Call Me Foolish

 

We live in a time where everyone’s opinion is to get equal hearing.  The internet and social media have given a vast majority the ability to express their views and have them read/heard at virtually that same moment.  The current culture says to embrace all views because truth is relative; what’s true for you may not be for another.  This approach does not want to hinder anyone from expressing their beliefs.  In fact, it seems to me the more unconventional one claims to be, the more that view is accepted.

Yet, there is a disconnect between this warm and fuzzy approach and reality.  If current culture is as open as it claims to be, why is it a traditional belief, that being Jesus is Lord, is shunned as narrow or closed-minded? Please note that I am not defending the long-standing approach of the institutional Church.  Mankind has basically made a shamble of it and because of this I understand why so many stay away religiously.  What I am standing up for is the all-encompassing truth found in the Bible.

Relativism says that what’s true for you may not be for another.  Biblical truth, on the other hand, is true for/to all.  That doesn’t mean it is agreeable to everyone.  If my believing whole-heartedly in the eternal validity of the Scriptures makes me rigid in your eyes, I am truly sorry for your misunderstanding.  I may indeed misrepresent the truth I believe in by my thoughts or insensitive actions, but that’s on me, not God.

God’s truth applies to everyone, regardless of your denial of it.  I don’t mean to sound ‘holier-than-thou’ by expressing this when in fact the opposite is true.  It is only through humbly accepting and then allowing God’s truth to lead me that I can ever come close to sharing what I have experienced in my walk of faith.

What is this faith I claim to walk in? The Bible defines it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).  I look at this definition as being in two parts.  The first is the easier: being sure of what I hope for.  I know the true longings of my heart and have put my hope for their fulfillment in God.

It is the latter part of Hebrews 11:1 that has caused me some consternation.  Whereas as my hope is a somewhat less tangible thing, certainty in things I cannot see tends to fly in the face of my tactile tendencies.  Therefore, I do have empathy for those who want to see before committing.  There is an inevitable tension there.  The only way I have found to resolve this tension is to willingly submit to the authority God has over my life.

To do so requires that I recognize God for being who he says he is.  To the nonbeliever this sounds absurd, but not unexpected.  Hesitancy to have faith in God is not something new.  Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus a group of believers in Corinth were afflicted with doubts about many of the claims being made about Christ.  This is addressed in the first letter written by the Apostle Paul to them: I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 The Living Bible Translation).

There it is.  This is the ‘rubber meets the road’ truth around which all of Scripture is founded.  There are those who are ‘lost’ and those who have been saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  It is a harsh truth that is not readily accepted by modern culture.  Again, simply rejecting this does not make it untrue.  There are certainly more warm and fuzzy thoughts about our eternal destination out there being held to by many.  The concept of being lost in our enlightened society is considered foolishness.

Go ahead and call me foolish then! If I am foolish to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so be it.  I would rather be considered a fool than to give up the peace God has revealed to me through the Scriptures.  If the assurance I have about eternity because of faith in Jesus makes me seem simple in this advanced time, I’m ok with that.  If I am not taken seriously because I recognize my helplessness before the Almighty, I am good there as well.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me so long as I answer the call of God.  In so doing I recognize and submit to my need of a Savior.  This is God’s love manifest for ALL mankind.  His offer of eternal life is extended to everyone, always and everywhere.  I’ve taken him up on it because I believe it would be foolish not to.  Won’t you consider it as well?

What my Puppy is Teaching me about God’s Unconditional Love

I’ve been at this bible study/teaching/preaching for some time now.  I believe I am pretty well versed (pun intended) on the topic of God’s unconditional love.  Both Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of the Almighty’s undying desire to call broken and lost sinners back to Him.  When faced with the pain, suffering and confusion of those I have the privilege to minister to, I often extend God’s comfort through His promise to never leave or forsake us.  No matter how dark the moment or deep the pain, His love can give us hope when all seems lost.

I am amazed even as I look over the paragraph above.  I mean, how is it that God’s unconditional love can be offered to me? I have been a screw-up of major proportions, both in my life before I came to know Jesus as Savior and sometimes since then, too. Yet, I am assured of an unfailing love that calls me to eternal life; simply because it is His will to do so.  I know both in my heart and in an academic sense that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ has made this possible.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him!  His love is absolute and unconditional.  I cannot earn and certainly don’t deserve it, but it is extended to me (and all of us) without reservation.

