Sunday, October 30, 2016

Where Do You Stand?

One of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is Elijah.  He makes his first appearance in the Bible in 1 Kings 17:1, which reads,

"Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.""

Elijah comes as God's prophet to Ahab, who is introduced as the king of Israel at the end of chapter 16.  Ahab has a reputation as a bad king, an exceedingly bad king, and the prophecy that Elijah brings to him is a result of the many bad things he has done early in his rule.  And in the story where Elijah and Ahab are intertwined this opening verse is just the beginning of the conflict that they will have with each other.  But the thing that caught my attention as I read this is that the writer of 1 Kings is very clear where the origin of that conflict really begins.  The conflict begins because Elijah is devoted to God.  "The Lord…before whom I stand."  The prophecy that Elijah brings to Ahab is not Elijah's prophecy, but one that comes through Elijah as he serves God.

As much as we might want to believe otherwise, no person stands with complete independence.  For everyone of us there is someone, or something, before whom we yield authority.  For Elijah it was the Lord, the same God who was the God of Israel, the people whom Ahab ruled.  The continuing story of Elijah shows us the hardship that came his way as a result of his following God.  His life wasn't easy but he continued to follow the path he knew was right.

In contrast Ahab shunned his God, the one true God, to pursue false gods, bringing great harm to his people as well as himself.  Through Elijah, God continued to call Ahab, but Ahab's heart was hard and he would never listen.  Instead Ahab followed a god that let him do whatever he wanted, which really isn’t any kind of god at all.     

Before whom do you stand?  At the end of the day, or at the end of your life, to whom is it that you ultimately yield authority to? 

It is my prayer that each of us would learn that there really is only one place to stand, and that is in the same place as Elijah, for "the Lord, the God of Israel," always has been, is today, and always will be, the One True Lord over all of creation.  To yield authority to anyone or anything else is to surrender to a lost cause.  He is trustworthy. He is faithful.  And He longs for you to enjoy being in His presence.

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 24, 2016


What kinds of things brighten up your day?  In my life there are a variety of things, particularly involving the family members I live with.  There can be all kinds of things with my wife and/or our daughter that I take delight in.  Some of them are perhaps expected and others are things that seem to happen with a complete and surprising randomness. 

An example of the first variety could be my wife simply asking about my day.  It is something she does often but there is something about the meaning in why she does it that lifts me inside.

And our daughter, the last of our children living at home, frequently does things that are unexpected and doubly delightful.  There is the delight in the moment itself, and then again as my wife and I share whatever it was with each other.

This morning, as I read Psalm 119, other delightful moments came to mind.  In verse 74 the psalmist writes,

"Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
   because I have hoped in your word."

This brought to mind moments of fellowship with other Christians, moments where underneath whatever was going on in the moment was a bond that existed because we had a common faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Our hope is in the same place, the word of God that teaches us truthfully of salvation in Christ, and so it is this common bond that causes us to rejoice in each other's presence.

This morning the verse brought back memories of several prayer groups I was a part of while we lived in Minnesota and the joy of having some time set aside for prayer with other Christians.  And now, late in the day and with this evening's community youth ministry activities wrapped up, I think in particular about one young man who closed the evening in prayer.  An elementary school-age child, with so much of life ahead of him, but seeing in the words of his prayer that he is already learning to stand firmly on the unfailing word of God.

May you hope in the word of God, and rejoice in the fellowship of other Christians.

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, October 16, 2016

Bumping Along

The picture on the right is of the rear wheel of my daughter's scooter. What I tried to show in the picture are the flat spots on the wheel.  Kat races down the sidewalk and then jams on the brake, sliding on the concrete.  This, of course, makes the wheel a little less round, so that instead of going in smooth circles you can hear it clunk every once and while if she is riding slowly.

That clunking wheel is how my morning felt today.  The very first parts of the morning were normal for a Sunday, but once I made my first trip next door to get things ready for church things began to get out of sync.  Without getting into the details there were numerous times in getting ready for our breakfast potluck, setting up for worship, and worship itself, where, from my point-of-view, things were just a little off.  Like the wheel on the scooter, the morning was moving along but with an occasional bump to remind me that some things just weren't quite as smooth as I would prefer.

And still…God was at work.  Not that He takes the morning off just because this or that thing that I'm up to isn't working out.  As Psalm 121:3-4 says,

"He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep."

Those are true and reliable words, and good ones to remember at many points in life. 

