Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Story

Today is Christmas Eve.  It is my first Christmas Eve as a pastor, and I want to get things right.

That was one of my thoughts as I spent some time in prayer this morning, and it has been a recurrent thought as I prepare to lead God's people in worship each week.  And frankly, as a pastor I have recurrent struggles with that thought, mostly because I want to "get things right" for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones.

I have the desire to "get things right" in worship because I am the pastor and leading worship is what the people in the congregation expect me to do.  But the temptation is to do things in such a way that they begin to think of how great a pastor I am, or what a wonderful preacher I may be, or similar things.

I certainly want to be competent at what I do, but not in a way that points their attention on me.

What I really want is to be competent as a pastor in such a way that the people in my congregation cast their eyes past me and onto their Savior.  I want to tell God's story in such a way that the people hearing it don't focus on the storyteller but on the Hero of the story.

It’s a captivating story, God's story that begins in creation and ends in the fulfillment of His plan of redemption.  It isn't captivating because it is told well in the Bible, although it certainly is.  Fascinating characters.  Compelling plot.  Unexpected turns of events.   

Its captivating because it is true. 

From beginning to end, it's true.  I understand that my way of seeing God's story, as truth, isn't the way many other people understand it.  So another prayer is that I would be able to serve Him well in carrying His truth into the world, wherever I may be at the moment.

As I prepare for worship this evening here is the small part of the story that stands out in my mind, from Luke 2:

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

As you hear the story, may you look past the storyteller and cast your eyes on the Hero.

A  Savior…Christ…the Lord.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Safety

We live in a part of New Mexico that is known for its elk.  I don't hunt but a friend in Minnesota told me before we moved here that there are big elk in this part of the state.  An elk is a pretty good sized animal and the reputation for elk hunting here is exceptional. 

On the highway we drive heading east of town there are areas with tall fences, the kind of fence designed to keep animals such as trophy deer and elk inside.  And on a recent evening while driving on the highway west of town we saw four bull elk standing in the ditch along the road.  Better for us that they were in the ditch, because those were very large animals and striking one with a car would be very unpleasant all the way around.

There have been a number of times in the past two months when I have seen elk hunters sitting along the road, binoculars in hand and scanning the horizon.  That has mostly been in the area 15-25 miles east of town, although sometimes they have been closer to town. 

Yesterday was one of those mornings.  There were two men sitting in a pickup from a guide service scanning the area north of the road.  They were just off of the reservation, about ½ mile from the boundary.  It was just before sunrise and I was out running, heading back towards town.  I saw them pull over ahead of me and they left just after I went past them.  There must not have been any elk in the area.

This morning, at about the same time of day but on a different road and about one mile from where I was yesterday I was surprised to look up and see five elk, all females, crossing the road about 200 yards away.  They didn't show themselves for long, emerging from one wooded area and quickly disappearing into another.

I was on a higher road than yesterday, and as I looked off to the north it appeared as if the area the elk had traveled from was the same place the hunters were checking on yesterday.  Unbeknownst to the elk they had passed from danger into safety.  They had moved from an area that remains open to hunting and crossed onto the reservation, where the elk season is closed. 

On my return home I thought a little bit about the elk, who move back-and-forth across an invisible boundary between safety and peril, and about people, who move about in either spiritual peril or safety.  In both cases the dividing line is unseen but it is the nature of the dividing line that is different.

The elk move between one side and the other, perhaps many times in any day, and for as long as they live.

Humans live on either one side of the line or the other.  They live in either peril, which can be eternal, or in safety, which is eternal.  They live either apart from salvation in Christ, or they live safely in the arms of Christ. 

The boundary marker is faith in Christ.  And it is like a one-way gate.  Once you pass through from the side with no faith there is no going back.  God's hold on you in Christ is eternal and He never lets go.

No Bible verses or other bits to support my point tonight.  If you are interested in learning more I would be glad in talking with you.  And I would be glad to pray with you.    

May you always dwell safely in the arms of Christ.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Washed


Last Saturday evening a winter storm blew through our part of New Mexico, dropping 8 inches of snow overnight.  After the snow we had a cold snap and the nighttime temperature went to -18, so that new snow was frozen pretty solidly. 

Living at altitude we are learning that the temperature can swing pretty widely in one day.  By Tuesday it was warming up into the mid 30's and yesterday it went from -1 at dawn to 50 in the afternoon.  Suffice to say that a lot of snow has melted. 

This afternoon I walked from home to the post office and back.  It is about a half mile from one place to the other.  The sun was shining and it was another beautiful day to be outside. 

It was beautiful if you were looking up into the hills, that is.  When my gaze went to the ground what I saw was a mess.  And because of the mess I had to watch where I was walking for most of the trip.  The roads were covered in melted snow and ice.  Dirty snow and ice from the sand that was spread so that cars could drive safely.  The beauty of Sunday morning is a very distant memory. 

This morning my Bible reading was from Zechariah 13.  Zechariah was a prophet of the Old Testament who encouraged the exiles returning to Jerusalem to repent and renew their covenant with God.  In the last chapters of the book he looks forward to God's promised redemption and he gives this image in verse 1:

"On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness."

Walking outside during winter and seeing the cycle of winter weather, with snow moving from pristine to dirty, again and again until spring breaks forth, reminded me of the cycles of my own life. 

I move back and forth between resting in God's forgiveness and seeking His forgiveness.  I alternately see myself as He sees me in Christ, and then see myself for who I am here on Earth, a sinner living in a fallen world.  A sinner frequently seeking His cleansing.

Zechariah 13:1 reminds me that God's promise in Christ is to one day wash me clean.  A washing that will make me whiter than snow, a washing based in Christ's righteousness, so that I can live forever with Him, to His eternal glory.  Amen!



