Monday, November 23, 2015

Giving thanks in the struggles

Rejoice always! I say it again rejoice! These words can be hard to swallow when life is on a downward spiral and your loved ones are facing struggles. I was never one to handle suffering well until I gained an entirely new perspective. As I pondering these times from the past to the present I started to see a pattern particularly in our family dynamics. Now as a pastor I have to confess my family is far from perfect. My wife is always the one to keep us all together but with Multiple Sclerosis, we never quite know when the next flare may strike. This disease seems to have a mind of its own and though certain factors can attribute to a flare, we can't predict the timing until it's arrived. With the Thanksgiving season upon us, we have been reminded to give thanks even for the struggles. I am not totally there yet but as I see our family draw closer through the suffering, it takes on a new perspective. I won't say I rejoice as I witness the weakness in my dear wife's body but we can turn to God and allow his strength to permeate us. It's becoming more a blessing to see how God responds through his people as we care for one another and show love and support. Prayer is powerful and effective and the disease causes us to grow together and to slow down and be still, knowing that he is God. I pray as we each encounter suffering on various levels, we can find the peace and comfort it offers in our dependency on Christ and the body of Christ. Families praying together are healthier and stronger together. May we discover a new outlook on suffering and see Christ in all the remaining days of our lives. Be encouraged by the birth, death and resurrection of our Savior. In His suffering He took on our sins and gave us the greatest Thanksgiving gift ever; forgiveness.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

All in a day

Have you ever felt like there just isn't enough time in a day? You set out on task to complete the list of scheduled items and then the inevitable happens. That unexpected phone call or visit is before you and you're tempted to say not now, I've got way too much to accomplish. But then that voice in the back of your head says take the time and talk to this person. Before we realize it we are deep in discussion about a very real topic impacting their life.
If we're honest, life gets too busy too quick and we miss an opportunity to speak truth and love into a valuable beings life. It's one thing if the interruption to our "scheduled" day can wait but it's totally another if we neglect God's people. I wonder how different the world would look if we each took the time to share in one another's lives. So many of us much wisdom to offer and the Spirit speaks on our behalf when we surrender to God's will. I'm not convinced God's plan for us was to be too busy to demonstrate care to others. We all have our moments where a listening ear would make a world of difference. Let's try not to get so busy we miss the big picture that Jesus has painted for us to be involved in the lives of our neighbors. And we know our neighbor is not limited to our friends or immediate family. Be available in a broken world to piece back together an incomplete picture. This call for our lives is all in a day. 24 hours to make a lasting impact. Let's take the challenge and take the good news to every corner of the earth.
"And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed." Joshua 23:14

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why can't I?

I remember as our children were growing up, one of their frequent responses to our saying no, was "why can't I?" Often our response was in relation to their safety and well being. The scenario might be one in which we were fishing by a stream that is flowing rapidly that day. Suddenly their urge becomes to jump in the stream and go swimming. Our response not allowing such activity causes the aforementioned response. No matter how civil and patient we try to be with the reasons, there mind is set on what they want. And there are times, we may decide it's not worth the battle, like in the grocery check out line and they want a pack of gum. As long as it's sugar free, what's it really hurt?
But as we become more permissive, it begins to sink into their thinking that the next time a permission granting situation arises, they are golden. However as we trudge through life with our dear children, we see risks that are not worth allowing this time and their understanding was that the last time I asked for something it was just fine. Now I know these are two very different scenarios but the thinking within that child's mind is I should be allowed to no matter what. When we give perfectly reasonable responses that appear structured and aligned with what we feel we have taught them all along it becomes a difficulty when we can't fathom their lack of understanding.
It's a question we might ask ourselves in the context of our Christian lives. We see a world apart from us that at times lives how they so desire. The question may never pop in their mind, it's worth the risk and the resulting good time. But at times, what we view as a good and what God views as good are not at all parallel. We don't really need to dive into specifics here, but we can look at our own lives and become aware of such circumstances. In the case it feels good or looks exciting, our conscience aligned with the Holy Spirit should and will guide us. Often our feelings can confuse our conscience. I recall many people telling me over the years to go with my gut feeling. I'm afraid if I had listened to that advice, many results may have impacted my life in ways I had not desired nor intended. I won't say the gut feeling hasn't been right before but if there's such a thing as a coincidence, therein it lies.
As we live our lives, we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 10: 23, "I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but not everything is constructive." Need we say anymore. God allows our decisions to spring from our understanding of the world and the lens in which we view it. My prayer is that this lens would be the Word of God and our knowledge of his plans for our lives to bring glory to his name. We will make mistakes, no doubt. But God picks us back up and dusts us off and sends us into the world for another try. I'll close with what Romans 14: 19 encourages us with.

