Monday, December 31, 2012

He makes all things new.

Here we are, at the end of the calendar.  Not the Mayan calendar, because that supposedly ended several days ago.  The end of another year.  As I read in Genesis this morning, I read that God gave the celestial bodies for seasons, for days and for years.  As we come to the end of a year, I notice that, aside from being in the same relative position in out revolution around the sun, there is no sign in the heave telling me that the year is over.

Regardless of a sign in the heavens, my calendar tells me that tomorrow begins a new year.  It also begins a new month.  My clock tells me that I have begun a new day.  A new day brings hope and expectation of certain things depending on our schedule.  A new month tells us the days are marching on.  A new year fills us with the hope that, somehow, this year will be different than last year - better, more exciting, less exciting, more rewarding, more filled with blessing, etc.

I often tend toward being an optimist.  But not at New Year's time.  I have figured out that turning the page on the calendar does not automatically change the habits and motivations that have made a year what it was. Therefore, the change of a year does not magically change what we can expect out of the next 12 months.

But I know what can.  Do you want to change your habits this year?  Do you want 2013 to be better than 2012?  I know the answer!
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
Do you want better things for 2013?  One simple answer will make that happen.  Put yourself in Christ.  Whether for salvation, calling upon the Lord for forgiveness of sins, or whether for abiding, resting in Him, we can put ourselves in Christ, and watch as He makes all things new.

Wishing you all the blessings God has in store for you in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why Does God Allow Tragedy????

I know, why do we need another blog post on it?  Well, we don't need one, but my blog is for sharing my thoughts, and no one else has done that.

There are two questions: Why did God allow this tragedy? and Why didn't God stop this from happening?  They are similar, but not exactly the same.  On top of these, as a Christian, I ask "What is God's purpose through tragedy like this?"

First off:  Why did God allow this tragedy?  The simple answer - because He is good.  Before you tune out, we need to follow this train of thought and answer a few questions.  Obviously, if we speak of God allowing it, we must be saying that God could have stopped it if he so chose.  I agree with that.  I believe God is able to do anything consistent with His character as the Bible states "For with God, nothing shall be impossible".

So we have to question: How could God have stopped it?  He could have stopped the man from acquiring a weapon, He could have made the weapon jam, could have made the ammunition useless, He could have struck the man with a bolt of lightening, He could have made the gun shoot out unicorns and rainbows!  OK, there are an infinite number of ways He could have stopped it.

Another question:  Why would He have stopped it?  Most would answer - because it was wrong.  Should God stop everything that He considers wrong from happening?  Sounds good, right?  Until He stops us from overeating by stopping us from having that dessert we really enjoy (gluttony is wrong, too), until He stops us from yelling out in anger at someone that has hurt us, until He stops us from watching that movie we like, until he stops us from dishonoring our parents?  How would you like Him to stop us from these sins?  A bolt of lightening doesn't sound so good anymore.  Maybe some would answer - because of the loss of innocent life.  Should God stop the taking of any innocent life?  How would he stop the large number of abortions in our country? in our world?  How should he stop the endless stream of murders?

The problem to all these questions is that the answer would require God to take away our choice.  What if you had no choice but to honor God?  If all your purchases had to be approved by God or you couldn't buy it?  If all your food had to pass God's standard in quality and quantity?  If all your words had to meet God's standard before they came out?  God created us with the ability to choose, and we would miss that if it were taken away.  We would scream that it is not fair!  That God wouldn't be good if He took the ability to choose away.

So what is God's purpose?  What does He seek to accomplish in this?  The same thing He always looks for: to glorify Himself.  It sounds selfish, but how does He seek to glorify Himself?  If the Bible is any indication, He seeks to glorify Himself by fixing the world, by perfecting mankind, by making all things right.  How does this make all things right?  I don't know, but I trust that He will do what He has always done.  How did He respond to tragedy in the Bible?  When Adam and Eve sinned?  When Cain killed Abel?  When mankind was so wicked that God brought a flood to wipe the earth clean?  He responded with a promise.  To Adam and Eve, the promise of a savior.  To Cain, the promise of protection, to Noah and his children, the promise of salvation - never to destroy the earth by flood again.  To yesterday's tragedy?  The same promises hold, God is still working to make this world what it ought to be.  He's not finished yet.  We're not what we should be.  But He will finish His work some day.  I look forward to that day!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Business of the Church

This doesn't quite fit with the normal content of my blog, but since I haven't had any content in several months, and this is on my mind, it makes it on the blog.

I have usually resisted the idea of thinking of the church in any sort of business terms.  The terms of the day like "Mission statement" and "strategic thinking" always struck me as being attempts to make the church work man's way rather than God's way.  I think the fringe of the church growth movement that makes all decisions based on business models have helped reinforce my resolve to be no part of it.