Knowing in my ‘knower’ this to be true, I still find myself struggling with the application of it from time to time; especially in regard to showing the love of God to others.  Ministry is not complicated: Love God and be a conduit for His love to flow from me into others.  However, if I am being honest, there are more than a few times when I pass judgment rather than love.  I too often find myself being critical of others instead of offering grace.  The bottom line is this: In the day to day struggles and challenges of life, I do not always recognize or even look for God’s unconditional love in the world around me.

Thankfully, one event in my life this past week has more fully opened my eyes and my heart to God’s unconditional love.  It is through the puppy my wife and I brought home that I find myself more aware of and grateful for God’s continuous care of me.  ‘Violet’ has been a wonderful example of both giving and receiving love unconditionally over these last seven days.  With only a slight change, I am finding the old adage to be true: A new dog can teach an old dog new tricks!

It took Violet all of about two hours to become bonded with my wife and me.  With food served at regular intervals, plenty of walks outside to work on potty-training and lots of time on the floor playing with toys, we watched her love for us grow before our eyes.  Even when she was loudly reprimanded for getting into the modem wires, the love never left her.  Violet simply loves us, all the time.  The correlation to the love described in the Bible is clear: God loves us because He is love.  The Scriptures then tell us we can return love to Him: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19).

Much as Betsy and I didn’t have to earn Violet’s love, God’s love should not be viewed as ‘a carrot on stick’ either.  I for one am so very glad for the way God loves us.  Far too many live under a dark cloud, realizing that their life’s choices are not necessarily right or healthy, and condemning themselves for it.  It becomes easy to believe the lie that you are not worthy of God’s love, and the self-loathing perpetuates.

The mis-conception so many are under is that God loves like we do.  We equate human, imperfect love with His holy and faultless love.  Because we see love through our human paradigm, our understanding of God’s love is skewed.  Our experience tells us that to love is often risky and many times downright painful.  Once broken, the human heart can never fully heal itself.  What a blessing that God’s heart doesn’t operate like ours!

His unconditional love is always there.  We here on earth are left to respond to it in one of two ways: We either joyfully accept His gift of love or we ignore it.  The first option is obviously my counsel.  When one can truly allow themselves to be loved by God, attitudes and outlooks change for the better.  Those things that used to consume us with worry can be seen in a clearer light.  Realizing God’s love gives us a new and better perspective on the events of life.  Ignoring or denying this heavenly love leads only downward, toward bitterness and despair.  Life lived outside of the Almighty’s love is ultimately futile.  There simply are not enough shiny things, money or fancy vacations that can fill the void that is in you.

If you are struggling with some facet of God’s love, might I suggest you too experience some ‘puppy love.’ No, I’m not saying go listen to Donnie and Marie Osmond’s song with that title.  Rather, allow yourself to simplify your understanding of what God’s love is.  That’s what Violet has been showing me and honestly, I have a greater grasp of, and deeper appreciation of how, God shows His love because of it.  Allowing yourself to accept God’s love isn’t always easy, but it need not be complicated.  Remember He loves you first and always, no matter what.  Your job is to respond to that love.  I’ve got to stop for now, someone needs to go outside!

The Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

 

I am asked many questions as I continue this ‘second’ career journey of being a pastor.  Some of the more frequent ones are: ‘You mean you quit a good job to do this?’ (Answer: Yes, this one has better benefits!); ‘Where is your church?’ (We are currently ministering out of our home); and the question that gives birth to this blog, ‘Do you teach only from the New Testament and/or what do you think about the bible as a whole?

The answer to those last two is that I understand the entire Bible to be the inspired word of God.  I believe it contains timeless, infallible truth.  For me to arbitrarily decide to only consider one part, or only certain sections as being relevant would be rather presumptuous of me.  I based this belief on what the Apostle Paul wrote to his young understudy Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Now, teaching from the fullness of the Scriptures can be a daunting task.  There are several (many?) parts, sections or verses that I do not fully understand, making it difficult for me to teach them.  And in full-disclosure, I am not familiar with either the Hebrew or Greek languages, which make up the majority of the Old and New Testaments.  I compensate for this lack of knowledge by having been instructed in the use of language tools, which allow me to delve into the original texts without having to be well-versed (pun intended) in Hebrew or Greek.

Using those tools on the two verses mentioned form Paul’s second letter to Timothy helps to strengthen my faith in the truth of God’s word.  The little word ‘all’ gets the ball rolling.  Allow me to get theologically deep for a moment: ‘All’ means all! The entirety of the Bible is covered in that little word.  It stands to reason, then, that if all the Bible is from God, I ought not be ignoring any part of it simply because I don’t fully get it, don’t see how it applies or, I don’t agree with it.

