Thank you!

Pastor friends,

I appreciate you!  Thank you for serving our Savior in the power of His Spirit for His glory.  At times, you receive the acclaim and applause of men.  Other times, antagonism is your companion because you minister in Jesus’ Name.  Worse yet, your service and efforts are often met with apathy, even among those who claim the Name of Christ.  Most often, your day is filled with a combination of those things.  May you continue to serve your King with one motive in mind – to hear those precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” directly from His lips as He greets you as eternity begins.

Being Thankful

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)

Facebook is increasingly becoming my prayer list.  I enjoy praying for dear friends and family that I have known for years and also for more recent colleagues and acquaintances.  This time of year, amid holiday get-togethers, vacations, family celebrations, and various ministry events, I praise God for how He has blessed so many of you!  While I rejoice with those of you who now are rejoicing, my heart and my prayers do go out to those of you who now are searching for God’s blessing.  May you see His face clearly very soon!

I love seeing the pics of your beautiful family members.  Some of them are transitioning into new and exciting chapters of their lives.  What a joy to be surrounded by those you love.  Thank you for sharing the news and views concerning your travels both at home and abroad.  What beautiful and fun places you have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy.  Some of you are traveling because you have been given the incredible opportunity and responsibility to share the Word of God among every tribe, tongue, and nation so that Jesus is glorified.  What a gift to be able to do so!  Enjoy!  Celebrate!  Be blessed!

At the same time, why not pray for the many in our own nation and the vast majority of people around the world who will never experience such blessing.  And above all, remember the One who is the giver of all good gifts and the One who blesses us with every spiritual blessing through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Everything you are, everything you get to do, and every experience you live is but a gift from Him.  Why not thank Him today?

If there is a loving God, then why…?

Theodicy is a fancy word that helps us ask the question, “If there is a good and all-powerful God, then why is there evil and suffering in our world?”

Some make the following assumption:  Tragedy occurred.  An all-powerful God could have prevented this.  An all-loving God would want to prevent this.  Yet, this tragedy occurred.  Therefore, such a God does not exist.

Here is another assumption we may make:  An all-powerful, all-loving God exists.  Tragedy happens.  Therefore, our all-powerful, all-loving God has a loving purpose for permitting this tragedy to occur.

Why do we so often choose the first?  I think it is because we, in our pain, want to blame something or someone.  When we do, what is our answer for suffering?  There is none.  When we choose the second, we find that there is some purpose for our suffering (even if we don’t readily see it) and we find the source of grace, strength, and comfort to deal with tragedy.

Remember, the Bible teaches that the universe we live in is not the universe God created.  When man introduced sin into God’s creation, God’s universe was corrupted.  This is the source of evil and tragedy, which didn’t exist before man’s sin.  The good news is, God has a perfect, new heaven and new earth in our future if we belong to Him.

God is not the author of evil and His holy, unchanging character reminds us He can never be.  Yet, God permits evil, always punishes evil, can bring good out of evil, and one day will deliver us from the presence and power of evil.  Praise His Holy Name!

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.  Isaiah 45:7 ESV

What’s This Thing Called Lent?

I must confess that I grew up in an evangelical culture that did not place great emphasis on the liturgical calendar.  Words like “advent” and “lent” belonged to “those churches.”  Over the years, advent wreaths and calendars began to be used by some, but lent, and the idea of ashes and abstinence never really caught on.  As I studied the history of the concept, I found some baggage attached to lent that made me feel uncomfortable embracing the practice as a whole.  Yet, the idea of taking an extended period of time to focus on the holiness of God and my own proper response to Him, of remembering the atoning sacrifice of Christ for sinful mankind, of being awed by His glorious and powerful resurrection, and of using focused prayer and fasting to seek and find Him appeals to me greatly.  The Jews recognized their New Year, Rosh Hashanah, their most high and holy day, Yom Kippur, and the time period of ten days including those holidays as “days of awe” or “days of repentance” – a special season to focus on repentance and getting right with God.  Why not have the same emphasis leading up to a remembrance and celebration of what Jesus did to free us from sin and death?