A few weeks ago, we had one of our missionaries come and share with us and he got me thinking again about the use of these business terms in the church.  Is it right?  Is it wrong?  Have I been doing church 'wrong'?  I mean, what church needs a purpose statement?  We're a church?  Our purpose is to be a good church. . .

Well, today I found my thoughts wandering to the Apostle Paul and his use of analogies in his writing: the soldier, the farmer, the athlete.  If Paul wrote today, would he use the same analogies?  Would he add to them?  Now, don't get me wrong, I am not going to add to God's Word, it is already perfect.  But would Paul have used the analogy of a business man in explaining the work of the Christian, of the church?  Jesus did, when he talked of counting the cost before building a tower.  God is the author of all truth, whether in business, science, relationships, it is all his.

The problem comes if we blur the line of truth.  We must define truth appropriately.  Truth is not defined by what works.  Truth is defined by God.  Can we use truth from the business world?  Absolutely, so long as it is God's truth.

So what truth am I thinking of this morning?  The truth we find in Hebrews 12.

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us"

Why this truth?  Why business?  Because businesses constantly must look at what works and what doesn't.  What doesn't work must be let go as a weight that weighs us down.  Weights are not necessarily sin, in fact, it is listed in addition to "the sin which so easily besets us."  The hard part?  Remembering what works is according to God's definition.  From a business standpoint, sowing the gospel in the hearts of men may seem less effective at building a church than finding Christians disgruntled with their current church.  One method will appear to 'work' better.  But by what works, we have to mean what helps us to do the work that God has called us to: Making disciples to the glory of God

Well, those are my thoughts. They may not be the clearest or well laid out, but God is still working on me, and I pray God will use this to spur your thoughts toward Him as well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In the Lord Put I My Trust

"In the Lord put I my trust . . . .", so begins the eleventh Psalm.  What problem in life is excluded from this simple reply?  What situation couldn't be improved by approaching it with this easy statement?

Yes, it is a simple reply, it is an easy statement to utter, but quite a difficult thing to put into practice.  For many of us, the claim is made, and then we run around like Chicken Little all day worried about the sky falling.  Worried about every little thing in life as if our work was the only thing holding God's work together. I like the way David makes the claim.  He makes it and then says, based on that claim, that no one could get him worked up about the circumstances.

"How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?" - You can't tell me to flee, my trust in is God!

"For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart." - You want me to worry because the wicked are out to get me?  God is out to protect me!

"If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" - You want me to worry about the foundation being destroyed?  My foundation is God, good luck with that!

After dismissing all their 'Chicken Little' excuses for why he should be scared, worried, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, he moves on to soothe their worries.

"The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven:
his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men."
- Psalm 11:4a

No matter what came David's way, this statement was still true.  God was still on his throne, God was still in charge.  No matter what comes our way this week, this statement will always be true.  Don't let circumstances get you down, get you scared, make you run for the hills.  God in in his temple, he is on his throne, he is still the judge.  And for the righteous?  Those who seek to be right with God?

"For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; 
his countenance doth behold the upright"
- Psalm 11:7

Just in case you want to check out the whole Psalm in context, here it is:

Psalm 11
In the Lord put I my trust: 
how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? 
For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, 
they make ready their arrow upon the string, 
that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. 
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? 
The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: 
his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. 
The Lord trieth the righteous: 
but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. 
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, 
fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: 
this shall be the portion of their cup. 
For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; 
his countenance doth behold the upright.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Great Reputation!

In the book of the Psalms, there are many different works written for many different reasons.  Some of them are meditations on an aspect of God.  The first Psalm tells us the blessed man has his delight in the Law of the Lord and meditates in it.  But not only can we meditate on God's law, we can meditate on God's person. For the purpose of this blog, Psalm 8 doesn't fit my normal pattern of "Life can get you down", but rather is the ounce of prevention when it comes to life.  Meditating on God's goodness can keep our focus where it needs to be so that we can endure life's problems without letting them get us down in the first place.

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is
thy name in all the earth!
who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Psalm 8:1

David begins with a statement.  How excellent, how great, how mighty is God's name in all the earth.  We often think of a name as a label, but David is not referring to Yahweh, Jehovah, or Elohim when he says God's name is excellent.  He is referring to God's character, his renown, his reputation.  David started by dwelling on, and expressing to God that his reputation is great in all the earth!  Certainly he could only say that because he lived in Israel, a God-fearing nation where everybody loved the Lord and followed his commands.  Whereas we live in a nation filled with corruption, moral decay and perversity on such a rampant level that we might think it a stretch to say that God's reputation is great in ALL the earth.  We can let ourselves off the hook, right?  Because of the sin of others?  No!  A thousand times No!  We may be hard-pressed to see it, but it is just as true today as when David wrote it.  And the moral decay was just as prevalent in David's day.  His fearful, arrogant brothers.  His king who tried to kill him.  His own son seeking his throne and his life.  The people of the land still in the land and serving their pagan gods.