To the last point I need only put myself in Job’s place as he was lamenting to God the great calamities that had befallen him, wondering why they happened and by the way, where were you, God, when all this was going down? God’s answer to Job helps me when I find myself starting to question and or whine: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4 NIV)

If I am to take all of Scripture as inspired of God, I must take this humbling question to heart.  In doing so, I am more inclined to see my place in the universe as somewhere away from the very center of it! Taking in the totality of Scripture as being God’s own word allows me to also better process this type of response He gave to Job.  Though I will never fathom the depth of God’s character, I can know enough of it to realize that He wants only the best for his kids; and sometimes He must speak to us in ways or allow things to happen, that are sure to get our attention.  God is indeed love, peace, mercy, forgiveness and so much more, but He is also a God of justice, order and holiness.  I am not to bend His truth to fit my likings, rather I am to conform my will to His.

Helping me to do this is another word I investigated from the 2 Timothy passage above: God-breathed.  To the best of my knowledge, this wording is used only this one time.  The word translated God-breathed in the original Greek meant direct communication from the deity.  I have also heard this referred to as God exhaling his Word to us.  The overall sense to take away is that the written Word of God contains the very essence of God.

This raises the level of the Bible! It is not just a book of good ideas and healthy recommendations, but rather it is the heart and mind of God; His entire character and nature are contained on its pages (or at least as much as we can take in).  He has poured Himself into the Scriptures.  His perfect truth is reflected on every page.

There’s the rub.  If His character is accurately and completely portrayed in what we read in the Bible, there are some difficult things that we must be reconciled to.  The existence of a literal heaven and hell and that my sinful choices do have real consequences are just two off the top of my head.  That God in His perfection is angry when I blatantly act/live/speak in disobedience to what He has said is almost enough to make me say, ‘Enough, I can’t handle anymore of this truth of God’s word stuff.’

Yet God’s word is the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So don’t stop now, read on! As true as it is that God is holy and righteous and hates sin; His love, mercy and forgiveness are equally true! As difficult as it is for us to wrap our minds around this, we must.  God is all these things I’ve mentioned, and infinitely more.

We must not fall into accepting only the parts of God (and therefore the Scriptures) that we are comfortable with or fit into our concept of how God is.  Those who believe He is only about judgment miss out on His unending love and kindness.  Conversely, if we take only the ‘softer’ side of God into account, we quickly lose sight of His holiness.  When that happens, we tend to go far to easy on ourselves and our thoughts and actions.  We cheapen the unfailing love of God by telling ourselves He will forgive us anyway, so what I do in the here and now is not that important.

To conclude, for now, if God’s truth is all encompassing (it is), where to we go from here? Please know that I am not promoting any ‘middle of the road’ compromise.  Anytime I/we attempt this, something important invariably gets left out.  Instead of middle of the road, I am suggesting we go ‘full circle;’ meaning that we, as best we can, consider the fullness of God’s character as it is described to us in the bible.  Because He is God, He can be both all judgment and all mercy rolled into one.

Truth be told, He has told us the truth, and nothing but the truth.  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” (John 8:31-32 NIV).  The sooner I/we can accept this awesome truth, the more willing we become to reign in our self-will so that we can discover His will for us, which truthfully is far better than we could ever hope or imagine.

On Call

I have respect for people who are on-call for their work.  Be it to answer a question or to actually go in and fix a problem, being on call takes a certain level of dedication that goes beyond whatever monetary compensation is involved.  I have to believe that staying at the campfire (I wish) is more appealing than going to repair an air conditioner in a dormitory or that staying wrapped in the blankets (like today when it is 5 degrees above 0 outside) has a bigger upside than re-starting a furnace at a local business.  But agreeing to be on call means you are willing, no matter the circumstances, to go do what is required of you.

Though being on call requires a level of commitment, a true follow of Jesus Christ is called to an even higher purpose.  Followers of Christ are to be always ‘on call’  It’s not like waiting for something to break that needs your fixing, rather your life is to be 24/7 for the cause of Jesus Christ.  A disciple of Jesus is to be sharing the love of God will all, everywhere.  To be on call in this way, however, you must first respond to being called.

Make no mistake, the call of Jesus will not be subtle.  Our response should not be either.  I love the clarity of the ‘first responders’ to the call of Jesus found in Matthew 4:19-22.  This account tells us Jesus first came upon Peter and his brother Andrew and then the sons of Zebedee, James and John.  To each set of brothers Jesus presented a challenge: trade in your old life that you know so well and step into the unknown with me.