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

More than we can ever comprehend

In John 6: 1-15, Jesus does something that simply blows our mind. 

It reads. 
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.It's a miracle that if we've ever encountered, we're never the same. The crowds were gathered once again because of the signs He has shown, including healing the sick. Jesus has gone up on the mountainside and is sitting with His disciples. We realize the Jewish Passover Feast is near and Jesus sees the crowds and says to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" We know from the text that this was asked only to test him. But imagine being Philip for a moment. There you are with this crowd gathered around you and you know after their travels toward the feast, they have to be getting hungry. Your heart goes out to them. There's nothing that tugs on my heart more than someone without food. It's why we offer food banks, serve at soup kitchens, and find ways to feed the hungry. But as you listen to the words Jesus is saying, your heart sinks. You start to feel as though there's no way possible you're going to make it happen. As Philip goes on to say, it'd take a half years wages and even then it would only give them a bite.
If we're like most, we like to get a bang for our buck, a bargain for our dollar. This bite seems too little for such a grand investment. Others speak up and if we're in Philip's shoes, we feel sort of a relief. But then they bring a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish. We're probably thinking to ourselves, that's too little to even make any type of impact. But if we have paid attention at all, we may very well realize Jesus is up to something beyond our comprehension.  Jesus goes on to say, have the people sit down. Now the passage notes 5,000 men were there, but we have to consider women and children as well. So we're talking more along the lines of 10,000. We might ask why that's important and in the following verses, our mind gets blown and we continue to see and perhaps even more clearly now that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God. Notice in these verses how He takes the bread and fish and gives thanks. What a tremendous lesson in being thankful.
We often see the little that we have and we gripe and complain, wishing we had more. But Jesus sets the example and says to us, give thanks in the little things. There's only five loaves of bread and two fish, but be thankful and be a witness to what God can do.
I'll share an example from my own life. I've served prior years as a youth pastor and one of our priorities was to see that the youth were fed. It was a way to appreciate the hard work of their parents and offer them a night off from cooking if you will. One particular night, we were extremely blessed with a significant attendance. The problem was we knew we didn't have enough food. Our youth team gathered in prayer and we asked God to provide. This is where it became more than we could ever comprehend. We stood there and watched the youth take all the food they wanted, even coming back through the line a second or third time, and there were still leftovers.
God tell us he will provide. We simply trust and thank and ask Him for provision. We read on in this passage and find the disciples collecting twelve large baskets of leftover pieces of bread. This crowd had it's fill in food but even more so, they have their fill spiritually in what God provides as the Bread of Life. He is sufficient. He will meet our needs. We step aside and let God. We no longer worry or stress. We do our part in thanking Him and trusting Him and following Him closely. It may not be the miracle we were expecting, but what comes out of little is always more than we can ever comprehend. This kind of extravagant love cannot and should not be contained. It needs to overflow from our lives to the corners of the earth. We may not always agree but we can always love.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Called by love, in love and for love

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭1‬:‭1-8, 10‬ NIV)

I'm sitting here by Penns Creek pondering the call of the Lord. I find it fascinating how the Lord calls various people to various tasks. Certainly throughout history, many names flood to our mind of the great theologians, evangelists, and missionaries that have swept the nation. Each have carried out a specific role and transformed the communities and people around them.

In the passage from Jeremiah 1, it reads "the word of the Lord came to him, saying before I formed you in your mothers womb, I knew you before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
Notice immediately thereafter Jeremiah has an excuse why the Lord must be mistaken. He responds "I do not know how to speak; I am too young." But the Lord knew precisely the words to calm his nervous state. He says to Jeremiah I will send you and command you what to say. He goes on and says to Jeremiah and I believed to each of us; Do not be afraid for I am with you, I will rescue you.