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sandwich ministry

We live in Dulce, New Mexico on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, in the parsonage next to the church where I am the pastor.  In the 3½ months we have been here we have seen a lot of people passing through this piece of property, as our home is on a walking route between a residential area and the more central parts of town.

In the first few months we saw lots of people pass through.  We spent a fair amount of time outside and always said "Hi."  Every once in a while we had an opportunity to talk with someone.  And there have been a few times when people have stopped at the back door, asking for help, which Robin has written about here.

Tonight was one of those times.

I was washing dishes after supper and the door bell rang.  I went out and opened the door but no one was there.  As I glanced around a man called out to me, standing in the dark a short ways from the house. 

He asked for a sandwich.  I said sure.  Would peanut butter and jelly be okay?  It would.  What's your name?  He told me something I couldn't quite understand.  I invited him inside.  He wanted to wait outside.

So I went in and made a sandwich and got him an apple from the refrigerator. 

When I returned with the sandwich he was standing off in the dark.  I walked out to meet him and gave him the food.  We made brief small talk about the weather.  Today started well below zero and is headed back there again tonight, although he didn't think it was that cold.  He was on his way to a relative's house somewhere in the neighborhood on the hill behind the parsonage, and he quickly went on his way.

It is my privilege to lead God's people in worship each week.  It is my privilege to dig into the Bible and bring a message from it to those who gather in church each Sunday.  It is my privilege to meet with people in their homes and at the hospital and to pray with them there.  And it was my privilege tonight to provide a neighbor with a small meal. 

Some of these things I do with more skill than others.  I hope that in each of these things, and any other way I serve God here in Dulce, that I am pointing not towards myself but to God, who has called our family to serve Him here among the Jicarilla Apache.

In the closing section of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

"Let all that you do be done in love."

In his use of the word "love" Paul means something much deeper and richer than what we might ordinarily think of.  He means a love that is distinctly flavored by the love he has received from God through Jesus Christ.  He means something like this: "Let all that you do be done in love, the love that God has lavished on you and me through His Son, our Lord and Savior."

May this be the love that comes out in the big and little things of my ministry.  And may it be the love that permeates the details of your life too, even something as simple as making a sandwich for someone at your back door.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

100 days in Dulce


Today is our 100th day in Dulce, New Mexico.  On the one hand that seems like a long time and on the other hand it seems like not very long at all.  Given that it is my day off it seems like a good time to pause and consider some of what has gone on since our arrival.

We quickly settled into a house that is in really good shape for being nearly 100 years old.  I'll give credit where credit is due and thank Robin for "driving the bus" in getting things unpacked and in place.  It took about one week and was pretty hectic, but if it was left to me there would still be boxes scattered throughout the house, waiting until who knows when.

Being unpacked and settled allowed us to begin hosting our new friends.  We have had guests over for dinner a number of times.  We have begun holding a Bible study in our home.  And in our first month we even had an open house for our congregation, as a way of thanking them for the warm welcome they extended to us.  Thanks again go to Robin for all of her hard work in the many ways she has made our home a place to welcome others.

I am settling in to a new vocation.  This past Sunday was the 14th in a row that I preached, exceeding by one the number of times I preached in the 3+ years before we came here.  And while preaching may be the most visible aspect of ministry here it is far from the only thing.  I could make a list of the many tasks that come my way but it wouldn't be complete, because nearly every week brings something that I wasn't aware of the week before.

 Dulce is a relatively small community, one that is a bit spread out geographically relative to its population.  We have learned what services are available here and what things we need to get elsewhere.  It is quiet and the pace is slow, and that seems to suit us just fine.

And it is beautiful, in its own way.  I lived in southeast Minnesota for 27 years and grew to love the area.  And in a similar fashion I am growing to love the beauty unique to this area.  One person advised us to take lots of pictures now, while things are new for us, but I am pretty sure that I will still be stopping to look around and enjoy the sights until our last day here.

The first one hundred days have been pretty good.  While we still think of the Midwest as "home," particularly as we make plans to go back and visit our families next year, Dulce has very much become home for us.  Robin and I feel a strong sense of being called here.  We feel that a number of experiences in the preceding years were preparing us to serve God here, though we had no idea of that at the time.  We are thankful for the many people who have prayed, and are praying, for our ministry here.

Our prayer today is one of thanks to God for bringing us to this place, and that He would enable us to serve Him well while we are here, however many more days, months or years that may be.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving and Facebook has been abuzz with Thanksgiving greetings.  I put a 'like' on every one I saw and posted one of my own.  I apologize if I missed your greeting.  I rate my Facebook savvy as 'moderate,' knowing that it is better than some and will never be as good as others. 

Our family has much to be thankful for this year.  New home.  New job.  New friends.  Not that there was anything wrong with any of the old ones, but relocating 1200 miles this year was accompanied by changes that were not a part of last year's move of 2 miles. 

Our Thanksgiving tradition over the past few years was to host dinner at our home.  Robin's parents came.  Our children and grandchildren who lived in town came.  A friend I worked with whose family lived a ways away came and last year we also invited several others who were temporarily living in Rochester and unable to join their families.

This year things are different.  Very different!  There have been three Thanksgiving dinners for us to attend!  Fortunately they have all been on different days.  First was a meal hosted by the Jicarilla Apache Nation and open to the community.  The community center was packed and I understand that they served 600 meals.

This past Monday we were invited to the home of someone we have gotten to know and we spent the evening with his family.  At the beginning of the evening we only knew our host and it was a delight to make a few new friends and to sit and listen as an elder told a few stories of life in Dulce many years ago. 