All four brothers immediately responded by following Jesus.  What a step they took! The bible tells us that these men were fishermen, working for their livelihood on the sea, just as their father did.  In fact, James and John were with their dad when Jesus first approached them.  I think it is very important to grasp the gravity of the decision these four young men made.  They literally dropped what they were doing to cast (pun intended) their lives with this new teacher on the scene, Jesus.

What was it that made them take this life-changing step?  Jesus was just starting on his earthly ministry when He invited these guys along.  The bible records no miracles prior to this time, merely stating that Jesus began preaching after He was baptized by John the Baptist.  The calming of the storm, the feeding of 5,000 and the many recorded healings were yet to occur.  So, what was it that caused Peter, Andrew, James and John to drop everything to answer the call of Jesus?

The bible gives us no clear-cut answer, only that these men didn’t hesitate when called.  Therein lies the timeless truth for all of us.  Jesus called, they responded positively.  Obviously, the call to individual Christians is different today than it was when Jesus reached out to His first disciples.  What needs to be the same is our heart position.  We have a great advantage over those first four in that we know how the ministry of Christ played out.

I have to wonder that if they had a better idea of what they were getting into, would they have left everything they knew so quickly.  If Jesus had said, “Come follow me for three years of nomadic living, with plenty of persecution and threats to your safety, after which time I will be put to death and you all will be scattered and left wondering what to next,” would they still have so eagerly have said yes?

Regardless, jump at it they did, going all in from the start.  How about us? What is holding us back from answering the call of Jesus? Is it the uncertainty of what lies ahead? That is certainly a valid concern.  Allow me to share my wrestling with that question in hopes it may give you some clarity and encouragement in your own decision.

As I have shared before, my journey into alcoholism ruined my family financially.  By God’s grace, once I accepted Jesus as Savior my recovery began.  Then God, in His providential care, set a chain of events in motion that allowed me to get out from under the mountain of debt I had brought on us.  Furthermore, I was blessed to learn a trade during this process which allowed us even more financial stability.  While I was aware and gave thanks to God for His blessing, I was also aware of (but trying my best to ignore) a tug on my heart that was calling me to something else.

Being honest, I knew it was God calling me to full-time ministry, yet I was able to rationalize my not responding by telling myself that we have bills to pay, the kids need college, I’d like to buy a house, etc.… Thankfully, God is as persistent as He is patient.  Understand that Betsy and I had been active-church going folks all this time.  We played and sang with worship teams, led bible studies and even preached occasionally.  God was working on us.  We started a home church, going through the long legal process to make everything proper (www.lakesidechristianministries.org if you would like to check it out) and became even more active in serving in our community for Jesus.  Still, a sense of missing what God had planned for us was still there.

I wrestled with the same basic argument I had for years: I want to do more for His kingdom, but this working 50 hours a week as a painter (plus the commute) didn’t allow enough time for it.  As we prayed and talked about this we began to wonder, is this what Peter and the others felt when Jesus called them? Maybe, just maybe, this was what faith in action was to look like.

My wife and I are financially conservative people; a result no doubt of my riotous wasting of our resources in that past life.  We carefully looked at our home budget, checking to see if this change to one income was plausible.  This was not my most faith-filled period, as initially I decided it just couldn’t be done.  Those two sets of brothers in Matthew Chapter 4 might have jumped at the invitation of Jesus, I somehow felt I needed more assurance.

God gave it to me.  No, not in the form of some financial windfall, but rather in the peace that only He can give as together Betsy and I sought Him out through prayer and felt His assurance that we could trust Him in this matter.  At the end of this two year period soul-searching, and feeling more than a little like the prodigal son (again), I handed in my notice to my employer that I would be leaving there to pursue what God has in store us.  It should be noted, for God’s glory, that on the very day I tendered my resignation, our ministry received an anonymous donation of $1,500! God wanted me to really understand that He did have this all under control.

Fast forward to today, one and a half years later, and I can better appreciate what Peter, Andrew, James and John did when Jesus called them.  It is also much easier to relate to the feelings they must have had as to what lies ahead.  Like them, I find following the call of Jesus still presents questions and wondering as to the particulars of what we get involved with.

My takeaway is this: As precious as I am (and so are you!) to God, there is nothing so special about my circumstances (or yours) that He cannot handle.  I trust Him completely for salvation, I am learning all the more to trust Him as well in the day to day aspects of life lived for Him.  My advice to anyone contemplating the call of God on their life is to answer it! Yes, allow yourself the time necessary to seek out His direction through prayer, but jump in when He calls.  The peace that comes from whole-hearted trust in God cannot be measured.