Did you ever feel as though fear was the greatest hindrance to sharing God's love. I know personally this thought crosses my mind every time I'm about to serve the Lord in speaking or teaching. For the longest time, I allowed fear to grip me and I'm certain there were words the Lord would have had me share if I had only remembered there is no reason to be afraid. He is with me and he will rescue me. The same goes for all of us. Let me be honest and say there were more times than not that I needed rescued from the gibberish coming from my own lips. Have you ever felt this? And thereafter you come down on yourself for simply not getting out of the way for God to use us.

I believe we're all called to a specific task as a follower of Christ. I also believe he calls us by love, in love and for love.  It's by love he calls us because he believes in us and loves us enough to call us his very own children and his friends through his son Jesus who sacrificially gave his life for us that we might know love unconditionally.  We're called in love because the Lord would not intend any harm for us. What he calls us to, he will serves through. He will equip us for the call.  And for love because he commands us to love him and to love one another. Love serves with peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control and joy.

What might the Lord be calling you to today? I can be certain it's by his love and in his love and for love that he'll send us forth. What comfort knowing he called us before we were even born and knew the plans he would have for us.

Peace and comfort upon your calling. Do not be afraid to love and share the joy of salvation with others. I am with you, the Lord says. I will rescue you.

Much love to you this day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An Authentic Love

     Jesus teaches us what real love is like when He laid down His life for us. And in 1 John 3: 16-18, we are told  "And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and see his brothers in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
    It's not to say here that material possessions are a bad thing and we should stay away from having anything other than what we need. If that was the case, many followers of Christ, including myself would be in danger. I believe there's a saying that speaks of moderation and in this text, we could always live more simply, yet what I see this getting at is the fact that we have been blessed with so much that we forget when a brother or sister is in need, we should be willing to show God's love in action and help their need. It's always been a balance to know when we are helping them too much and enabling them or whether we are meeting a need and preparing them to meet future needs. I often think to myself this is not for me to judge but Jesus taught the disciples how to fish for men. He didn't hand them the men and say here, this is your catch. Instead they listened and followed Jesus instructions to continue casting their nets and pulling in more followers.
     We have this opportunity by serving others in Jesus' name. He tells us to care for the least of these and as we meet material needs, the kingdom has seeds being planted and the next one who comes along to water the seed may produce the crop. Jesus I believe honors our work for Him. It's never in vain. We give out of love and expect nothing in return and there's more joy in doing so than expecting a response. That's the kind of sacrificial love I believe Jesus is calling us to. The more we bless others out of the abundance we have, the more seeds are planted and the example of Christ is being demonstrate. I must admit I do struggle with not saying anything at all. I feel we offer of gift in Jesus' name and offer our words of encouragement and prayer.
     Real love has nothing to do whatsoever with our feelings. It's a result of our love for Jesus and the love He sacrificially gave to us that we might have eternal life that we respond and love in action toward others. It's how we act that reveals His presence. How well are we doing with this real love? We pray that together we can achieve actions that result in self denial and not self edification. Unto Jesus we give all glory, honor and praise. May our lives be a reflection of His love.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Love will find a way