Think about it.  About the greatness of God's reputation, his renown!  The creator.  The artistic master behind the beauty around us.  The infinite power that created all the stars of the heavens!  The designer of all the creatures we enjoy seeing, using for labor and eating!  The God of the great and the God of the infinitesimal.  Designer of galaxies and of the stuff that makes up molecules and all of matter.

And David gives more proof in his meditations:
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings 
hast thou ordained strength 
because of thine enemies, 
that thou mightest still the enemy 
and the avenger.
 Psalm 8:2
What does God use to still the enemy?  The strength he ordained out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.  Out of the weakest of the weak, God has ordained strength to still the enemy.  The Phillistines sent Goliath to battle the armies of Israel.  God defeated him with the young man David.  The faith of David came out in his words as he expressed disgust that this Phillistine was allowed to defy the armies of the living God!  Did God use a great warrior to turn back the enemy?  Did he use great strength and power of men?  No, He used a child.  David knew the truth of what he was sharing.

Another proof of the greatness of his reputation?  His goodness to man.

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? 
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
 and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet
Psalm 8:4-6

God has blessed man. Little, puny man.  Just a speck on the earth, less than a speck in the universe, and God takes thought of man.  Takes thought, 'visits' him, given him dominion over the works of creation.  

Man may not pay much heed to God at times.  But God has paid attention to man, and blessed him despite man ignoring God.  That is a great character.  That is a great reputation to have.  To love the unlovable.

Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:9

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Confidence in Mercy

I love taking time while reading the book of the Psalms to compare the state of mind of the psalmist at the beginning of a psalm with his state of mind at the end.  When there is a change, I like to hunt through the psalm to find what made the difference.  Because I often find myself feeling the psalmist at the beginning of a psalm - life has gotten me down, and I desire to get from there to where the psalmist got - looking to God and resting in Him.

The 6th psalm seems to turn on 2 things.  The psalm is full of the tears of David:
I am weary with my groaning; 
all the night I make my bed to swim; 
I water my couch with my tears.
Psalm 6:6
While a good cry can do wonders, David was weary with his tears.  The tears did not accomplish the change for him.  David had concerns for his enemies who were a threat to David unto death:  He told God that he needed salvation because
. . .in death there is no remembrance of thee:
in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Psalm 6:5
David was also concerned that he had violated God's law and stood in danger of being punished for it.  He cried out to the Lord to spare him from rebuke and chastening.  He cried out that he was weak.  He cried out for mercy.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD;
Psalm 6:2a
Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: 
oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
Psalm 6:4
When David remembered God's mercy, he started to dwell on the solution, rather than the problem.  He cried out for God to save him for the sake of his mercies - and God's mercies are many toward us.  As he thought on God's mercies, his confidence in God returned.  His assurance that God would answer overwhelmed him so that he wrote:
The LORD hath heard my supplication;
the LORD will receive my prayer.
Psalm 6:9
When we want to go from overwhelmed with worry and fear to overwhelmed with assurance from God we simply have to do what David did.  We need to dwell on God's mercies.  We need to plead for God to respond in his mercy, and we have the assurance that God hears, God's mercies are new every morning, God will answer the prayers of his children.

Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 Garden Goodies!

Not much to get me down in this post.  I suppose I could complain about weeding & picking vegetables.  I could tell you how canning makes my back hurt.  But these things don't get me down.  But getting produce out of the garden is always an opportunity to look up.  We rejoice in the cheap / low cost / free food that we can harvest, and we thank the Lord for His provision to us.  Not much to this post, except that I will try to keep a running total of what we put up out of our garden, and what we put up from other sources as well for the winter.

Pickled Beets - 21 quarts (July 16)
Red Raspberries - 2 quarts
Green Beans - 100 quarts (July 19-September 15)
Carrots - 56 quarts (July 23-October 12)
Shredded Carrots (for cakes) - 8 quarts
Tomatoes (canned) - 115 quarts (August 21-October 12)
Spaghetti Sauce - 106 quarts (August 29-September 6) 
Tomato Juice - 28 quarts (September 11)
Sweet Corn - 157 quarts
Cauliflower - 22 quarts
Chopped Celery - 14 quarts
Shredded Zucchini - 5 pints

From Other Sources
Celery (From auction - $2)
Cauliflower (From auction - $28)
Zucchini (From Auction - $1)
Sweet Corn (From Auction - 6 bushel - $42)
Sweet Corn (From Auction - 10 bushel - $7)
Tomatoes (From Auction - 3 bushel - $36)
Tomatoes (From Auction - 3 bushel - $21)

Total food preserved:
629 quarts and 5 pints

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Joy of Being Heard

Struggles are a part of daily life.  Sometimes struggles are minor struggles: struggling to get up in the morning, struggling to get the exercise we know we need, struggling to keep up in the garden.  Other times, the struggles are major: struggling over how to respond to a child that is breaking your heart, struggling to keep a marriage together, struggling to fight a physical ailment, struggling to love someone who has despitefully used us, struggling under the pressure of many enemies.