 

What is God’s Will for Me?

 

“What is God’s will for me?” As I speak with folks, this question often comes up.  Generally, there is some frustration in their voice.  They have been praying and seeking direction, but somehow the answer seems to elude them.

We pastor-types tend to make this out to be pretty heady stuff, this trying to figure out what God’s will is.  In many cases, we have made it a more complicated issue than God intends it to be.

To help us get our minds around this topic, let’s start with the big picture and work from there.  With this wide-angle lens with can say with 100 percent clarity that God’s will is for every person to come to know Him as Savior.  His has spelled this out in the familiar John 3:16 as Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The Apostle Peter also tells us; The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

The Bible clearly establishes that God’s heart is for all people to come to Him, acknowledging their need of a Savior.  It really is that simple, God’s immeasurable love is always on display through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is an open invitation to absolutely everyone.  If you are reading this and you have come to know God’s forgiveness, I rejoice with you!  But like those old Ronco veg-a-matic tv commercials, “Wait, there’s more!”

To find it we must begin to look at the  picture with a narrow focus lens; that being God’s will for your life now that He has called you to His fold.  Once again, we can find some straight forward instruction as to how to do this from the Bible: Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Sounds simple enough as at first glance it appears God is saying to keep a bright outlook most of the time, pray a lot, and remember to say thank you when someone does something nice for you.  But if you will read those three little verses again, you will find that God is saying much more about what His will is for you.  We are not to qualify or justify our actions by self-righteously deciding to withhold our gratitude, not bothering to pray or opting to be sour instead of joyful.

Realizing God’s will for us in these things is a full-time and faith-filled response to the above mentioned love the Almighty offers to each of us.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as: Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (emphasis added).

The faith that is borne at our salvation brings us the surety of eternal life and makes us certain of that which we cannot see with our physical eyes.  Saying yes to Jesus allows us to know the truth of the Scriptures.  In the context of knowing God’s will we can then find the comfort of: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV). As the power of that verse sinks more deeply into your heart, we can better see how we are to be joyful always, for even as things may be bleak or painful around us, we have God’s promise that He is working things out ultimately for our good!

The instruction to pray continually does not mean to be reciting prayers non-stop, but rather to be aware of the presence of God always.  The more we do this, the more likely we are to be in a constant conversation with Him.  I encourage you to simply try living in the constant awareness of God’s presence.  Conversation for most of us comes much easier with someone we are familiar or comfortable with.  We have established God’s will for you is to be in contact with Him.  It becomes possible if you are willing.

The third piece of knowing God’s will, we are told, is to give thanks in all circumstances.  Here again we experience the tension between what we are currently going through and the higher call of being thankful always.  The Expositor’s Commentary explains it this way: We need to recognize that seeming aggravations are but a temporary part of a larger plan for our spiritual well-being. Out of this perspective we can always discern a cause for thanks.  I’m not saying this is easy for any of us to do, in fact it’s downright impossible on my own.  Ah, enter faith! God is bigger than what my circumstances of the moment are!

Having said all this, you will note that I still have not given you specific insight into what God’s will is for you.  The reason is simple:  That’s not for me to do! I would suggest, however, that if you will incorporate the instruction given about being joyful always, praying continually and being thankful in all things, you will find yourself much closer to God on a daily basis.  As He nurtures your relationship to Him, your faith will grow. As it does, your ability to see and trust His purpose for your life will increase, revealing His wonderfully personal will to you!

What a Sight!

I am in no way a well-traveled person. Born and raised in Central New York, I have lived here for all my nearly 58 years. I do not travel much, having never been outside the U.S. (save a few trips to our neighbor to the North, Canada) This is not to say, however, that I have not experienced some wondrous sights in my lifetime.

I have had the opportunity to stand in awe on the shores of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. A vacation to the Southwest gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful red landscape of Sedona and the breath-taking splendor of the Grand Canyon.

As a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants, seeing three games in the gorgeous AT&T ballpark in 2013 is forever etched in my memory; as is my first football game inside the then brand-new Carrier Dome in Syracuse some 35 years ago.

