Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Matter of Timing

The dinner plan last night was for burritos.  Except that over the course of the past week or so, unbeknownst to the person in charge of dinner, I had eaten all but one of the tortillas.  Robin thought she could go to the store for tortillas but then suggested changing to taco salad.  We had plenty of tortilla chips so it seemed an excellent idea.  But then we learned we had no lettuce or spinach.  So off to the store she went.

And minutes after she left the hail started.  It was our second hailstorm of the day.  Our car was in the garage during the first storm but out in the elements during the second one.  Big pieces of hail, the kind that bounced three feet back in to the air when they landed on the driveway.  It was a pretty interesting storm to watch from the safety of the house but for everyone who was outside it was very different.  It was just a matter of a few minutes that made the difference for us.  Waiting a bit longer to start dinner and the storm wouldn’t have affected us in the least.

Last Sunday I preached from 1 Peter 3:18-22.  In those five verses Peter touches on four different things that help us to see the good news of God that is fulfilled in Jesus.  When we look to the suffering of Jesus we see suffering of the righteous for the unrighteous, suffering that Jesus accepts for the sake of those He loves.  When we see the story of Noah we see a preview of God's fuller plan of redemption in Jesus.  Baptism points us toward the fulfillment of God's promises in Jesus.  As surely was water washes away dirt from our bodies, so too will we be washed in Jesus' blood when we come to Him by faith.  And lastly, according to the text I used, we can take comfort in the fact that the Son has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and that He holds all power and authority, right now.

I find comfort and assurance in times of struggle in these verses of Peter.  I am reminded that even when the world looks to be completely out of control, God has everything in control.  Everything happens within His boundaries, even if I can't see where those boundaries are.  Even when my desire would be for Him to move those boundaries in a bit closer. 

But the thing is that I wouldn't know any comfort in those verses, or any other verses in the Bible, if I did not first have faith in Jesus.  In Romans 10:9 the apostle Paul writes this:

"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."

Knowing the truth of what Paul is saying, knowing and believing the work  of Jesus that lies behind those words, is what makes all the difference.  And that is where timing comes in.  Believing in the good news of God in Jesus is what advertisers call a "limited time offer."  There is a window where it can be received but if a person misses that window then it will be too late.  No going back.  No second opportunity.  And that window is only during this lifetime. 

If you have read this far and don't know faith in Jesus then I invite you take a step towards Him and see what He has for you.  Talk with a friend who has faith, or seek out a church or a pastor who can give you some direction.  Email me and I would be glad to help you along, because it is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Don't delay, because we never know what the next moment will bring.  It’s a matter of timing.  Let that time be now.

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 28, 2014

The Firmest Foundation

It's here!  The activities and worship service in celebration of 100 years of ministry of the Jicarilla Apache Church have arrived!  In 1914 J. Denton Simms came to Dulce and began his part in the work that established the first Christian congregation among the Jicarilla Apache people.  While we don't know the precise date of Simms arrival, we do know that the first worship service in our building was conducted on Christmas Day, 1914, and so this weekend is a good time to celebrate our beginnings as Christ's church in Dulce.

Sometimes we think of the church as a building.  I'll admit that I love this building that we gather in each Sunday.  It has a lot of character and it holds a lot of history.  I like to walk across the wood floors and think of the people who have gathered on them for the last century.  I like to look at the walls, made of adobe.  I have seen bricks that were taken from the walls when a doorway was added several years ago and they were made to last a long time.  And I have been in the crawl space underneath the sanctuary and have seen the foundation that this building sits on. 

If the floors and walls could talk they would tell us rich stories of what has happened here in the last 100 years.  Stories of baptisms.  Of weddings.  Of funerals.  Of prayers.  Stories of care and connection between people because of relationships that are founded on shared faith in Jesus.  Stories of God's word being faithfully preached Sunday after Sunday.  Stories of God's people gathering around His table to share in the Lord's Supper. 

While we may think of the building as "the church", the church is really the people, claimed as God's own and gathered in His name, serving Him in the world.  We are known here in Dulce as the congregation of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church, but, more than that, we are members of the body of believers in Jesus that has been building since Jesus himself walked the earth and which will continue to build until He comes again. 

We are a group of Christians that has gathered for one hundred years, and we do so in faith with our sisters and brothers in Christ here in Dulce, with Christians throughout the world, and with Christians throughout centuries past.  And we gather in faith because we are built on the surest foundation, a foundation that will never fail.  Our foundation is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

So while we gather to celebrate one hundred years of ministry and fellowship, we do so knowing that we are built not so much on the faithful people of God over those years, but on the faithful Son of God.  May we stand on Him and may He continue to strengthen and guide us until the day of His triumphant return.