While I am thankful that each of my struggles would be classified by anyone as minor struggles, I also know that God does not differentiate among struggles.  The same response is called for in each struggle in our lives.

"Casting all your care upon him; 
for he careth for you."
- I Peter 5:7

We need to give them to the Lord, cast our care upon Him, call out to him in our distress.  It is exactly what David describes that he did in Psalm 4.  He called unto God and God set him free from the trouble he was experiencing.  But David gives us a warning in the psalm as well.  He warns us that God hears the godly, David had confidence that God would hear him:

"But know that the Lord hath set apart him 
that is godly for himself: 
the Lord will hear when I call unto him."
- Psalm 4:3

Those who love pride and lies cause God to wonder how long they will continue in it.  How long they will sabotage their own requests by their hearts filled with pride and deceitfulness.  Sometimes God answers us with a 'Wait', or a 'Not yet' or even a 'No', but David encourages us to do what we can do to have a right relationship with God.

"Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your 
own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. 
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, 
and put your trust in the Lord."
- Psalm 4:4-5

We need to reverently fear God, which will act in our lives like spotting a police car on the highway.  Many times I have been riding along in obedience to the posted speed limits and have people pull in in front of me and slow down because they saw a police cruiser.  Their 'fear' of the officer (or at least of the ticket) caused them to obey the law (if only for a minute or two).  Our standing in awe of God will do the same in our lives. It will cause us to be honest with ourselves about our sin and deal with it appropriately.  It will cause us to see we cannot please God on our own, we cannot conquer our struggle on our own.  It will cause us to trust in Him.

How do things end up for David?  Well, despite his struggles, despite his distress, he had peace from knowing God heard him.  The neat thing in the Bible is that when God hears, it isn't just that the words registered in his mind.  When the Bible tells us that God hears, it carries with it the thought that God understands and will respond to those things that He has heard.  So David?  I like the way he responds to the distress in his life.

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: 
for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.
- Psalm 4:8

How can he do it?  Because he knows he has been heard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Power of a Good Cry

There are times in life when things can seem overwhelming.  When it seems like we have no where to turn, no one to help, nothing that could take care of the problems we face.  When we get to a place like this, it seems that crying is all there is left to do.  While I do not often find myself in tears, I can remember occasions when tears were where I found myself, and also where I found the answer.

David did, too.  King David, that is.  For such a successful king, he certainly had his share of enemies.  As a boy he faced Goliath, as a young man he ran from King Saul, through his adult life the Philistines were never really counted as his friends, and later in his rule even his son Absolom could be considered an enemy.

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.

 And what did David do?  He cried.  Today, I want to encourage you, when a cry is all there is left, don't waste the cry - make it count like David did!  What makes a cry count?  Well, we need to cry to the right person.  Crying to ourselves will not solve the problem, we're crying because we cannot fix the problem.  We need to cry out to the right person.  A person who can help, a person who can hear, and a person who wants to help.  The only one worth crying out to is God.

In another Psalm, David says "Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing, Lord."  In this Psalm, David's cry does something just as remarkable.  His cry turned trouble into blessing (the change from the beginning to the end), and turned helplessness ('there is no help for him in God') into hopefulness (thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone').  It changed David's perspective from listening to man ('Many there be which say'), to trusting in God's Word.  There are many more goodies in this Psalm, but I hope you get the point.  When you find yourself in the need of a good cry, don't waste your tears where they cannot profit - make them count.  Keep looking up!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Walking the Race . . .

Pride is an interesting thing.  It comes in so many different shapes and sizes, it is probably a part of our everyday lives.  Yet we often don't notice it very often, and sometimes when we notice it, we'll label it something else to get the focus off of our pride.

Three weeks ago, I ran in a 5k.  My knee had been bothering me, but I decided to run.  The plan was to run at a moderate pace and switch to walking if my knee gave me any pain while running.  It didn't hurt at all the entire distance, and I ended up with my fastest time yet in a 5k race.  Over the next week or so, I decided that my knee probably would need more time to heal before trying that again.  I was favoring it, not so that others noticed, but I could tell I was modifying my steps to go easy on it.  Saturday was another 5k race that I had already signed up for, already paid the entrance fee for, already planned on running, but running was out.

So, what were my options?  I could ignore the race completely, I could go pick up my t-shirt and enjoy the snacks that I had paid for, or I could go and walk the 5k.  Walk?   But that is for older people!  But that is for people who aren't strong enough to run!  But that would be embarrassing!  Yes, I thought that, embarrassing to walk.  The day of the race made it even harder on me.  I woke to overcast skies and the threat of rain.  Sure, I'd run in the rain, that even sounds like fun.  But walk in the rain?  Do you know how long it would take to walk a 5k?  Do you know how wet I would get?  Just for walking?  Eventually, I talked myself into going to town ready to walk and see what happened.