One must be careful not to think that observing such days is necessary to have a relationship with God.  Following certain practices or holidays does not make one righteous.  Paul said, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV).  Things like “days of awe” or even our Christian holidays are not given to us to make us holy, but to remind us of the One who does – Jesus Christ (read the rest of Colossians 2).  What I would like to do over these next 40 days (leading up to Good Friday and Easter) is write about some things that remind you about Him.  Reading my thoughts, giving up certain things, or following certain practices won’t clean up your heart or change your life.  But meeting Jesus Christ will.  “Lent” comes from the Old English “lengten,” or spring.  These “lengthened” days remind us that new life is coming.  May I take some time to remind you that new life is only found in Christ?  I will use daily Scriptures from Redeemer Presbyterian’s reading plan, “A Journey Through Lent” as the starting point for my meditation, but will add my personal thoughts.  Please read along if you need the reminder, as I do.

Thoughts About Myself After the Election

Well, it is over.  But in many ways, it is just starting.  I am not just talking about the election and the beginning of the Trump administration.  I am referring to the division we see in families, churches, and neighborhoods.  This election season has not so much caused but revealed the deep divide in our nation that has been simmering under the surface.  This divide takes many forms – racial, economic, gender-based, religious, and political.  Yet, whatever the form, it shows us not just what is in our country, but what is in our own hearts.

My heart grieves for those who are now fearful and confused.  Some of these fears are legitimate and others are the result of people with loud voices/blogs/podcasts/media empires on both the right and the left who greatly benefit financially if such divides exist.  Causing division is big business!  My heart is saddened by the many, again on both the right and the left, who feel that they are forgotten (even invisible), without a voice, and without a champion to further their cause.

I must give a word of clarification.  There always will be division.  There must be.  Jesus, Himself said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”  Jesus, who is Light and Truth and Love, will always be separated from that which is dark, and false and unloving.  If we are followers of Christ, so will we.  There is no place for compromise and a squishy, weak unity based on empty platitudes.  But standing for truth is not the same as being a jerk.  Pride and selfishness always divides in a way that makes reconciliation impossible.  Light, Truth and Love may rightly divide, but they can also change darkened, deceived and hateful hearts.

I hear and read many voices saying many different things.  Some of what is said is valid.  Much of what is said is a mixed bag of truth and falsehood.  Many words are nothing but emotion.  Some are emotionless and unsympathetic.  As I attempt to add my own voice to the cacophony of opinions out there, I realize I don’t have much to say.  I certainly don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said before.  I don’t have a large and influential voice that will somehow change the tide of public opinion.  But hopefully my words can make a difference to one person – myself.

  1. I need to remind myself to be slow to speak, and quick to listen. I wrote a blog post about this entitled, “Slow to Speak,” where I go into greater detail concerning this.  Please take a few minutes and review my humble opinion.  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV).  Could it be that we have so much anger because everyone is talking, but no one is listening?
  2. I need to tell myself that when I do speak, I MUST always do so in love. Even when I am right and when I am speaking truth, I should never use the truth as a club to beat someone into submission so I can win the argument.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15 ESV).
  3. I need to be careful with whom I am aligned. If I am a Christ-follower, the very reputation of Jesus Christ is at stake.  I need others to see my allegiance to Jesus, or else I will be seen as someone else’s pawn.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
  4. Jesus cares about all this craziness and confusion and deeply loves us crazy and confused people, even if we have rebelled against His loving and deserved rule over us. He has the answer – Himself!  … but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
  5. Just as God is love and love motivates all that God does, I am to love. I am to love God and my neighbor.  Even my enemy!  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34 ESV).  Love does not mean I will stay silent to not offend those set in their ways.  I am to love my neighbor enough to share the love and the truth of Jesus with them, even if I risk losing their positive opinion of me.  If I love them in Jesus’ Name, I risk that they might divide from me because of Jesus in me.  But may they never be divided from me (and maybe even from Jesus) because of my unloving/proud/arrogant attitudes, words, and actions.

I guess I do have some things to say after this election.  I hope I listen.

 

A Season of Fear

Halloween is almost upon us.  Christians have many varied reactions to this event.  Some are appalled that a pagan ritual has been made mainstream and is now the second biggest money-making holiday in America.  Others want to “Christianize” the season by focusing on the Christian roots of “All Saints’ Day” on November 1st.  Many don’t want to celebrate the scary parts of the holiday, but instead reinvent it as a harvest celebration.  Most do agree that to the majority of Americans, the day is not seen as a celebration of evil, but a harmless excuse to get candy from the neighbors.  And to get scared.  Americans love to get scared.  Just check your TV listings and see how many horror movies are being shown this time of year.

The purpose of this article is not to argue in favor of any of the above positions, but rather to get us to think about fear.  But the fear I want us to meditate on is not the fear of ghosts and goblins, but “the fear of the Lord.”  This fear, the Scriptures teach, is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10), and the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).  Most of us like the idea of growing in wisdom and knowledge – we pay thousands of dollars to colleges and universities to help us in that quest.

