Saturday, April 30, 2016


Last week I drove the church van as a group of us from Dulce went to Hinton, Oklahoma for the Native American ministry retreat.  It was a long trip, which gave me a lot of time for thinking, and one of the things I found myself thinking about was language.  We have lived in Dulce a bit more than 2½ years and when I think about it I have learned about 30 words in Jicarilla, or about one word each month.  I have never been much of a student of languages, and Jicarilla is hard!  I can't make my tongue do the right things, or as someone teaches me a few words I find I am overloaded and the new words just get all tangled up in my brain.

As an example here is the opening line to I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, as transliterated in Jicarilla, and without a few markings that I don't know how to produce on my keyboard:

            Shi k'adi Jesus bi ke' hi shal go

But I have also noticed progress in the fact that I find there are some Jicarilla words I occasionally use around the house without thinking about them a whole lot.  So while on the one hand I seem to struggle greatly with the Jicarilla language at the same time I am aware that I have actually learned a few things well.  Perhaps not very many, but a few.  I doubt that I will ever reach any kind of fluency but I do think my practical knowledge of Jicarilla will continue to slowly grow. 

When we come to have faith in Jesus and begin to grow as Christians one of the things that happens is that we begin to learn a new language.  There are words that we learn quickly, and there are others that take a long time to understand well.  Some of the easier words are faith, grace, forgiveness and prayer.  And while their basic meaning may come easily, our understanding of richness of their meanings will grow for years.

Harder words include things like providence, salvation and justification.  But gradually learning the language and how the meaning of the words fit together is of great value in understanding what it is that we believe in when we say things like "I have faith in Jesus," or "Jesus is my savior."  Many parts of the Bible can literally come alive as we learn the meaning of the words and then understand what God is showing us through them.  And understanding the words leads to our understanding our beliefs, which leads to being able to share those beliefs with others, which may be the way that God is going to awaken faith in that other person.

So as you read your Bible be a student of the words on the pages.  Seek to learn the basics of the language and then move on to the more complicated words, just like I continue to learn those Jicarilla words that tie my tongue in knots.  If you are having some trouble learning the language then seek out someone who already knows it well and ask them to guide you.  And in the words of 2 Peter 3:18, day by day "may you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Not From, But Through

I want to share something from a funeral sermon I had prepared for this morning.  The scripture text was Isaiah 43:1-3a.  Today, Thursday, I no longer quite recall why I picked the text last Sunday afternoon.  Sunday morning I preached from Mark 6:45-56, and I used the passage from Isaiah in my conclusion.  So I guess that it was swirling around a bit in my mind and I thought I could bring something out of it for the funeral.

In verse 2 the prophet Isaiah writes:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you."

Speaking for God the prophet is direct in saying that trouble will come to God's people.  But he is also clear, crystal clear, about the fact that God's people will come through the trouble.  Things will come, really bad things, maybe even horrible things, but those things won’t change the facts revealed in verse 1, which is that the people Isaiah speaks to are redeemed by God, they are called by Him by their names, and most importantly, that they are His.  And so the trials may test them, may prune them, or may refine them, but they will not destroy them.  Just typing this now reminds me of Paul's confident testimony from Romans 8:35-39.

So often we want all things to work out in our lives in the ways that are the easiest for us, or ways that lead to happy endings, or ways that keep troubles of our lives to the level of nuisance and not beyond.  But Isaiah teaches us that difficult and painful things really do come to God's people.  It isn’t a matter of if hardship will come, but of when and how.

By faith in God, His people are not delivered from all troubles in this life, but they are carried through them.

For God's people hard times will come, but God is faithful.  May you know the comfort of His presence in each and every storm 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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Can't Have It Both Ways

Each day life presents us with many choices.  Each day we are faced with the opportunity to choose lots of things.  Many of the choices are relatively minor.  This cereal or that for breakfast.  This route or that one as we make our way to work. 

Other choices are more significant.  After high school should I go to college or join the military?  Either one has the ability to affect a person for the rest of their lives, and often in ways that are unable to be predicted when the choice itself is made. 

Some choices are exclusive, meaning that if I choose one thing then other things have to be eliminated as options.  Should I ask that person to marry me?  If I do, and they accept, then it means leaving behind a life of being single.  As much as a person may want to live for periods of time in each world, choosing one means leaving the other behind.  We just can't have it both ways.