And today we had one more Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by an extended family with a several members in our congregation.  Just before we sat down to eat I counted a bit more than 40 people present and a few more came in while we were eating.  Everyone brought something for the meal and as best I could tell everyone took some leftovers home. 

Since the dinner was at the church gym I went over a few hours later to lock up the building and found a large pan of sweet potatoes sitting at the edge of the parking lot.  There are a fair number of loose dogs on the reservation and after talking with Robin I decided to leave them where they were.  Tomorrow I can check to see if the dogs and the ravens, who are also quite common here, found the abundance of sweet potatoes to their liking.

Life is good, as they say, and I seem to have the full range of good things to be thankful for.  There are also things that trouble me and things that trouble the congregation I serve.  I'm not going to delve into those things here.  The fact is that at the root of my thankful heart there is something that doesn't change, no matter what the circumstances of my life may be at the moment.  And that is the unfailing and eternal hold of Jesus Christ on my life.


May the presence of His love be the cause of your thankfulness, today and every day.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Two parts of a whole

I was reading a blog post today where the writer discussed the difficulty we can have in living as Christians and balancing the Law on one side and Grace on the other.  Her dilemma brought me back to my sermon from yesterday.

I preached from John 1:14-18, which says this in verse 17:

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." 

We could make an analogy using a scale and imagine that the scale only had the Law at first and that then God introduced Grace, in the person of Jesus, which brought the scale into a balanced position.  Or we could even make a case that Grace tipped the scale permanently to one side.   I haven't conducted a study but I think many people would agree with this analogy.

Or we could look at that verse and say that God created the Law as Plan A.  Try as they might people couldn't fully keep the Law so he brought along Jesus as Plan B.  Again, I think this portrayal would find pretty wide acceptance.

But I drew from somewhere else to clarify the relationship of Law and Grace.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this in Matthew 5:17:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." 

Jesus didn't eliminate the Law.  Jesus didn't replace the Law.  Jesus fulfilled the Law.  The Law on the one hand and Grace on the other are two pieces of a whole.  God's plan of redemption is built on both pieces. 

The place where we can see a crystal clear view of the fulfillment of the Law and a true vision of Grace and Truth is on the cross and at the empty tomb.

The cross and the empty tomb are two parts of a glorious whole; one that redeems sinners like me, to God's eternal glory. 



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just answers please!

"Sermon transcription - Transcripts reach 3 times more people online because many just want answers, not sermons."

That blurb above appeared as an ad on my Facebook page.  Facebook knows I'm a pastor and they load their advertising accordingly, or so they think.  This ad strikes me as being absurd on a number of different levels.

First of all, I am skeptical that the average person with a functional working knowledge of the internet would read a sermon transcript.  I would still consider myself to be a novice preacher and on a typical sermon my word count is about 3,000 words. 

Is the average person actually going to look for a written transcript of a sermon and then read it?  What criteria would they use to find a sermon?  Search by preacher?  By topic?  By scripture text?  I admit that I do all three, however I am searching for sermons as a part of preparing my own. 

Realistically I think that if someone wanted to find a sermon for some sort of reason besides their own writing project they would locate an audio file. Then they could listen to it while also being engaged in some other activity, like posting on Facebook or playing Candy Crush.

Second, the above ad appeals to my sense of vanity.  Not a good trait for a preacher to nurture.  My role as a preacher is to feed those people God brings to my church on any given Sunday.  That doesn't mean I don't do anything to bring people to my church, or conversely to bring God's Good News in Jesus to the people out in the community in which I live.  But ultimately the number reached is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and not me.

And third, the task of preaching is not to provide "answers" but to open the Bible and to bring out the message within its pages that God has for His people.  This takes some work on the part of both the preacher and the listener.  And it happens over time.  Sunday by Sunday, month by month, year by year. 

Many people can think back to a particular moment from a particular sermon that touched them but I believe that a more common experience is people who see that they have been shaped over time through a steady diet of biblical preaching.

According to the ad people may not want sermons, but it is my belief that they need them.  I don't believe this because I am a preacher, but because I believe in that which should permeate all good preaching: the living breathing word of God found in the Bible. 

This week I'll be preaching from John 1:14-18:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known."

My intention in preaching from this text will be to bring something to my congregation that is more than simply "answers."  I intend to bring the congregation a glimpse of the glory of God, the glory made known most profoundly in Christ Jesus.



Notes: The picture above is the pulpit of St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, the church where John Calvin preached.  Here is a link to Calvin's commentaries, searchable by scripture text.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Who is he?

I'm a pastor and as a part of my job I prepare and preach a sermon each week.  I've only been a pastor since the end of August so I will be the first to admit that I am fairly new at preaching week in and week out.  I spend a good portion of my time each week in prayer, study and the writing of my sermon. 

This morning I walked over to the church and went through the draft of the sermon I finished yesterday.  Then I came home to edit it and make an outline to use on Sunday morning.  I was in the midst of this when the phone rang.  It was a woman who identified herself as  a Jehovah's Witness from the town 27 miles east of ours.  She asked if she could read me a Bible verse. 

"Sure," I said, reaching for my Bible, which was sitting on my desk and open to the passage I was working on. "Which one?" 

"Revelation 21:4" she replied.  "Do you have a Bible?"

"In my hand right now" I said.  And I began to read the passage aloud.  It says:

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

"Isn't that nice?" she asked.

"Who is 'he'?" I replied.  "This verse doesn't mean anything unless we know who 'he' is."

In all honesty I can't accurately recall the conversation past this point.  It was fairly brief and included my mentioning that I was the pastor of the local Reformed church; that I was working on my sermon when she called me; that the identity of 'he' as Jesus was, in my opinion, of supreme importance for this verse to make any sense; and at the heart of any sermon I preach are two things: Who Christ is and what he did.  This is what Paul meant when he said to the church at Corinth:

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

I would have liked to talk with her more, because I don't know much about what Jehovah Witnesses believe, but she wanted to move on. 