As I went to pick up my t-shirt and number, I ran into a couple of people I knew.  Now I couldn't just take my shirt and go home.  I'd be embarrassed not to participate.  (Yes, pride keeps showing itself!)  So I waited for the race, lined up toward the back, and I walked the 5k.  I found out different muscles get used when walking instead of running.  I found out some people struggle to stay running during a race.  I found out that some elementary kids were very strong people. (Walking and running without a friend in sight at 9 or 10 years of age, and they kept going)  I found out that a 61 year old woman could walk faster than me when going down hill.  I found out that walking a 5k and pushing yourself can be a challenge.  I found out that you can get sore from walking.

I'd say that I found out I still need to work on pride in my life, but I've known that for a while.

"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."

- Philippians 2:3

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to Make God Laugh, and Why You Don't Want to.

I was visiting my grandfather the other day in the nursing home.  He had collapsed a few weeks ago, and is undergoing rehab to see if they can get him back to being able to get around independently.  As I was there with grandma & grandpa and two of my kids working on a puzzle in the hallway, a man started making a scene.  My grandfather told me that he sometimes gets like that.  He started yelling about nothing in particular, about us being in his way at the table, about the disturbance we were, and he took off with his walker down the hall.  When a nurse saw him, she was a little alarmed because he is not supposed to be walking without an aide to help him, so she stood in front of him and told him it was time to go back to his room.  At this point, he says "Get out of my way, I'm going to run you over!"

Now, the nurse wasn't laughing, at least not on the outside, but she could have been.  I believe she could have lied down on the floor in front of this man and he still would have been unable to 'run over' her, or even step over her for that matter.

Psalm chapter 2 pictures people who would rage against God in much the same boat as that old man.  With little strength, and truly unable to comprehend the reality in front of them.  So how did the people in Psalm 2 get God to laugh?  They raged against God and God's people, and 'imagined a vain thing.'  We have all imagined a vain thing at one time or another.  If you haven't, you missed out on childhood, and many good lessons to be learned in early adulthood.  My favorite 'vain thing' I remember is actually my brother's.  He wanted to build a perpetual motion machine out of his Legos.  He worked on it, and worked on it, and had trouble figuring out why it wouldn't work.  There is a value in that type of thinking - in testing the 'walls', in business that is where innovation comes from.  A vain thing, though, is a thing that will not work out, a thing with no value, a thing that is nothing but wasted effort.  The vain thing these were doing is trying to overpower God.  This is what God laughs about.  About man's attempt to thwart His plans.

Now, about why you don't want to make God laugh this way: He's stronger than we are:

"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure." 
- Psalm 2:1-5

So, if you want to make God laugh, just plot, plan, and scheme to overthrow Him.  But be ready for His response.  The upside?  It is spelled out in the rest of the chapter of how wisdom is to "Serve the Lord with fear," but I prefer the NT version in Romans 8:31 -

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?"

Who do we have to cause us worry? Certainly not those who rage against God - He will take care of those.  And not God, either.  We are to serve with fear, not with worry.  The difference being worry has no standing before God, fear respects God's power and authority, yet understands that Jesus' death on the cross gives us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and be able to stand before God.

So, save your jokes for your friends, and let others make God laugh today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a Wonderful World It Would Be

Someone cuts me off in traffic!  I'm annoyed because I have to lift my foot off the gas pedal, but doubly annoyed because I would never do that to someone else.  Someone complains about me behind my back and I find out.  I am sure that behavior is uncalled for, people should deal with problems face to face, I tell my neighbor, or rant on Facebook.  In fact, Facebook seems to have opened the door wider to the type of passive-aggressive communication that is, for the most part, socially acceptable.  After all, a passive-aggressive rant aimed at someone but not communicated to them, and done 'in front' of hundred of our friends receives more likes than a picture of bacon, or a silly cat video (85% of Facebook shares).

What if we all lived life by the rules we held others to?  Notice, the question isn't "What if everyone else lived by our rules?", which is how we often interpret it, but what if I lived by the rules that I mentally impose on others?  It is easy to sit back and think how the world would be a better place if everyone lived by my rules.  I see it in my kids all the time!  One child will come and say "But mom/dad! they are doing x/y/z thing wrong!"  Or they won't come and we can hear them correcting a sibling in the other room. We call them in and simply explain that the house would work best if everyone followed the rules of house, yes.  Then we ask "Whose behavior can you fix?"

"Whose behavior can I fix?"  A simple question, really.  That is why I like to ask it of my children.  During moments of clarity, I hear God's Word asking me that same question.  I often ask my kids, but I need it, too.  I need to ask my children.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to train and discipline them.  It is not a wrong question for me to ask of them.  But what if in life, I always asked myself that question?

A car pulls out in front of me, cutting me off.  Whose behavior can I fix?  I can slow my car down so as not to cause stress or injury to anyone in my vehicle or the vehicle that cut me off.  "But they ought to fix their behavior!", my mind tells me.  Our minds always want to tell us that one strange thing.  That others ought to change their behavior and everything will be all right.  But what if I lived by the rules I hold others to?  I accidentally cut someone off, but obviously they had plenty of time to slow down and did not have to tailgate me for the next 428 miles, unlike me when they cut me off.