In English, “fear” is the opposite of trust, and its synonyms are “fright” and “dread.”  The Old Testament Hebrew word for fear is “yirah,” and is sometimes seen as being negative (like fright and dread), or positive (respect, reverence and worship).  It has a very broad range of meaning.

For example, in Leviticus 19:3 God commands us to “fear” our father and mother.  Other translations translate it as “respect,” which seems to get at the true meaning.  In Genesis 32, Jacob genuinely is terrified at meeting Esau, knowing that earlier that Esau wanted to kill him as Jacob cheated him out of his birthright.  How do we know which way to take this word?

In terms of how we view God, yirah can be positive, as in Psalm 66:3, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!  … Say to God, ‘How awesome (yirah) are your deeds!”  It can also describe a terror at one day standing before a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and the One who will judge us all.  What makes the difference in how we view God? What makes us cower in terror or bow in reverence before our Almighty God?

The simple answer is relationship.  What is your relationship to a God who is so holy His very presence shakes mountains?  An example might help.  Remember back to when you were a child.  Picture yourself leaving school and beginning your walk home.  As you turn onto a lonely street, you see a muscular boy, twice your size, approaching you.  What is your response?  If he is the school wrestling champion and you just stole his lunch money, you might feel some dread and terror.  If he is your brother, and has come to walk you home through a scary part of town, you feel peace and security and an awe of his strength.  The key is relationship, which is also true concerning God.  Meeting the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and the One who will judge us all will bring terror to the person who is still in their sins and has not been adopted into the family of God.  But being with this same God brings great joy to the heart of the person who can call God, “Father.”  What is your relationship to Him?

Slow to Speak

Like many of you, this past week has been filled with many tears and unceasing prayer as almost daily I hear of the loss of lives of those made in God’s image and as I think of their dear families now filled with questions, pain, and overwhelming grief.  The most recent news reports try to figure out why the lives of brave police officers who were protecting the rights of those protesting against the police could be snuffed out so violently.  I sometimes write things down to figure out what is in my heart and mind, so please allow me to do just that and add words to the multitude of things that have already been written and said.

I grieve over those who are gone.  Some no longer have the chance to hear about the everlasting love of our Savior.  How do family members now face the days ahead without those who were so special to them?

I am amazed at the continually increasing divisions our country is experiencing.  Politically we have been aware of this divide for some time.  We are now becoming more and more aware of the gap between people of different races, economic classes, and _________ – you fill in the blank.  We had hoped that many of those gaps were shrinking, but are now wondering if the distance is instead increasing.  People with loud voices and various causes use their volume to take advantage of this divide for their own benefit and amusement.  The result is that these gaps get bigger, fear grips our hearts because of what we are told of those on the other side of the gaps and anger becomes what motivates us to action.  Everyone seems to have a voice and much to say, but few seem to have any desire to listen.

The Holy Spirit through the pen of James told us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  Notice the progression – we need to be very quick to listen.  We must do that first, before we speak.  We must hear the other person and really listen.  This includes mulling over what they just said.  We must think about what they said and why they said it.  Even if we disagree with what we just heard, if we listen perhaps we will understand why they said it, at least a little bit.  We should be quick to listen – but then slow to speak.  Too often we aren’t really listening because we are thinking about what we are about to say.  Our priority is not about the other person, it is all about us – what we feel, what we think and what we know should be done.  Isn’t this what arguments consist of – no listening, fast talking and the next step, anger?  No wonder we are so angry.  We all have too much to say and too many opinions to share.  And now with social media, we can share our words instantly with the world.  (Yes, it is a bit ironic that I am sharing my words with the world right now.)

Now to the grief of today.  Can’t we take some time to grieve?  Can’t we allow families to start to say good-bye to their loved ones before we use their loved ones to further our favorite cause?  Can’t we be silent as they share their doubts, their fears, their questions and their anger?  Can’t we give them our presence and our hugs, but hold off on our words?  There will be a time to talk about these causes.  Some of them are really important.  But do we need to talk about them today?

Followers of Jesus Christ, we have much to say to an angry, divided world.  We have words of comfort to share with the grieving from the God of all comfort, Himself.  We have words of hope about a Redeeming Savior that this world needs to hear.  He is our only Hope!  He is the One who can reconcile sinners like us to a Holy God such as He is, and then help us reconcile to each other.  We are messengers of reconciliation!  But let’s share this wonderful message after we have really listened to this hurting world.