We can read verses like the one my caller had from Revelation and come away thinking that they are 'nice.'  Our culture is full of things that sound nice, that claim to be inspirational, but that in the end do little except help us feel better for a brief period of time.  They promote a vague spirituality which is often centered in our selves and our feelings.

The Bible offers us something radically different from soft spirituality.  It brings us the living, breathing, Lord of Heaven and Earth, who gave his only Son in order to repair the rift that separates each and every sinful human from a holy God.  This Son, Christ Jesus, is the 'he' of the verse from Revelation. 

He, and He alone, is one who will truly wipe away every tear.  He is my Savior.  He is my Lord.  And I pray that He is your Savior and Lord too.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Darkness seemed to win

This morning I preached from John 1:1-5.  Verse 5 says:

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

It is believed that John wrote these words about 85 years after Jesus had lived.  John spent several years with Jesus as his disciple, and many years later he remains convinced of what he saw, writing powerfully the Good News of Jesus from his own particular place as an eyewitness.  John watched as Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  Darkness seemed to win.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus was arrested and scourged before Pontius Pilate.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus hung on the cross.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus breathed his last and gave up his spirit.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb; a tomb sealed with a stone.

Darkness seemed to win.

But the sinless life that Jesus lived was found acceptable by God, who raised Jesus to eternal life.  Darkness only seemed to win.

John was witness to the pivotal battle between darkness and light. The battle between spiritual darkness and the light of Christ.  The battle not decided on the cross but in the empty tomb. 

We live in a world where darkness still throws its shadows about, but the truth of John's Gospel is absolute:

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

The light of Christ has overcome the darkness, and has overcome it forever.  We will still have times of struggle but that doesn't change the fact of Jesus' victory over sin and death, a victory that is eternal.  Whether you are in a place of shadow or light may you know his presence and his peace in every moment of your life.




Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tumbleweed

I spent three days this week in Denver at a seminar on Christian discipleship.  We drove back to Dulce on Wednesday afternoon, a trip of about 330 miles.  The first half was straight south on the interstate, then we headed west for a bit before going south-and-west over the mountains to northwest New Mexico and home.

It was a windy trip. most noticeably so on the last half of the segment south of Denver.   Wind speeds were over 30 MPH and gusting.  There were many times where the winds were blowing tumbleweed across the highway. 

As I drove I would see them move from the west side of the road to the east.  Sometimes rolling.  Sometimes bouncing.  Sometimes getting hung up in a fence, or the bumper of a car. 

According to Wikipedia tumbleweed is not one particular plant but a number of plants with a similar habit, which is that they dry out and the part above ground breaks off from its root structure.  Once that happens they are completely at the mercy of their environment, usually going wherever the wind blows them.

One of the things discussed at the seminar is that our culture (generic American culture, broadly speaking) is, at best, post-Christian, and how that for an ever-increasing portion of the American population the Christian perspective is one of ever-decreasing relevance and influence.  That is if it carried significant relevance and influence in the first place, which is also a matter of debate.

It could be said that from the Christian perspective, where at its most "common denominator" a person believes in Jesus for salvation in the pattern of Romans 10:9, that many people in our culture are as rootless as the tumbleweed, being carried about aimlessly, towards  a destiny of eternal oblivion.

One of the things I did take from the seminar is the idea that Christians, the kind who open their Bibles and read from them anticipating to encounter God amidst the pages, the kind who seek God in prayer and who then seek to do His will in the world as they live their lives, may find that there are people in their lives who have a latent hunger to learn from them.  There may be people in their lives who understand that there is something going on in the lives of these Christians that isn't going on in their own lives, and that these people will want what the Christians have.

In the seminar we were asked to consider if there were people like this in the places we regularly inhabit.  People that might be ready to hear the Good News of Jesus.  People that we might begin to invest in and to disciple, i.e., to teach them what it means to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

The tumbleweed has no root and wanders off into eventual non-existence.  In John 15:4-5  Jesus invites us to be joined to him, saying:

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Jesus invites us to be joined to Him, a Vine whose roots never run dry.  A Vine who will eternally sustain those joined people joined to him. 

Who is God inviting you to learn from?  And who is God inviting you to teach?   





Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Restless

We are in Denver for a few days.  I am attending a seminar on discipleship, while my wife and daughter are checking out the museums.  On Monday I was free during the morning so we all went to the Denver zoo.

In packing for the trip I checked the weather forecast, which seemed like a reasonable thing to do.  I looked at the forecast for the three days we would be gone and packed appropriately.  Appropriately for running, that is. I mostly paid attention to what the early-morning weather would be and packed the right clothes for running at that time of day.  I had packed a few long-sleeved shirts to wear to the seminar and my fall jacket, figuring that would be okay for the reminder of the day.  Turned out not to be a good plan. 

On the day we went to the zoo the temperature barely made it to 40 and it was damp all day, with an occasional mist in the air.  I had the wrong clothing for the weather.  I was cold every time we were outside, and particularly so whenever a breeze kicked up.  I tried to be a good sport but whenever I had the chance I had my hands in my pockets or tried to get indoors.  The only times I felt comfortable were when we were inside the car and had the heat turned up.

I was experiencing a persistent sense of restlessness, physically, and it made me think, as so many things do, theologically. 

Last Sunday our church celebrated the Lord's Supper.  I had prepared for about 60 people and it was a surprise to find out that as we served the congregation the amount of bread and juice I had ready was not quite enough for those present.  We quickly worked out a solution and were able to serve the sacrament to all who were gathered for worship.  