By now, you may have noticed that my question isn't original, it is just rephrased.

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."
- Luke 6:31

What if I live by the same rules I held others to?  Now if we could find a kind way to encourage one another to do it.  I would guess it would involve applying the principle to ourselves, and encouraging others when they apply it to themselves.  And then?  What a wonderful world it would be.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Storms of Life

Have you ever met someone that always seemed to be in the midst of a storm?  If they bought a house, the roof started leaking.  If they won a prize, they were struggling to find the money to pay taxes.  If they were given their dream vacation, it was a pain to have to pack and get ready to go.  Maybe, from time to time, we have all been that person.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone that always seemed like they were walking in sunshine?  They wrecked their car, but gratefully tell you that it could have been much more serious.  They end up in the hospital and are thankful for the extra rest.  They have to work through lunch and they are glad to be able to save some money.

Storms come in many shapes and sizes.  We have friends who are trying to sell a house where they used to live that they are upside down on the mortgage.  They are many states away and money is tight.  We have friends who have experienced medical emergencies in the past several weeks.  We have friends who have been up nights with crying babies.  We have friends with big decisions to make.  We have also found ourselves in those same storms.  At times, it seems like if we were to count the storms, they would overwhelm us.

I have had the first Psalm on my mind the past few weeks.  I notice that the psalmist describes two types of people.  The first is a blessed man, a man who delights in the Law of God and meditates in His Word.  He is described as a tree.  The second person is the ungodly.  We can assume they have no delight in God's Word, and they are described as chaff, plant matter that has little weight, and no strength against the wind.

The Psalm makes no promises as to what life will hold.  It makes no promises as to freedom from storms.  It only promises that the person who delights in the law of the Lord will be blessed.  The blessed man and the ungodly man are faced with the same weather.  The blessed man stands like a tree, and the ungodly is blown away.  The difference is in the strength of the man, where his strength comes from.

I don't know what storms this week will hold.  I don't know how strong the wind will blow.  But I do know that whatever comes this week, I want to be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.  I do not want to be like chaff.  How about you?  Would you like to be blessed, or blown away?  The choice is yours.  We only need to make His Word our delight, and we will be blessed.

Blessed is the man that walketh not 
in the counsel of the ungodly, 
nor standeth in the way of sinners, 
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers 
of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; 
his leaf also shall not wither; 
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: 
but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not 
stand in the judgment, nor sinners 
in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: 
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
- Psalm 1

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Running the race . . .

Today I had my first race since I hurt my knee a couple of months ago.  I had not run much in the last 4 weeks (a total of less than 1 mile), so I wasn't expecting much from the race today.  In fact, I was hoping not to embarrass myself too badly, and not hurt my knee too badly.  Not the highest of aspirations, I know.

So they called out "Go!"  And I went.  And I almost tripped over the walkers a few rows ahead of me.  And I went again.  I was judging speed by my Nike Speedband and my stop watch.  After about 1/2 a mile, I figured was running just under an 8 minute mile pace and breathed a sigh of relief that I would not be embarrassed as long as my knee held up.

Then I hit the 1 mile marker.  I looked at my Speedband, and it read .86 miles, just as they told me my time at the 1 mile mark was 6:56!  The knee was feeling good, and I had a second wind to run, so I kept going.  My legs wanted to quit because they hadn't worked like this for a while, but my breathing was calm and comfortable (at least considering I was running).  I hit the 2 mile marker at 14:10, meaning 7:14 for the second mile - I'm used to slowing down on the second mile, and this was less than normal, so I kept running.  I'm not sure what my time was at mile 3, but my finished time was 22:25, meaning around a 7:30 pace for the third mile and little bit.  Without thinking I could, I got a new personal best 5k time.

What is the point?  Well, I could have written off the race.  I could have walked when my legs got tired.  I could have given up and not even run today.  But I chose to run (Mostly because I didn't want to 'waste' the entry fee).

As a Christian, I have a race before me.  Sometimes, I don't feel like running.  Sometimes, I want to walk and take the easy way out.  But God wants me to run my race.  I don't have to worry about the results.  I don't have to worry about embarrassing myself.  I just have to run.  I hope we can each run our race that God has set before us in the coming week.  Won't you join me?

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

God's Way . . .

"For with God, nothing shall be impossible." - Luke 1:37

Sometimes, I understand this statement.  Other times, I think I may only be paying it lip service.  Have you ever looked at something and said, "Well, if God would do this, and this would change, I can see it working out."  We start figuring things out in how we can see it working, and we forget God's plan.