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 22, 2014


Distance has been on my mind the past few days.  A bit more than a year ago we moved from the Midwest to the West.  We left Rochester, Minnesota for Dulce, New Mexico, a distance of a bit more than 1200 miles.  And one thing we have done more of since we came out here is drive.  Dulce is a great place for us to live but it is a small town in a sparsely-inhabited area, and without many of things that were so close to us in Rochester.

We participate in a home-school co-op, which is in Pagosa Springs, CO, a one-way trip of 48 miles. Our daughter's piano lessons are also in Pagosa, as well as a few other things she participates in, so in the average week  we (truthfully, usually my wife) heads to Pagosa twice.  Some weeks more than that.

To have a dealer work on our car means a trip to Durango, or 108 miles.  Target, Sam's Club, etc. means a trip to Farmington, or 85 miles.  That is also where I go to make hospital calls on members of our church.  I have gone 2+ weeks without a trip to Farmington.  And I have also made that trip three times in a week.

Traveling at night adds time into distance.  Saturday we made our first trip to Albuquerque, for the state fair.  It was a three-hour trip down and a bit longer on the way back.  Night settled in just as we returned to the reservation, so the 60 or so miles left to home, which I drove at 60 MPH on the way down, took a bit longer, as I kept the speed at 45-50 MPH.  Shortly after we arrived in Dulce we learned that when it gets dark on the reservation the deer and elk come out, and Saturday night was no exception.

Distance, in terms of time, was evident in a another way Saturday.  In addition to going to the fair we were able to connect with a nephew I have living in Albuquerque.  I had not seen that nephew since 1985 or 86.  He is now nearly 36, with two children of his own.  It was blessing that on our first trip to Albuquerque we were able to visit with them.  Last May we were able to spend some time with his sister, my niece, when she made a trip north to visit us.  While those distances of time were large, they closed rapidly, and easily, and we all look forward to getting together again.

Each week as our congregation gathers for worship we have a prayer of confession.  In that prayer this Sunday I was thinking about the distance that sin creates between a person and God.  Of course the big sins separate us from God.  Anyone can see that.  But what about the little ones?  The sins that are so small, so insignificant, from our perspective?  Thinking like that is when I misread the distance, because for all practical purposes the gap is the same.  It may seem small, but for me to cross it would be similar to me jumping across the Grand Canyon.  There is no way that on my own I can cross the gap caused by my sin.

It is a gap that is only crossed by my Savior, Jesus, who carries me to the other side.  One Sunday last year I preached from Luke 16:19-31, a story that not only shows the chasm that exists between sinners and God, but that teaches that it is a chasm that can only be crossed in life.  If a person doesn't come to have faith in Jesus before death, it is a chasm that they will never cross.

And thinking about faith brings me to the last of these thoughts I have been having about distance.  And that is the distance to which God's forgiveness of sin reaches.  Sure, it starts here, where I confess, but where does it end?  The answer to that question is found in Psalm 103:11-12, which reads:

"For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."

That is incredible.  The Savior who closes the gap made by my sin takes that sin and casts it away.  He casts it far away.  He casts it as far as the east is from the west, a distance that is infinite.  His adversary may still bring memories of forgiven sin to mind, but the truth of God's word is that when I come to God in faith my sin is taken away, the chasm is bridged, and there is no going back.  Amen.  To God be all the 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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Barriers to Prayer

I am currently preaching through 1 Peter.  This week's sermon is drawn from 1 Peter 3:1-7, which ends with these words:

"…so that your prayers may not be hindered."

As Peter has been writing to these early Christians scattered across Asia Minor he notes that there are circumstances, or perhaps better said, conditions of their hearts, which, when present, affect the ability of these Christians to have open communication with God through prayer.

John Calvin had this to say about that phrase of Peter:

"For we are more than insane, if we knowingly and willfully close up the way to God’s presence by prayer, since this is the only refuge of our salvation."

I love the way that Calvin cuts to the chase.  Here is my paraphrase: 

God is our only refuge, and we, through the conditions of our hearts, conditions that we know exist and do nothing to change, would close off the way to speak with God, and to clearly hear from God.  That's insanity!

Part of the preparation for preaching is that the text should speak to the preacher.  And this text speaks to me.  There are times, every day, when the conditions of my heart are such that I know I am not in the right place to approach God.  And I am thankful that God, by His Spirit, works on me and in me, so that preparing my heart is an integral, an essential part, of my approach to Him. 

May God be at work in your heart "…so that your prayers may not be hindered."

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.