within us, who guides us in knowing love and expressing love in agreement with God’s Word. Without the Spirit we can neither know love nor can we express it.
Over the next few months, we’ll be talking about love in our study of 1 John. My desire is for us to know the fullness of God’s love and discover the joy of that love as we learn how to express it. That’s my prayer, and I hope you’ll join me in that prayer for the glory of God in His church we call Calvary.
“Now implore God to be gracious to us. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is.’”
(Malachi 1:9, 13)
What do you think of when I say the word, “Worship”? If you’re like most, your thoughts run to the hour we spend together on Sunday morning. But does that capture the real meaning of the word? Not completely. The English word “worship” comes from the Old English worthscipe or worth-ship; basically it means applying worth to something. In the Bible, the word worship describes the act of bowing down or showing reverence to something or someone. In that light, when we speak of worshiping God, we speak of applying worth to God, humbling ourselves in reverence to Him. Does that mean we’re wrong to describe our Sunday morning service as a worship service? It depends.
If our motives for going to church are driven by a sense of obligation to attendance alone, then it’s not worship of God. We’re applying worth to our attendance, humbling ourselves to the activity of church and the ceremonial motions. While we can operate this way for a time, a day will come when we grow tired of the act. If our motives for going to church are driven by a love for God then we are applying worth to Him, humbling ourselves to Him. That is the heart of true worshiper. Worship of God has little to do with what we do and everything to do with why we do it. At its core, worship is a matter of love.
That’s the message found in the book of Malachi. In the month ahead, we’ll dig deeper into that message as we explore God’s word together. My prayer is that God teaches us the importance of worship. Please join me in that prayer.