This idea of one thing excluding something else came to mind as I was reading Psalm 34.  In verse 22, where the Psalm ends, it says:

"The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."

There is a promise within this verse, and like all the promises of God it is a very good one.  The promise is that the LORD will redeem the life of his servants.  Anyone who comes to God as God's servant will find redemption.  Guaranteed.  It is a promise in the Psalm that points forward to the saving work of Christ Jesus. 

The second line of the verse emphasizes the fact of that promise.  In God there is refuge.  By taking refuge in God we are protected from eternal condemnation. 

There is a curious thing about refuge in God.  His refuge is a really good thing but so often we don’t find it to be satisfying.  When times are troubled we appreciate God's protection and deliverance but when the crisis passes and the sun is out we find ourselves wanting to step outside the refuge a bit.  To play in the grass between the fortress and the forest.  Maybe to lay in the shade of the trees, not quite in the woods but just at their edge. 

We want God's protection in the dangerous times but we want trust in our ability to watch out for ourselves once the danger passes.  We want to have it both ways, and that is dangerous. 

God promises that he will always hold on to those who come to Him by faith in Jesus, but His grasp doesn't prevent us from episodes of  kicking and screaming like a toddler, hurting ourselves more than anything else.  So a large part of life in God is learning to trust Him and to live within the refuge each and every day.  To learn that the joys inside His refuge are infinitely better than the appearance of anything on the outside. 

We can’t have it both ways, nor should we want to.  His ways are always good, and may you grow in your delight of His refuge each day.  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.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Too Much of a Good Thing?

The picture attached to this post is of a Navajo burger.  It is two hamburger patties with cheese, green chili and the regular burger fixings, all on top of a piece of fry bread instead of a hamburger bun.  It is what might be called a regional delicacy, something I had never tasted before we moved to New Mexico, and absolutely delicious.  About noon on Saturday we stopped at a place called the Amigo Café, in Kayenta, AZ, and I ordered one for lunch.

It's a big burger, with a whole lot of calories, probably due to the fact that the bun is a piece of bread dough that is deep-fat fried.  It is much larger than what I might ordinarily eat for lunch and if a particular good friend, who is a dietitian, analyzed it, I expect that he would conclude that by itself it exceeds what my body ordinarily needs for an entire day.

But Saturday was not an ordinary day, at least not in the morning.  I ran a marathon in Kayenta that morning.  26.2 miles of running, and afterwards my body needed to refuel.  We had visited the Amigo Café last year and I'll admit that in returning again this year I was primarily motivated by the run, and secondarily I was looking forward to the post-race Navajo burger.

An unexpected thing happened while I was eating my lunch.  I had eaten perhaps 80% of it and I came to the conclusion that I was full.  Really full.  I could have finished the rest, but at the expense of putting much more into my stomach than was prudent.  The long-anticipate Navajo burger was very good, but I was on the edge of having far too much of a good thing, and so I stopped. 

There are all kinds of things that are good and that we enjoy at different times.  I suspect the feeling is nearly universal that at one time or another we have had the experience of over-indulging that good thing.  Then, at best, we may have some remorse and the intention to do better next time.  And at worst…well that can vary according to the particular thing, and in some cases the worst can be very bad indeed, with the consequences of our choices affecting other people as well.

But is there anything in which it may not be possible to have too much of a good thing?  Is there any good thing in which we can turn to time and again and not be concerned about over-indulging?  There well may be.  It is what a dear friend has often called the Breath of Life, more commonly known as prayer.

Just this morning I happened to read from a British preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who wrote, "Above all-and this I regard as most important of all-always respond to every impulse to pray….Where does it comes from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit."[1]  Lloyd-Jones was writing in the context of giving guidance to preachers in their preparation, but what he writes there is really universal wisdom concerning prayer.  All prompting to pray ultimately comes from God, and so we can hardly go wrong in responding to God at those moments.

In a world where there are so many things, good things, that we can over-indulge in to our own detriment, it is good to remember that God gives us a very good thing, prayer, and then He Himself prompts us to turn towards Him in it. 

May you hear His Spirit call you often, and may you joyfully respond.  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.

[1] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) 170.