When employed at one of the three near-by nuclear plants, I stood inside the 550-foot-high cooling tower (while the plant was on shutdown!), with its opening so wide above me I could not see all of it when standing at the bottom! I have stood within a few feet of the spent-fuel pool with its beautiful cobalt blue color, peacefully hiding all that power.
I am sure that most reading this will have seen and experienced much more wonder than I have. I am also equally sure that none of us have seen or heard anything as glorious as a group of lowly shepherds did one night some 2000 years ago:

And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14 NIV)

Now there’s a wondrous sight! And on so many levels! First the obvious; the proclamation that the Savior of the world had been born. This wasn’t some minor announcement relegated to the end of a local newscast. No, it was announced from heaven in a way that truly befitted a King. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those shepherds on that lonely hillside as they saw and heard this?

While were on the topic of those shepherds, why were they the first to hear this awesome news? Wouldn’t the town square or perhaps outside the home of the highest official been more fitting for an announcement of this magnitude? After all, shepherding in those days was the lowest of professions. If you were a shepherd, there was little to no hope of ever improving your lot. You were going to work and live with sheep, an often dangerous and always lonely life, and all for the benefit of their owner.

But it is in the fact that shepherds were blessed to hear the news first that we get a clear picture of the heart of God. In His infinite wisdom, he chose to reveal to the lowest that He was breaking in on human history. The Sovereign Lord, the Almighty King of kings, thought it best to tell simple shepherds that salvation had come to all men. A most humbling reminder to all of us; don’t let your station in life dictate to you how and when you may hear from Him. There is no more level playing field than the one that stands before the throne of God.

Not only did God reveal His heart’s desire to mere shepherds, He made it clear that His saving love was for all people. The angel proclaimed that this great news was for ‘all people.’ There is not much explanation needed with the word all; if you are drawing breath, this announcement is intended for you.

As all encompassing as this was, God also made sure the His salvation plan was an extremely personal one too. He had the angel not only tell the shepherds that this Savior born was for them personally (I bring you good news), but for us as well! The Savior Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected for absolutely all people. Yet in the midst of that mind-boggling fact, the salvation offered from God to us is done on a personal and one at a time basis.

So, if you are feeling over or under whelmed as Christmas fast approaches, please take a moment to consider again the shepherds whom God first told of the birth of His Son Jesus. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of last minute things keep you from pondering why it is you are doing what it is you are doing. There has never been a more life-changing occurrence in all of history; and it was made with you in mind. What a sight to behold!

Closed for the Season

Just north of where I live there exists a relic from the past: a drive-in theater. When (if) the winter weather finally breaks, it opens, and they show movies on the weekends until late October. At that time, along with a thank you to their patrons, they put on their marquis, ‘Closed for the season.’
I drove by the currently closed drive-in the other day and was struck by those familiar words as we approach another Christmas. Seemingly everywhere you see or hear ‘tis the season,’ as December 25th draws near. What is a time of joy for many, with thoughts of family, presents and parties abounding, others find deeply depressing for any number of reasons. Hence, my thoughts on closed for the season.
In my broad circle of acquaintances there are several who will be going through Christmas without their spouse for the first time. Their sense of loss and loneliness is heightened as the calendar relentlessly chugs toward the 25th. Their pain has them closed for the season.
I know others whose financial struggles are heightened at the holidays. They want to buy gifts for their kids, but the heat bill must be paid. Their jobs aren’t giving them any security either, as more and more in this already economically stressed area are being laid off. Uncertainty has them closed for the season.
Still others are going through the annual tension caused because their kids are estranged from them. Attempts are made at reconciliation, but seemingly they go for naught. Stiff reunions are accented by more arguing. Anger has these folks closed for the season.
If these examples, or any I haven’t mentioned that you are currently causing you to feel closed for the season, please know that there is hope! It is found in the true ‘reason for the season,’ Jesus Christ. The Prophet Isaiah wrote of this hope some 700 years before the birth of the Lord: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). Immanuel means God with us. It is a personal promise from a personal God. Just as it was to the Israelites in the dark days when Isaiah prophesied, the hope of knowing the Savior is just as real today.
If you find yourself feeling closed for the season, I ask you to take a moment to simply reflect on those words the prophet wrote. They truly are incredible; a virgin conceiving? And then her child was to be God with us? It’s almost to crazy to believe, and maybe you don’t. I also have plenty of people in my circle who do not. If that’s you, I pose to you the same question I put to them: How is your life going without God in it? May I encourage you to consider the awesome possibility that what was said so long ago did in fact happen. If you will, allow that wonder in, you may well find those things keeping you closed for the season will lose their power over you as the power of our loving God permeates your life.
Being a realist who has been at the trade of pastor for a while now, I understand that not everyone is or even will be open to the things of God. Yet I press on, because you are so very important to Him (and me too!). For your consideration I offer some more words from Isaiah that also point to the saving heart of the Lord: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV).
Here this same promised Savior of the world is described in a most glorious way. The Son of God, sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world, is indeed wonderful, mighty and everlasting. The peace He brings to a lost soul, as the bible says, truly transcends human understanding.
Does it all sound too good to be true? Where’s the catch? Friend, it is true! And the only catch is in you risking a little faith to believe it. I know what it is to be trapped in despair with no human way out. I have felt the pain of loss and the debilitating guilt caused by my actions. Thankfully, I now know the nearly inexpressible joy that comes with being a child of God. What seemed to be permanently closed for every season in me has now been opened. May this be the time that you can experience the freeing love of Jesus; tis, after all, the season!