The working of God became evident to me even as worship was going on, when I closed an extemporaneous prayer, one that I wasn't really sure had been very clear, and I heard a soft "Amen" from one of the people I was praying with.  My awkward words were used by God to touch that person. 

There was more evidence in the short, quiet conversations I had with several people after worship.  And there was still more evidence as I gathered the prayer requests.  God had been at work, through me, even though I thought the morning was moving along in a raggedy sort of way. 

I would have preferred a morning where things roll along smoothly but I am glad for the gentle reminders this morning that I am but a servant of God, and the results are in His hands.

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 14, 2016

Every Tribe, Every Tongue

Sunday morning, about a half-hour before worship begins, I turn on the music.  We have some speaker in our steeple and I turn on the CD Player connected to them, so that music is playing outside when people arrive.  I also turn on some music inside the sanctuary, so that the people who arrive early have something in the background that is conducive to worshiping God.  Right now there are three different files on my computer that I use for this purpose inside the sanctuary. Two are soft, solo piano medleys of older hymns and the other is an acoustic collection of songs by a modern Christian artist.

Last Sunday I had one of the piano medleys on and I was walking from the entrance of the church up towards the front.  The specific song being played was "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  As I walked up the aisle I heard a woman singing along, softly and in Jicarilla Apache.  While I know very little of the Jicarilla Apache language I knew what she was singing because we have sung that song in Jicarilla in worship three or four times over the past three years. 

In Revelation 7:9-10 John says of his vision in heaven,

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!""

God's plan is to draw people from all parts of the world, from every people group, speaking every language, to Himself.  Speakers of English, Spanish, Gaelic, Russian, Farsi, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and Navajo, to name but a few.  According to the Joshua Project there are over 16,000 people in groups in the world, and in 2016, nearly 2,000 years after Jesus walked this earth, 40% of those groups are still unreached with the good news found only in Jesus.

It is my privilege to be able to serve a community made up of one of those groups that has received the Gospel.  The first missionaries to the Jicarilla Apache arrived in 1914.
The church here has never been large but it's presence has been continual.  And while the Gospel has been proclaimed it is fair to say that there are many people living here who have still not heard it.

The passage in Revelation does not claim that all people from all groups will be gathered by God, but that all groups will be represented.  The Jicarilla Apache are a people group that is found in only one place, in Dulce New Mexico.  How many of those thousands of unreached groups are ones that are like the Jicarilla Apache, that only exist in one isolated place? 

When I heard that woman singing last Sunday I knew that we had to sing that song, in her language, the next time we gathered for worship.  So this Sunday we will use it to close our worship, along with a prayer that God's servants would continue to carry the Gospel of Jesus throughout the world, gathering in the people of every tribe and every tongue, people who will one day join in the mighty chorus, exclaiming,

"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 

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, October 6, 2016

Comfort For The Cares Of Your Heart

Early this morning I picked up my Bible and read from the Psalms.  I had finished my "ordinary" devotional time, where today I had read Psalm 91 and then spent time in prayer.  Finished with something that is essential to my calling as pastor I picked my Bible back up and began reading on in the Psalms.  When I reached Psalm 94 these words from verse 19 gave me pause,

"When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul."

In the picture is my Bible, opened to Psalm 94, with verse 19 highlighted.  Laying on top of my Bible are slips of paper with the confidential requests for prayer that are given to me on Sunday mornings.

I get several of these requests nearly every Sunday.  Over time here in Dulce I have learned that for the most part the things that people write down and ask me to pray about are the more complex matters of their lives.  They are rarely for things that are quite specific, such as a relative having surgery this week.  Often there is just a name, or perhaps several names, names that represent what the psalmist calls "the cares of my heart."

Because the requests on the cards represent deep needs I keep them for a long time.  That's why there are so many.  I generally keep them for a year, although some have been in my hands a bit longer.  I may have already been praying about the person or situation for a year but I know that the need still exists and so, to borrow from something I read by C.S. Lewis, today just doesn’t seem like the day to stop praying for that need.

As seen in the collection of prayer requests, the cares of the hearts of the congregation I serve are many, and I join with them in lifting their cares to God, trusting in Him to provide the consolation, the comfort, that cheers, that brings gladness, to their souls.

While the needs are many and varied in all cases the only source of comfort is the same, and that is the Lord God, to whom His people faithfully turn to day by day.

May you too find comfort from Him for the deep cares of your heart.  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.