The Lord's Supper is a physical reminder of God's covenant promise to hold his people firmly, in life and in death.  The act of chewing the bread and tasting the juice is, for me, a reminder that amidst all in life that makes me restless, particularly the things that pull at my emotions and spirit, God's presence and promises remain sure. 

And in his son, Christ Jesus, he has promised to hold me as his own, forever.  It is a promise I can remember in each restless moment, knowing he is bringing a rest that will never end.  And it a promise he holds out for you too.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Word of Life

Each week as we gather for worship we do a number of things.  Some of them are a part of the worship service itself, while other things are not.  We light candles.  We ring the church bell.  We visit around the coffee pot and share snacks.  We sing songs.  We share the concerns of our hearts with each other and together we lift them to God. We give of ourselves to God.  And we hear from God.

We hear from God in two ways, one of them directly and the other indirectly.  We hear from God directly through the reading of the Bible during worship.  And we hear indirectly through the preaching of the sermon.  Ideally in the sermon the person preaching has studied the words of scripture well and is able to bring to the congregation a message to help the congregation understand the Bible and what God has to say in it more clearly. 

The Bible is an old book.  The newest parts of the New Testament are nearly 2,000 years old and the oldest parts of the Old Testament were put into writing 600 years or so before that.  As fast as things change in our world we might wonder how something so old could still have any relevance for us today.  Maybe it is time to move on to something more contemporary, something that reflects our own world and culture. 

To that I would say, "No.  Absolutely not."  I wouldn't say that just because I am the pastor and am expected to.  I would say instead that, "We should hang on to the Bible more tightly than ever, because in a world that is changing so rapidly it remains the place we should continue to stand on."  The Bible provides the only truly solid ground in a world where there is much "sinking sand."

Here is a quote about the Bible I happened to read this week: "It is old without ever becoming obsolete.  It always remains young and fresh; it is the word of life. "

We can go outside and see evidence of God in the beauty of nature.  We can look at a baby, holding it on our arms and marvel that God would have created a child so precious.  But seeing evidence of God in nature, or in little children, doesn't reveal to us the nature of God, or the nature of his relationship with humans.  To rightly understand that we have to turn to the Bible.

As we read the Bible we learn of God's perfection, and our imperfection, and most importantly, about the way God poured himself out in his son, Jesus, so that we can know wholeness and healing in the truest sense of those words. 


So, with joyful anticipation, open the Bible and read.  In its pages, and nowhere else, you will find Jesus, the true Word of Life, eternal life, speaking to you.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This time...

My wife and I read from the Bible together each night.  We are currently in Genesis.  Last night we finished Genesis 29, where in the first part Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel, and in the second part Leah has children. 

We also read from the Bible with our daughter each night.  We are currently reading to her from the Gospel Story Bible and it happened that last night we read versions of the same story in each Bible.

To sum up the story, if you are unfamiliar, Jacob has traveled to his ancestral land to seek a wife.  He works for his uncle and has agreed to work for seven years in order to have the right to marry the uncle's younger daughter, Rachel.  On the wedding night he finds he has been tricked by his uncle and has married the older daughter, Leah.  In return for promising an additional seven years he is allowed to also marry Rachel.

Jacob clearly loves Rachel, but Leah...not so much. We aren't told much about Leah's feelings in all of this but do know that Leah desires for her husband to love her and she believes that by providing him with children that this will happen.

So Leah has children.  One son, Reuben.  Another son, Simeon.  Another son, Levi.  In each of these cases she gives her son a name that shows her desire to be loved by her husband.  But apparently to no avail. 

Then she has a fourth son.  And in her choosing of a name for the child we see that something has changed for Leah.  She doesn't seek the love of her husband, but seeks God, saying:

"This time I will praise the Lord."

The circumstances of Leah's marriage don't appear to have changed but a change has been worked in the orientation of Leah's heart.  As we read those words last night I was reminded that in all of the circumstances of life we are called to praise the Lord. 

It is easy to praise the Lord when things are going well.  But when things aren't going well the only thing that changed is our particular set of circumstances.  The things of the Lord, such as his majesty, his power, his beauty, his perfect love...none of that has changed in the least. 

I currently serve as the pastor of a mission church on a Native American reservation and every day our eyes are opened to the needs of those around us.  The physical, emotional and spiritual needs.  I am also a father, a husband.  And a sinner. 

And in whichever role I happen to fill at the moment, each time I turn to the Lord in prayer I want to begin where Leah's comment points me, to the praise of the Lord.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A good man


A good man passed into glory yesterday.  Mike was someone I only had the pleasure of knowing for a short time of his long life.  For nearly six years we belonged to the same church, a church that he was a founding member of about 54 years ago.  The woman in the picture with him is his wife.  I don't know how long they were married but I am fairly certain it was more than 60 years. 

Over those six years I had the pleasure of having a number of  conversations with Mike.  I always appreciated that while he was an older member of the church, and someone who had been there since its beginning, he always treated me well, as an equal member, so-to-speak.  He was in many ways my elder but he never spoke down to me. 

I am particularly fond of his frequent encouragement over the past two years as I sought a position as a pastor.  Once, hearing that I had had a second interview with a church, he said "What's taking them so long!"  Not a question, but a statement.  My search was a slow one but Mike was affirming towards me and believed I would be called to serve God somewhere.

If I talked to those who knew Mike much longer and better than myself I am sure that I could hear many memories that would affirm my opening claim, that Mike was a good man.  And I do believe that by earthly standards Mike was a good man.  But earthly standards are transient, as are our earthly lives.

Mike was a good man not because of the various, and likely many, good things that he did during his earthly life.  Mike was a good man because he put his faith in the only person who was truly good, Jesus Christ.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a statement that explains Christian faith from a Reformed perspective, with each question-and-answer firmly rooted in the Bible.  The first one is the most well-known, and it says:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.