The List

‘A’ list celebrities, bucket lists, grocery lists; even Santa Claus has a list. His being so important we are told through song that he checks it twice! We have Top 40 lists, honey-do lists, greatest plays lists, blooper lists and play lists on our electronic devices. For organization, we often list things alphabetically. Lists are seemingly everywhere, as many aspects of our lives seem to be in list form.
I for one am a list maker. I find my most productive days are ones in which I have made a list of the things I want/need to get done. Driven by equal parts memory retention issues and my orderly nature, I seem to work best when I can see my goals written out.
I will also admit to a certain satisfaction when an item gets scratched off the list at its completion. I’ll leave for another time a discussion of my tendency at days end, as I review the list, to write in other things I have gotten done that were not originally on it; just so I can scratch them off too!
The Bible contains many lists too. The Book of Exodus (chapter 20) records God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, making it safe to assume that God favors lists as well. The Almighty, having created us to be favorably disposed to using lists, gives us His Law in 1 through 10 form.
Jesus himself was also inclined to using lists to teach people. The 12th Chapter of the Gospel according to Mark records a conversation between the Lord and one of the Jewish teachers of the Law that gives evidence of Jesus using a list as a valuable teaching tool.
(The teacher asked him), “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus not only gives the answer as a list of two things, He goes even further and prioritizes them. In brief, Jesus tells us to place God first, others next and then ourselves in our plans. When Jesus lists things is a particular order, it’s a good bet He did so for a reason: For us to follow it as is!
Here lies the key for all us list makers/followers: Priorities. A list loses most of its ability to be a guide for us if there is no order to the items on it. For example, if I place mowing the lawn ahead of making a bank deposit in the checkbook to cover rent, the lack of priority may have repercussions for me. So as important as listing making and following it is for me, without a thought-out plan to do all these things, I may still end up merely chasing my tail.
Some years ago, my wife Betsy came up with a brilliant yet practical idea to help me get and keep my priorities in order regarding my lists. As a Christmas present, you gave me a 5’ x 7’ pocket notebook. On the top of every page, she printed the name Jesus; giving me an instant and on-going reminder to always place Jesus at the top of all my plans:
Jesus
1………………………………………
2………………………………………
3………………………………………
4………………………………………
What a great gift! It helps me in several ways. (Here comes another list!):
Serves as a reminder to pray about how I spend my time.
With Jesus at the top, my priorities are already in order. No matter
how urgent/important an item I put on the list, Jesus is already on top
of it
Allows me to continue using a method that has been successful for me.
Gives me a conversation starter when talking lists with others.
If you are reading this and are already a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope the sharing of my ‘Jesus’ list helps you to remember where to keep your focus. I know it does that for me, especially when I check my list and it seems to be growing as time passes instead of decreasing. I can take a deep breath and pray that the God helps me to re-focus on the most important item on it, Him!
But if you are not (yet) a believer in Jesus, I hope these thoughts on prioritizing your to-do list is helpful. I will be praying that the day comes soon that Jesus will be atop all your lists as well. (BTW, I just added you to my prayer list to receive salvation!)

