Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christian Growth in 2017

All people who follow Jesus are his disciples, which is a word that basically means "learners." He is our teacher and we are His students, learning from Him. 

How do we do this learning? The most basic way is by attending worship regularly, where we sing God's praises, hear His word proclaimed, share in the sacraments, and then take our learning with us as we live in the world.  There are a variety of other ways we can learn from Jesus and as the new year begins I want to share some thoughts on three things that you might try to use as you grow as a disciple in 2017. 

The first is to practice some form of personal devotions, where you take some time each day to spend in prayer with God.  There are many good resources that can help, providing a piece of scripture, some thoughts on how that scripture may apply to your life, and some suggestions for prayer.  We have the RCA devotional, Words of Hope, available at church and will soon be getting copies of Our Daily Bread.  There are also excellent online sources, which can be emailed to you each day.  These include, and

Another excellent way to grow as a disciple is by simply reading your Bible.  It is easy to do, and all too easy not to do.  Following a Bible-reading plan is an excellent way to help you start and stay on track.  I have an app on my phone for the plan I am using.  Each day it lets me know what I should read and it provides an easy way to keep track of my progress.  There are many different Bible reading plans and I would be glad to help you find one that would be a good fit for you.

And the last way to grow as a disciple that I want to suggest today is to get into an active relationship with someone who can help you along the way.  While this may sound like it is the hardest way, it is also one of the best ways.  Being a disciple of Jesus is something we can always grow in.  There is no one who is a perfect, or "finished," disciple.  When we work with someone else we share our journey with them and they can help us in many ways.  And as they help us grow, they also grow.  Robin and I both treasure times in our lives when we had another person, or a small group, that we connected with as a part of our spiritual growth.  As with the first two methods, I would be glad to actively help in your spiritual growth.

It is a new year and there is truly no time like the present to grow as a Christian, to have lives that are shaped more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, as we love and serve Him right here in Dulce.

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, December 25, 2016

"...the time came..."

As I was getting ready for worship on Sunday morning it suddenly occurred to me that I had forgotten something when planning our worship service.  It was Christmas morning and I had left out the Bible's telling of the Christmas story.

On the one hand it was a pretty easy thing to skip.  I was planning worship for this Sunday much as I plan any Sunday.  There are parts to our worship service that happen every Sunday and I had planned all of those parts in the same manner as I do every Sunday.  It wasn't that I was planning on not talking about Christmas, but just that the Christmas story itself just wasn't among my planning materials at the time.

And it was not as if I had completely ignored the Christmas story in worship.  During our Christmas Eve service we read it from Luke 2:1-20.  The weather was dicey that night but we had about 20 people present, and they got to hear the story, read from the Bible. 

Anyhow, as I was doing my usual Sunday morning pre-worship activities I started to think about the Christmas story and I decided to read it as part of the introduction to the sermon.  And so I read it aloud before reviewing my sermon notes.  And as I read it one tiny phrase jumped out at me. 

Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem, and Mary is pregnant.  Verse 6 says:

"And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth."

Luke tells the story in a very ordinary fashion.  Any of us who are parents and were present when our children were born understand well the idea that in one moment the mother is pregnant and then the time comes for the process of giving birth to the baby.  And so what Luke tells is quite true, but that phrase, "the time came" points to something so much more significant.

"The time came" for God to actively work out the long-awaited plan of redemption. 

"The time came" for God to begin the process that would one day restore everything that went wrong when sin entered the world.

"The time came" for God to free sinners from bondage and show them the way to true peace. 

This morning was the time to remind my congregation of this truth: that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that without faith in Him we are truly, eternally, lost and without hope.  And yet, while we were lost, "the time came." 

May you know the hope and peace that are only found in Jesus. 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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Center Of Gravity

I like to run.  I have run for quite a few years, accumulating quite a few miles on my feet and participating in quite a few events over those years and miles.  Of all the various events I have run I would say that the marathon is my favorite one.  The marathon is 26.2 miles long.  Some days those miles just fly by and some days it seems as if the next mile marker will never come.  As of last Sunday, when I ran my most recent one, I have completed 45 marathons, along with six races of still longer distances.

The marathon wasn't always my favorite event.  It was hard!  I ran ten of them before I came to believe I "had it figured out."  Then I ran ten that stand out in my memory as nearly being works of art.  Then there were seven that were somewhat mixed as far as my performance goes.  And then due to a variety of circumstances I didn’t run any for ten years.  I still ran, but I passed on the marathon.  And ten years ago I started running them again, not as fast as before, but in some ways they have been every bit as much fun as "the works of art."