I recently heard of a young man who was studying in a Bible College.  His mother was fighting a battle with cancer and had just heard some bad news from her Doctors.  The young man had enough of the stress in his life and told everyone that he was dropping out of Bible College, and he was stepping away from his faith.  He was turning his back on God and could not understand how God could be considered love.

As I was processing the story, I 'knew' what needed to happen.  God needed to spare his mother.  Or maybe give her a chance to express her faith to her son and help him understand.  Or maybe . . . . .

A few days later his mother died.  In my small mind, this would have meant that all hope was lost.  He would never be in any church ever again.  Completely lost for the cause of Christ.  But not with God.  Through the mourning process for his mother, he came to understand God's love in more than a factual statement sort of way.  He experienced God's love as only a person who has lost a loved one can.  Rather than lose his faith, his faith was strengthened.  Rather than turn his back on God, he turned to God with more passion.

Life can get us down sometimes.  We can think that the only way out has passed us by.  That the only solution to our problem is completely out of our reach.  But the solution is never out of God's reach.  He never runs out of ways to make the thing work out.  Nothing is impossible for Him.  Nothing.

"Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, 
which he will shew to you to day: 
for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day,
 ye shall see them again no more forever."
 - Exodus 14:13

That was the big deal that Israel faced.  A pile of well armed, well trained Egyptians.  No human way out.  But God is a God of even the impossible.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Keeping Things Clean . . .

We have hard water at our house.  I am not a big fan of water softener water, but hard water has its drawbacks.  I notice orange stains building up in the bottom of the bathroom sinks over the course of time.  It isn't that we don't clean the sinks, but normal spray and the strength of my children means that hard water stains build up over time.  So every once in a while, I will use Borax / washing soda or Comet to scrub away the stains.

This morning, when I went to look in the shower, I noticed the hard water stains had made some less than attractive patterns on the inside of the shower.  You could see where the water slowly drips down the tub surround, leaving darker streaks of stains.  You could see the extra buildup around the tub mat where water tends to dry up rather than go down the drain.  It was time for a cleaning.  So I rolled up my sleeves (metaphorically, since I was wearing a t-shirt) and scrubbed the stains away.  Each time I cleaned an area, it revealed another dirty area that was hard to notice with the really dirty area next to it.  In the end, I cleaned the entire tub and surround, and cleaned out the drain.
 Some things get dirty much faster than the build up of water stains.  I took my van Monday to cut firewood with my dad and my two oldest children.  There is a gas well road leading to the woods where we were cutting, so we headed up the road that had just been wet down thoroughly by the rain.  To get to the top, we ended up partially sideways a few times, and mud was flung all over the side and back of the van.  From clean to caked on in just a few short minutes.

So today, I got to thinking, which type of dirt is more dangerous?  At this point, I guess it would be helpful to draw the spiritual parallel that was building in my mind.  As believers, there are two ways that we can get 'dirty', or mired by sin.  We can fall in a big way and cake big, thick, heavy sin on ourselves in a matter of minutes through a wrong choice or through willful disobedience.  The response to this type of sin is often a quick repentance and cleansing from the sin.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
                                         - I John 1:9

The other way we can get 'dirty' with sin is by allowing small sins to build over time.  We get so that we don't notice the sin, the slow manner at which the 'appearance' changes leads us to believe that we are still clean.  And then one day, while glancing in the mirror of God's Word, we realize how stained and disgusting our 'little' sins have led us to become.  The cleansing is the same, God is faithful.  But I've found in the physical world, and the spiritual world, it takes more effort to cleanse when the dirt has built up over time.  It is also more deceptive because we do not sense the build up of filth until it reaches our breaking point.

So, which is more dangerous?  I guess that depends on our cleaning schedule.  If I took a piece of bright white plastic into the tub surround every day to compare the surround to the clean plastic, the slow build up of filth would not be a problem, I would see it early on.  But if I neglect to compare the dirt to something clean, it can build up slowly and dangerously.  The truth is, they are both dangers to be wary of.  So what can we do? Just like comparing the tub surround to something clean and white each day would show me where work was needed, we need to compare our lives to a clean, white source.  God's Word is a mirror for us to show us our filthiness.  Jesus is the ultimate example, the pattern God is making us into.  To defend against all types of dirt means we need to compare ourselves daily to God's Word.  The written Word of the Bible, and the Word made flesh of God's Son.

As disgusted as we may get about dirt in our homes, we need to be more disgusted by that dirt called sin that slowly builds in our lives.  How is your cleaning schedule doing at keeping up?

Friday, February 24, 2012

God is good!

Life can get you down, but God can bring you up.  Subtitle for my blog, yet often we know the truth, but settle for less.  We let life get us down.  We refuse to let God bring us up.  So today, I just wanted to exercise my gratefulness remembering some of the ways God has blessed me.

I have a wonderful extended family.  We don't all see each other as much as we would like, but it is a joy to know each of them, and to know that each of them is there for whatever need.

I have a wonderful family that lives with me.  From my wife down to little Jonathan, God has blessed beyond measure.