      In the book of John, chapter 13, verses 34-35, Jesus makes one of the most profound statements to radically shape the course of history. He says "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In context, it seems so simple. Yet in practice, it becomes a task that is often insurmountable. I'm going to lend this issue to the condition of the human heart. We have become for the most part a people more concerned with ourselves than others. You see it at a tender age of a child when they have a toy taken away or are asked to share that toy.  They have also learned the fine art of crying and whining to get their way, particularly when it comes to public settings. Those with kids know what I'm referencing. That moment in the check out line in the store and they know exactly where to put candy. The child proceeds to take their choice and refused in a tantrum mind you that they will not give it up. And so it continues through life. Our focus is on our needs and wants. The concept of loving one another would mean giving up our own desires and being willing to sacrifice for others. This could be as easy as a smile or handshake. Or as far as donating a kidney or providing a place to sleep. Love comes in many various forms. A cold glass of water, a listening ear, a plate of food, clothing, a place to sleep, a visit to a prison inmate or nursing home, caring for a widow and we could go on and on. Love is difficult to define and there's what some call tough love and forbids a certain right to protect the person, such as attendance at a particular event.
     However, the ultimate act of love is called unconditional love. The prime example is Jesus giving His all at the cross for our sake, to remove the stain of sins and conquer death once and for all. That term unconditional means just that. There are no strings attached, no conditions to which the love is given. It is totally and completely a free gift. While we may talk about loving in this way, we still at some level have a condition. Whether it's recognition or others noticing us, the feeling of doing something good or even to get ahead. Just when we think we're doing it out of selfless love and without condition, there's often strings attached. The saying goes you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. We can disagree on this statement and I pray we are loving unconditionally, but only deep within we know for certain our own hearts which God can only judge. I'm not about to say one way or another. When we belong to Christ, this love will naturally flow.  It's a surrender and a commitment that we are not our own but bought at a price.
      I think about this often and the love that flows from those nail pierced hands and feet is overwhelming. It truly never sinks in the degree to which this moment changed my life forever. Here's the Son of God who leaves His place in Heaven to walk on this earth and endure the life which He did just for us.  He left the glorious riches to the humility of a servant's heart. This is the place of love He calls us to. Serving one another in love. As we do so, all men will know we belong to Him. Will they understand why we love the way we do? Perhaps not. Will it send a message that this world is not about us? I believe so. There's many who love this way and claim no faith. But Jesus answers the way to the Father in John 14: 6. He says "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
     As we walk the remainder days of our lives here on this earth, let us love one another. Let us place aside our difference and realize that Jesus died for all, not just a few. His love was demonstrated that we might know the Father and that we might have relationship. His love changed everything and it has the potential to change the relationships between fellow brothers and sisters. Imagine a world where we love as Jesus loved us? It warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. I pray a blessed day to you and and a heart that overflows with love.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Whose image are we?

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1: 27  that we were created in God's image. Yet at the moment of conception, we too were created in our parents image. It's interesting that we often respond to life in the same way that our parents did. Relatives are quick to point that out as well. We may hear phrases like, you're just like your father or you remind me so much of your mother. That's one of two things; a compliment or a sort of reflection of how we've been shaped in the image of our parents. While this can be valuable in regards to our earthly characteristics as upright citizens of society, it can also pull us in directions God never intended. I'll let that resonate with each of us but think about it and consider this in comparison to the image God created us in. We learn at a very young age that God is love. His love is unconditional and we're told to love one another in the same fashion. I'm not sure about you, but that can be quite the challenge. God made us each unique, with various personalities, which in turn lead to strong opinions on different topics. But consider for a moment if we were seasoned with love. It was the pool we swam in every day of our lives. It was the guiding factor in our decisions, the outcome of our speech, the hands and feet of our actions. Love has a way of transformation, particularly when we love without condition. But you may say, that person is far too different than me to love them how I would a brother or sister in the faith. I get that and I value your insight that leads us to love others like minded than those who are differing in appearance, language, thought process and the list can go on and on. Yet I challenge us to think in terms of our Heavenly Father. He loves us enough to send His only Son to pay a horrible price for our sin. He loves us enough that he desires we leave the life of sin and follow Him. It's the whole idea of repentance. We turn from what displeases God. It's no simple task, however it's a higher calling. It's a process that travels through life with us. It's one that comes and goes and never seems to get easier. But in that unfolding of a new self, we find Christ. We find strength. We find encouragement. We know peace. I've come to the conclusion the self is the most important character in our lives to fully focus on. When we get it and start to live as God intended, others notice that and begin to see authenticity. Nothing is more powerful than a transparent self. We live our lives behind masks and make believe we are someone we are not. Whether it's for self worth that others don't frown upon us or it's what we've always done. I'm asking you to find yourself and identify with the One who made you in His image. This is a moment by moment, case by case basis. We are all unique and at the same time, very loved and special to God. What speaks to me is that God desired relationship with each of us so much so that He went to the lengths He did to make it possible through Jesus. May you have a blessed day and find solace in the knowledge of God.