He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written 450 years ago.  These words provide great comfort for believers in Jesus.  There are over 20 scripture references supporting answer number one, and you can read them here.

My friend Mike was not a good man because of what he did during his earthly life, but because of the Good Man who holds him in life, and in death.  Today is a rather ordinary day for me and Mike is spending it in eternal glory with his faithful Lord and Savior.  And that makes me glad.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Milestones


This month of October is turning out to be a time of marking several milestones for me.  There are some of fairly trivial significance and only of interest to me, and others involving my family and my current ministry.  Some were expected and others not.

Many of my friends know that I am a runner. On the first of the month I marked 35 years as a runner, being 35 years since I first wrote an entry into a log and kept track of my mileage and anything else about the run I felt was significant.

I run nearly every day and on the 10th I reached a milestone tangentially related to the first one, being my 1,000th consecutive day of running.  My last day off was in January, 2011 and this is the second longest streak I have had.  (There is a group for streak runners, located here.)

More importantly is the milestone arriving on the 16th, the sixth anniversary of marriage with Robin.  Speaking for myself, because this is my blog, our marriage has been a wonderful adventure.  Some parts easy, some parts delightful, some parts hard, but all done together with a sense that our marriage in not merely a joining of two, but of two who seek above all for their marriage to be pleasing to God and to serve him well in the world.

The last of the milestones I want to discuss came last Wednesday, when I conducted my first funeral.  My understanding when we came here was that I would find myself conducting more funerals than most of the other pastors in town.  For its first 50 years ours was the only church in town and despite the presence of several other churches many people still consider it "their church," whether they have been active in it or not, particularly when it becomes time to remember the passing of their loved ones.  Our churches policy is not to turn down any request for a funeral, so on Tuesday evening I learned that I would be doing a funeral on Wednesday morning.

That was fairly short notice but on reflection I think that God was good to me in the way the arrangements worked out.  I kept the things of worship fairly basic and traditional, and spent most of my prep time in working on a short sermon.  I used John 14 :1-6, where Jesus talks about preparing a place, an eternal place, for his followers, also telling them that following him is the only way to get there,

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

Jesus invites us to join him on a journey to a place, an eternal place, that is better than the best destination we could ever imagine.  And he provides the only way to get there. 

I have no idea what milestones I'm going to pass along the way with him but I am glad to be on the journey.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Winsome


There are lots of different ways that a person can share with other persons their passion for a particular thing.  As a sports fan I could always wear clothing from my favorite team, decorate my home with team pictures and memorabilia, and I could always make my team the subject of my conversation.  Doing those kinds of things might not exactly endear me to other people.  While some would like it, i.e. fans of a similar persuasion, others would likely flee when they saw me on the horizon!  And there would be a few people who would engage me for the purpose of strongly expressing an opposite point of view.  So it can go when you are passionate about something, particularly in the world of sports.

Sports aren't the only place where people are passionate about things and desire to share that with others.  Sports just work easily as an example.  Other examples include families, politics, and hobbies.  And religion. 

When we get passionate about things we can also be very emotional in how we express our passion.  And we can express ourselves in ways emotionally that draw people to us, or push people away from us.  Which is why is some circles there are rules, sometimes written and sometimes not, that no one in the group talks about politics or religion.  Broaching those subjects in certain settings can cause the group to suffer as differences of opinion on politics and/or  religion raise people's emotions to a point where self-control falters and hard feelings emerge.

All of this came to mind this morning when I was remembering a certain friend who uses the word "winsome" to describe the way he tries to present himself to others as a witness for Christ.  To be winsome means to be:

"sweetly or innocently charming; winning; engaging: a winsome smile."
 
For my friend I think the term "engaging" is the most appropriate term from that definition.  He seeks to be a person who presents himself in such a way that people will be willing to listen to him as he finds ways of sharing his faith with them.

I think that this is what Peter was getting at in his first letter, where he wrote this in chapter 3, verse 15:

"...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..."

There are many people in the world that I care deeply for and many situations that from my point-of-view, as a Christian, cry out for the Good News of Jesus to be spoken into them.  But I need to be mindful of the way I bring that Good News to light, so that God may use it well for His purposes and to His glory.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The feast of heaven


Yesterday I preached from Luke 16:19-31, a text that in many Bibles is called "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  I read a number of different translations as I prepared to preach and one of them, the Good News Translation, had a particularly powerful way of picturing Lazarus and Abraham together, saying in verse 22:

"The poor man [Lazarus] died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven."

I invited the people in church to imagine a particularly fine meal or celebration that they may have been a part of, and then suggested that the "feast in heaven" would be something that was much more magnificent and lavish then the best celebration they had ever experienced. 

While we could only use our imaginations to think of this feast it was my privilege after preaching to bring a taste of the feast to the congregation in the form of the Lord's Supper.

As part of the liturgy for this part of our worship service I read these words:

"We come in hope, believing that this bread and this cup are a pledge and foretaste of the feast of love of which we shall partake when his kingdom has fully come, when with unveiled face we shall behold him, made like unto him in his glory."

There is a lot of theology and biblical imagery packed into that paragraph, and within the broad umbrella label of "Christian" there would be many points of both agreement and disagreement about what those words, and the Lord's Supper, mean.  I'm just going to focus on the two words I placed in bold, pledge and foretaste.

At the Lord's Table I believe that we experience in a palpable way, a physical way, a reminder of God's promises to us.  We chew, taste and swallow the bread.  We sip, swirl, taste and swallow the juice.  The Lord's Supper is both a physical and spiritual experience.  Our various senses are actively engaged.