I have a wonderful church family.  The blessing that they are to me and my family could fill a blog post in itself.  They love and care for us in a way that really shows the love of Christ they have for us.

He meets my needs.  I had clothes to wear, wood to heat the house, food to eat, utilities to make life more comfortable, a roof over my head, a vehicle to drive (and cart the whole family around), and several blessings that go far beyond need (working appliances, comfortable furniture, books to read, toys for kids and for adults . . .)

I am able to enjoy several hobbies.  I can run.  I am able to garden.  I can enjoy music through my guitars.  I can play games.  I can play around with wood working.  I have tools to work on my van.  I have plenty of food to cook / bake.

I have more money than I need.  (Please notice that if your definition of need is different than mine, you may get an unrealistic view of my finances from this statement)

I have hope.  Not the kind of hope that is a pie in the sky dream, but real, literal hope.  I have a security that my sins have been forgiven.  I have a security of being "In Christ," I have been crucified with him and raised with him to a new life.  I have the hope of heaven, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for me.  I have the assurance that the difficulties of this life cannot compare with the greatness of the joy that is to come.

"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
- Romans 8:18

Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking up, and away from the plate.

Have you ever gotten a double whammy of conviction?  You know, found something in God's Word that hit you hard and then found the same lesson in a totally unrelated place in the Bible?  I know, all of the Bible is related, but I got hit several times by the same conviction over the past 2 weeks.  And that in an area I had already started to work on!  Of course, I had started to work on that area in the physical arena, and was neglecting the spiritual aspect of the battle.

How many times do we try to 'conquer' some area of our lives only to fall short?  With New Year's Resolutions, many people have already done that this year.  "I'm going to be more organized", "I'm going to get in shape", "I'm going to spend more time with my family", "I'm going to lose weight", "I'm going to read my Bible more", "I'm going to have a better attitude", etc.  And we put on our best 'game face' and try to accomplish it solely in the flesh.  And we would think we are doing the right thing because my organization, my schedule, my weight, and my health are all physical areas of concern.  God showed me that my weight is no where close to a physical area in my life these past few weeks.  Let me tell you how:

We are reading through the New Testament together as a family and as a church this year.  This involves reading 1 chapter a day on Monday through Friday.  The first week we read about the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  When tempted with food after 40 days of fasting, Jesus says "Man shall not live by bread alone."  I have always looked at food as something I needed desperately - several times a day!  How can Jesus deny himself something that his body needs like that?  I realized that Jesus placed his love for his Father above his desire for food, as Paul tells us "I buffet my body" to bring it into subjection.  I was challenged to work on the spiritual discipline of fasting.  No month long fasts for me, but baby steps means that I have skipped meals with the purpose of controlling my appetites, of subjecting my appetites to my love for God.

Last week, we came to the passage of "No man can serve two masters".  I was so glad I wasn't chasing after money the way Judas did at the end of Matthew.  You know, where he decided to betray Jesus after the waste of costly perfume that could have been sold.  Judas tried to serve two masters and failed.  He thought he could serve money and Jesus.  When he heard that Jesus was convicted, he 'repented', that is, he changed his mind about betraying Jesus.  He went and gave back the money and hanged himself.  His repentance did not lead to salvation, but he realized he had made a mistake.  I believe he thought he could earn some extra money and Jesus would get out of the trap as Jesus always escaped the religious leaders.  He thought he could serve two masters and win.  My master wasn't money, my master was the appetite for food.  I like to eat, I love to eat.  And I love the flavors that I can enjoy in my mouth.  I love the texture of a flaky pastry, the creaminess of cheesecakes and chocolate.  I love the satisfied feeling of a fully belly.  But I cannot serve this appetite and God.  God wants me to be a good steward of this body.  God tells me I can't live by bread alone.  God tells me I need to subject all my desires to him.  Even food.

In preparing for yesterday's opening sermon in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon taught how pleasure cannot satisfy.  Pleasure is vanity.  And it hit me again.  If I eat for pleasure, I have no reason to stop eating.  As weird as that sounds, I've been there.  When things aren't going right, or when I was looking for satisfaction in food rather than God, I would eat almost all day.  I felt unhealthy, I knew I was getting heavier, I just felt bad most of the time.  But that food sure felt good going in.  I learned that I need to be careful not to eat for pleasure.  Am I taking seconds because I need more fuel for my body, or because it tastes good?  Am I reaching for a snack to keep my body in balance, or because I crave the joy of tickling my taste buds?  Don't get me wrong, I still want to enjoy what I eat, but my purpose in eating should be to strengthen my body, not to energize my taste buds.

For me, this is a battle that has gone on for years.  (Well, actually off and on for years)  One that I do not think will ever go away completely.  But, with the Lord's help, an area that I can live in victory when I follow God's plan.  If no one can serve two masters, I have to make sure the master I serve meets all of my needs.  The only one that does that is God.

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you"
- Matthew 6:33