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


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


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.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Yesterday was my first Sunday as the pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, New Mexico.  We had a great turn-out for worship.  The people were warm and welcoming, and I think the presence of myself and my family was warm as well.  There were a few bugs to work out but no one seemed to mind.  We are getting to know the people and they are getting to know us.  Our journey here, from our first contact with the congregation until yesterday’s worship, was about 10 months.  It is our hope that we are able to serve God well here for many years.  All-in-all I think it was a really good first day.

But while yesterday was our first “official” day there were many busy days leading up to it.  There have been days of prayer, interviews, conversations and e-mails.  Study, sermon preparation and worship planning.  And moving. 

Moving has been the overriding activity of the past three weeks in particular.  Packing, almost without end.  Or so it seemed.  Loading the truck.  Four and a half days of travel.  Unloading the truck, which was completed as quickly as it was only due to the help of members of our congregation.  Then unpacking and getting things settled in the house.  And at noon today, just one week since we arrived in town, virtually everything we own is out of its box and in its place.  The only exception is my wife, Robin’s, shop for working on stained glass.   And all of the credit for “driving the bus” in the activity of unpacking and getting settled in town goes to her.  Robin has been phenomenal during our move, especially since we arrived in town. 

And now on Monday afternoon we had an opportunity to relax a bit and consider what comes next.  Robin posted this to her blog.  While I took our daughter to the park Robin wrote lesson plans for home-schooling, which resumes tomorrow.  We have decided that Monday will be my day off, but on this Monday I have a half-dozen things floating through my mind that I need to get to work on soon.

I think that we are off to a good start in this particular ministry.  I know that as the days, weeks, months, and God-willing, years unfold that we will experience a full range of experiences and emotions here.  But today I am mindful of these words from Paul to the church at Philippi:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

We have had a good beginning here.  My prayer today is that we would faithfully follow God, to His eternal glory, throughout the time that we live and serve with His people in Dulce. 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.