And we know that God is present with us by his Spirit, which is a foretaste that whets our appetite for the same experience that Luke pointed to in his Gospel and is promised to every person who calls on Christ in faith.   

If you know this promise of God is true for you, I thank and praise God, and I invite you to consider who you know that doesn't know this promise as their own, and to whom God may be calling you to bring his Good News to.

And if you have read this far and don't know this promise of God as including you, then I invite you to read the full text of Luke at the link above and contact me privately, because I would be glad to help you understand that God's promises are not just for me, but for you too.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brokenness


It has been one month since we arrived in our new home.  By "home" I mean the whole deal: the house, the church, and the community.  One thing I have learned is that all three intersect right outside our back door.

There are a number of houses to the north and west up the hill from the church, with a fair amount of foot traffic right behind our house from our neighbors as they walk between their homes and locations closer to the center of town.  Early on I made it a practice to say "Hi!" to everyone passing through.  I may be an introvert but it wouldn't do to have a pastor that avoided or ignored people who are right in front of him.

Once in a while people stop and talk.  On some occasions the words exchanged are fairly light.  Not so much on other times.  I have been surprised by what I have heard in brief conversations.  Relationships with our neighbors are developing.  There is one young man who has come to the back door several times, looking for me to talk  with him.

In the past month I have gradually come to know the members of our congregation.  And in talking with the people walking through the property I have begun to know some of the neighbors.  One thing I have learned is that there is a lot of brokenness in both places.  Today's thoughts on brokenness were sparked when we discovered that someone kicked in a window last night at the church gym, a tangible marker of the physical, spiritual and emotional brokenness our eyes are being opened to see. 

A large part of my work today has been getting prepared for worship on Sunday.  That's no surprise for one who has been called to preach God's word.  I spent a good portion of my day working on my sermon.  This Sunday our congregation will also be sharing in the Lord's Supper, which will mark the first time I have presided over the Lord's table, so I spent some time on that too.  I feel humbled to be bringing Christ's sacrament to His people. 

Today I helped a church member repair the broken window in the gym.  On Sunday I will be bringing Christ's people a meal that signifies the healing He has brought in the broken relationship between God and man, a brokenness that He has healed eternally.  Matthew 26:26-28 says:

"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

The gym window may get broken again but the brokenness that Christ has healed stays healed forever.  It is my prayer that in the various ways I give witness to the healing He has done in me, that I am used by Him to bring His healing to our neighbors in our new home.





Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Laughter

We have been living on the reservation in Dulce now for three-and-a-half weeks and I have heard several times since we got here that having a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously would be good qualities to have.  I had thought that was the kind of person I was more-or-less naturally, and I've had the opportunity to do laugh at myself a few times since we arrived.  When it happened today it caught me completely by surprise.

I went to the grocery store to get some things for the church.  On the way in I saw a man who had been at our church on my first Sunday.  He was sitting in the store's cafeteria with a man I had not met before.  After making my purchase I went over to say "Hi" to them, and I was glad that I had correctly remembered the one man's name.  A third person had joined them and I mentioned that another man I had met in town had told me that some men drank coffee and spoke in Jicarilla Apache at the store in the afternoons.  "Are you the men?" I asked. 

Indeed they were, and they said I could join them and learn.  I said that I figured I was too old to pick up a language but one of them said that "no, I wasn't" and invited me to sit, so I did.

He said a word and I repeated it.  He said it again and  I repeated it again.  Then he told me that it meant "white man."  Okay, I thought.  Then he said another word, which I repeated.  He said it and I repeated it.  This, he told me, was the word for "hello." 

He said the words together and I repeated them.  Then he asked "What did you say?" to which I replied, "Hello, white man."  We all laughed, one of them gave me a high-five and I figured it was time to move on for the day.

Thinking about this on the walk home from the store I was mindful of the fact that my newly learned phrase would not have much practical use, given that there are very few white men living on the reservation in the first place.  But my willingness to sit for a few minutes with some Apache men and laugh with them at my expense is something I was glad had happened.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes about his willingness to be flexible in how he lived with others in order to advance the Good News in Christ Jesus.  He sums this up by saying:

"I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them its blessings."

It is my prayer that those few minutes today leads to more time with those men, or perhaps with others who may learn about me from them.  And that more time with the Native Americans outside of our church will lead to them knowing, and better yet, possessing, the blessings of saving faith in Jesus. 


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stories, part 2

This morning I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 1:12-17.  One of the things I brought out of the passage was Paul's description of his state before God, including both his state before, and then after, his salvation.  Prior to his salvation Paul said that he was a "blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent" of God.  But God didn't give Paul what one would assume would be reasonable in the form of a response. He didn't punish Paul for the way Paul behaved towards God.

In Paul's case God chose to do something quite different.  In His mercy He poured out His grace on Paul.  God's grace "overflows" onto Paul.  God's grace was more than enough to cover every sin Paul ever committed against God. 

God, through the way He treated Paul, gave Paul a powerful faith story.  And as a result Paul had the ability to share the Good News of Jesus in a very personal way.  He could say something along the lines of, "I was a sinner and far from God, and then God rescued me, and now I am different in these particular ways."

One of the key parts of this passage from 1 Timothy is in the center of verse 15,

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

The things that Jesus did in His earthly ministry, the healings, the teaching, the praying, the miracles, every bit of it, all pointed toward one purpose, the saving of sinners.

Like Paul, every person who has been touched by the saving love of God in Christ Jesus has a powerful story to tell.  And the telling of that story may be the means used by God to touch, and save, the life of another sinner.

Where are you seeing the opportunity to tell your story?  Who will feel the touch of God on their heart after hearing the way in which He has touched your heart? 