Giving Thanks

I am a big fan of the Thanksgiving Holiday, though maybe not in the more traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy overeating the seasonal dishes served at this time, as well as the opportunity to visit with family and friends that I don’t get to see regularly. I also quite enjoy dozing off while ‘watching’ a football game after the big meal.
No, what really stirs me every late November is taking the time to intentionally thank God for the countless blessings He continues to pour on me, and to hear so many others doing the same as they too ponder the great depths of our always giving God.
Psalm 107, verse 1, captures what the position of a thankful heart should be: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV) Ultimately, all creation owes thanks to God simply because He is good. Yes, I believe it is right and proper to thank Him for individual blessings, but truly our whole countenance ought to be thanking Him always, simply because He is good and that His love endures forever.
However, the thanks we give to God is not quite like the thanks we give to one another. It is customary in our culture to say, ‘Thank you’ to the person who has done a kindness toward us. This is of course proper. We ought never forget to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of another. It is not the giving of thanks that is to be different with God, but the order in which we do it.
The Bible teaches that we are simply to be thankful to God. This tells me that I need not wait until God delivers on a promise, but rather I am to be thankful regardless of my circumstance. The Apostle Paul captured this idea in his letter to the Philippians: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil. 4:6 NIV).
Did you catch it? We are to offer our thanksgiving with our request. This is a great reminder of what our heart position needs to be in relation to God. We are not to think of Him as merely a cosmic giver of gifts from afar, but rather as Someone with whom we can, and should be, having daily fellowship with.
When we align our hearts in proper to submission to God, we will find what Paul says next to be reality in our lives: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 NIV). God promises His peace, even if the answer to our prayer happens to be no. Giving thanks to God, then, is to be the normal and natural expression of our faith. He is the Creator of all, and His desire is to have close relationship with His creation. And He has made this wonderful truth possible by bridging the gap between us and Him with His Son Jesus Christ. That fact alone gives us a lifetime of things to say thank you for.
But the giving of thanks is also an action that we should be taking often. One of the best ways we can express our gratitude to God is to provide care for others around us. We find this directive in James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
It has been said, correctly, that gratitude is an action word. By daily taking inventory of all God has blessed us with, humility should not be hard to come by. As we recognize the abundance He has shown us, it should become more natural that we honor Him by blessing others who are in need. God does indeed bless His faithful followers, but not simply for our pleasure or convenience, rather that His name may be given geater renown. Simply put, our thanks to God should be tangible. Yes, we are to thank Him in our prayers, but also in our actions.
So a Happy Thanksgiving to you from Lakeside Christian Ministries! May you enjoy the day with family, friends, food and fellowship. And remember to thank God, always and in everything!

Of Hearts and Treasure, Moths and Rust

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to bring salvation to this world. His message was simple: realize your need of a Savior, ask for His forgiveness and then receive the gift of eternal life. That’s the gospel boiled down to its simplest form.
Yet, because He is God and knows us far better than we know ourselves, He conveyed this message in several different ways. Jesus taught using the common events of that time to relate the awesome power of God’s love to sinful humanity. Through these timeless examples, what the Lord taught was relevant then and is thankfully still so today.
You might argue, correctly, that we do not live in an agrarian society like those folks did when Jesus walked the earth, making the lessons about sheep and wolves harder to identify with. That may be so, but please remember that the primary example Jesus used to teach with was money; how people related and reacted to earthly wealth.
Here is one example from the Gospel according to Matthew: Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:19-21 NIV)
It’s like a treasure map, and all one needs to do is to follow the clues to see where your heart truly is. The map that many would possess here in the West would resemble a maze, with the Holy Grail being at the end of a long and arduous journey. For many, it would be a sizable sum of money on which to retire comfortably. For others, it is the newest car or a bigger house. Please understand, I’m not saying these things are bad in and of themselves, it is just that they can be true indicators of where our hearts truly lie if in fact the attaining of these things all but consumes us.
Jesus wasn’t teaching that we need to live an austere life to follow Him either. His focus was on the heart, and in His infinite wisdom He knows that the shiny material things of this world can be quite a distraction to someone who professes to be a follower of His.
I believe the key to what Jesus is teaching concerning our treasures isn’t so much the stuff we treasure, rather it is who we are storing it up for. Jesus says to not store up for yourselves those things that are temporary and are at risk to thieves and to time. It gives the sense that we are hiding things away in safe keeping, but ultimately this is a fruitless endeavor. Which leads me to ask: Why store up something that won’t be there when you want to access it?
That is what makes the Lord’s recommendation about only storing up for oneself those things of eternal significance so important. To keep your treasures securely in heaven means that they are there forever. It also tells us that it is not the temporal treasures which should be after, but those blessings that only God can bestow. I would include in the list of these treasures things like; the certainty of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, the peace of God that surpasses human understanding and the promise of eternal life just as starters!
Let’s sum things up like this: What is real wealth to you? For me, even though my checkbook rarely exceeds three digits and without much in a savings account, I still count myself extremely wealthy. You see, it’s a question of how we ultimately measure wealth. Bank statements and retirement projections don’t contain my real net worth, because as a believer in Jesus Christ, I am more than a conqueror and have the unlimited wealth of God on my side. Now that’s a treasure worth storing up!