My least favorite running activity has been trail running.  I have never felt comfortable when off the road and on the trail.  When I ran with friends back in Minnesota and we went onto a trail I dropped to the back of the group, so that my heightened caution did not become a hazard for anyone else.  All six of the longer-than-marathon races I've done have been on trails.  Four of those were run in the mountains and one thing those four have in common is that somewhere along the way I fell. 

Last week a friend on mine from Minnesota came to visit and we took part in an event that involved running four marathons in four days at the Four Corners monument.  Unbeknownst to us at the time we registered a significant part of the course on three of those days would be on rocky trails.

Our adventure began on Thursday.  About 12 miles of the course was a rocky trail, 12 miles were dirt trail, and the remainder was paved.  We were pleased with our efforts and looked forward to seeing what would happen on Friday.  Neither one of us had ever run marathons back-to-back and we were entering brand new territory, so to speak.

Friday was flat and paved.  It went well and we figured that barring any catastrophe four marathons in four days was an achievable feat.

Saturday turned out to be an altogether different kind of animal.  The course was about 21 miles of rocky trails, ending with five flat, paved miles.  The trail segment was a loop course that we ran a total of 8 times.  The scenery was beautiful, or so I was told.  For me, running a trail means always looking down to see where your feet are headed next. 

When I least expected it, it happened.  I fell. I was at mile 18, a brief flat spot on top of a hill, when I lost my balance and fell forward onto my hands.  I scraped both palms but was otherwise uninjured.  I got started running again, being more cautious than before. 

Very shortly after my fall I had a new insight into trail running.  Trail running isn’t necessarily about being nimble or light or any other characteristic that might seem to offer an advantage on irregular terrain.  The essence of trail running is being able to control your center of gravity.  If a person can simply keep their body upright while going up or down hill everything else about trail running is gravy.

This concept of the control of one's center of gravity is also important to the Christian life, although with a significant difference. As a trail runner I need to control my center of gravity, while as a Christian I need to yield the control of my life's center of gravity to Christ.  He guides me one way and yet so often I think I know a shortcut or a better route.  And pushing off for the way I think best, when it differs from His way, always ends in scrapes, bruises, or worse. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths."

In all things in life our best choice is to always let God have His firm and loving hand on our center of gravity.  Any attempt by me to do better is just a foolish risk, for His hand will never stray from the right path.  Amen.

Two tired runners, still smiling after four days.

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, December 4, 2016

An Old Story That Looks Ahead

The books in our Bible called 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles are essentially writings of history.  They tell the story of God's people living in the Promised Land under the rule of their kings, beginning with their first king, Saul, and ending with the defeat of the divided kingdom and the journey of God's people into exile.  1 Chronicles 17:14 says,

"So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people."

This verse is historical information and it shows us the people of God at one of the high points in their history.  They are God's chosen people, living securely in the land God promised to them hundreds of years earlier.  They have a godly king who has defeated all of the enemies around them.  Their king rules over all of the land and he does so in fairness to all of God's people. 

It must have been a very good time for the people of Israel, but as the chapters that follow make clear, it didn’t last.  Their downfall was bumpy, painful and heartbreaking, as God's chosen people were conquered and carried from the very place God promised would be theirs. 

But this verse in 1 Chronicles does more than record history.  It also points our vision forward, towards a day that is to come.  David is the king chosen by God to rule over His people and he rules in a way that appears to line up with what is right and true.  But
David is a human king, filled with the failings common to so many of us, facts that the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles do not hide.  As we look at David here we are invited to look beyond David, to another coming King.  To Jesus, the King of Kings.

David is a king whose story points us to the end of the story.  A King is coming and He will rule over all of creation.  Similar to the way David defeated his enemies and secured the borders of Israel this King will defeat all His enemies.  When He comes fully into His Kingdom there will not be a single enemy of God having any kind of power anywhere in all of creation. 

This King will perfectly administer justice, although in the most unlikely of ways.  For "his people," or those who have faith in Jesus as their Savior, He will bear the punishment their sin deserves, and give them a place inside His kingdom, where His people will joyfully live with Him forever.

This Christmas let us remember that the event we celebrate, the birth of the baby Jesus, ultimately ends in the reign of the King of Kings.  David's story points us forward.  May you look towards the baby Jesus and see the King.  May He be your Savior and your King.

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.