(My previous post, connected to this, is Stories, part 1)



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stories, part 1


We are nearly three weeks into our ministry in New Mexico.  We have been warmly welcomed by the members of our new congregation, the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church.  We feel fairly well settled into our home, the church parsonage.  Kat is making new friends and we are learning our way around the community, both geographically and in terms of the activities that are available to us.  And, perhaps most importantly to me, I am growing into my new role as the church's pastor.

There is a lot to learn.  Some things I learned in seminary.  Others I learned through the things I did at my old church in Rochester.  Some I have learned from friends in ministry and some other things through searching out the answers myself.  The other day I fixed a toilet at the church with a paper clip...something I figured out completely on my own! 

And there are other things I am sorting out in ways that seem to work and meet my needs at the moment.  One of those things is going to the church on Friday morning and running through the worship service for Sunday.

I preach the sermon to a collection of empty pews and then go through all the other parts of the service except the sermon.  I practice the call to worship, confession and assurance of forgiveness, anointing and healing prayer, the songs and the benediction.  The songs are particularly important, because right now the only musical accompaniment is Robin on her flute, so I have to have an idea of the melody and be able to stay on it fairly well throughout each song.

So I sing aloud through each piece, and as I did so this Friday I slowly paced back-and-forth across the front of the church.  And as I paced I began to notice the floor.

The church was built in 1914, with adobe walls and hardwood floors.  As you may see in the picture, those floors have a lot of wear.  Looking at the floor and seeing the wear I began to wonder about the stories the floor would have, could floors talk that is.

Stories of the rich ministry that has preceded our service here.  Songs.  Sermons.  Baptisms.  Funerals.  Gatherings around the Lord's Table.  Fellowship.  And much prayer.

Stories of the faithful witness of several generations of God's people, gathered in the name of Jesus.

It is a privilege to walk those floors and know that we are taking part in the ongoing work of God here in Dulce.  It is a privilege to be adding here, in this space and with these people, to the stories that are part of the greatest story, the story of redemption in Christ Jesus.

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Philippians 2:8-11



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Right Choice

Yesterday I preached from Luke 14:25-33.  The title of my sermon was “It’s Not An Easy Choice.”  Jesus is teaching a large group of people about the cost of being his disciple.  He’s tells them some things about being a disciple that were not easy to hear.  His words challenged his listeners then and his words continue to challenge us now.  He invites his listeners to consider the costs of being a disciple.  It’s as if he is inviting them to see if they can bear the cost of following him, the cost of learning from him.  In verse 33 he is very clear about the bottom line.  He says,

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Disciples of Jesus must be willing to renounce everything for the sake of their devotion to him.  He demands complete loyalty.  No exceptions.  

The costs of following Jesus are high.  The journey of discipleship can be hard at times, sometimes even seeming to be impossibly hard.  But being a disciple of Jesus is not just a hard choice, but it is also the right choice.  For anyone considering following Jesus it has always been the right choice.  It is always the right choice.  And it will always be the right choice.

It was the right choice for Peter, his first disciple.  It was the right choice for Stephen, the first martyr.  And it was the right choice for absolutely everyone person who stepped out in faith to follow him since the days he called his first disciples. 

Discipleship is an outgrowth of faith.  They go hand-in-hand.  A person wouldn't become a disciple of Jesus if they didn't first have faith in him, and it doesn't make sense to me that someone would claim to have faith in Jesus and yet not want to follow and learn from him, which is the essence of discipleship. 

The reason I believe that discipleship is always the right choice is that when stripped of everything else it is basically a choice between life and death.  Not life and death in an earthly sense, but life and death in an eternal sense. 

In Romans 10:9 Paul teaches that Jesus promises eternal life to all who would call on him in faith, saying,

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

It is my prayer that readers of this blog who are not Christians would look into their hearts and consider if God is speaking to them through my words.  Feel free to contact me if want any help with understanding what God may be speaking to you.

And for those of you who do have faith I give thanks to God and I invite you to prayerfully consider to whom you may share the Gospel with, so that they may walk with Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pray without ceasing


In the closing part of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he gives them a flurry of guidance in short, rapid phrases.  It’s as if he says, “do this, and this, and this, and…”  Verses 16 through 18 of the letter say:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Here in our new home in New Mexico, at the end of just my sixth day as a pastor, I find that the phrase “pray without ceasing” has taken on a richer, deeper meaning for me.

Before coming here I had a pattern of prayer in the rhythm of my life.  Praying in the morning before work, praying with my family at meals, praying with our daughter at her bedtime, and praying with my wife at the end of the day were regular parts of each day’s activities. 

There would be other times of prayer, on a more irregular basis.  At church activities.  At my Bible study.  With certain friends when we would get together.  Sometimes while at work at the hospital, with a co-worker or a patient.

I knew that coming here to serve as pastor would give me more opportunities to pray, including not just praying with people but also more responsibility in leading people in prayer.  It has been a joy to expand my morning prayer time by praying for the members of the congregation I serve.  It has been a privilege to lift to God the concerns of their hearts.

Something that has surprised me in this first week has been the frequency of times during the day when I find myself before the Lord in prayer.  As I have begun to meet and know people in the community there have been a variety of things that I feel compelled to bring before God. 

There have been prayers of thanks for bringing me into a new relationship with someone.  Prayers where during the course of a conversation I feel the need to lift a person’s concerns to God.  And, especially, prayers for wisdom, patience and guidance for myself, for there have been a number of situations where I have no idea what God is laying before me or where He might be leading me at a particular moment.    

“Pray without ceasing.”

And among my prayers, when I remember, are thanks for those who are praying for me in this ministry.  For I can’t serve God’s people here well on my own, nor do I want to.  I want to serve through the power and guidance of His Holy Spirit, and I am truly thankful that he has many people who are joined lifting me in prayer.



Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.