Thursday, September 21, 2017

Testimonial


I went to the dentist yesterday for an exam and to have my teeth cleaned.  After the work was done the hygienist went over a list of recommendations for the ongoing care of my teeth.  For the most part I knew what to expect, as my dentist has recommended for at least two years that I get several crowns repaired.  Last on the list was the recommendation that I wear a mouth guard at night.

To say I didn't take this recommendation well would be an understatement, as I basically told the hygienist that it was ridiculous.  (I'll confess that at this moment I was being unfair to the hygienist, who did an excellent job with my teeth, and who, for as much as I understand of her responsibilities at the dentist's office, always does excellent work.)

Anyhow, in my push-back on the mouth guard idea I "asked" for some sort of objective evidence concerning it's benefit for my teeth.  Among the responses I heard back was this: that she herself uses one.  Unconvinced, I made an appointment to get a filling taken care of and left the office.

I thought about the words we exchanged as I drove home, particularly her supporting the need for a mouth guard through her own use of one.  It occurred to me that that kind of recommendation was a testimonial from personal experience, in combination with her professional experience.  And next came the realization that in my present vocation, I would, and do, the exact same thing, all the time.

As a pastor, everything I do in the key parts of my calling has to do with the Bible.  Be it preaching, visiting in homes, hospitals and nursing homes, teaching or counseling, everything is grounded in the Bible. 

I open it and read it during worship.  I study it and explain it, hoping to apply it's truth to whomever I am with at the moment.  I read it and pray it with those I visit and counsel.  I read it and pray it for myself and with my family.  I encourage others to take up, read, ponder and apply its words for themselves. 

Last Monday evening we kicked off another year of our community youth ministry, and I'll close this post with the same words I used in teaching the children that night, as my own testimonial, if you will, although the words are the Lord's:

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man [or woman] of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."   2 Timothy 3:16-17




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 13, 2017

One Percent Of The Square Root…


I have a "gift" for collecting and recalling odd, virtually useless bits of information.  Every so often this gift shows itself around the house and Robin will ask how I can know something that would be so obscure.  "Beats me!" is my best answer. A fact caught my attention in some way and got filed away in my brain, awaiting that time when it would spring forth, perhaps in a game of Trivial Pursuit, when it may actually be useful.

One of those odd bits was a claim made, I believe, by proponents of Transcendental Meditation, that if one percent of the square root of the world's population would simultaneously meditate, then actual progress would emerge in world peace. If I had to guess I would say I heard that in the late 70's or early 80's.  I do know that I was skeptical of the claim then, and would call it outright nonsense now.

Last night we had a community prayer meeting.  The needs of our community are great and for a while I have thought it would be good to gather people together and pray for our community. A good idea, but I never got around to doing anything about it.  So three weeks ago, while making the church calendar for September, I set a date and time, and then last week I asked Robin to make some signs, which I put up around town.

And last night, eight people gathered together to pray.  In a community of 2,743 that may not be a lot of people, just under 0.3% of the population.  I was never a whiz at math but if I figured correctly we had 16 times the minimum standard of those seekers of world peace via meditation. 

Eight people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle.  One of them reading a psalm and then about 30 minutes of people praying, sometimes aloud and sometimes silently.  My primary intent in gathering was to pray for our community, but being God's people gathered in prayer other things were lifted up as well. 

The psalm, 121, begins like this:

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
  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."

Are the prayers of eight people enough to make a difference?  This side of heaven that is a question without an answer.  One thing we did agree on afterwards was that we are going to do it again.  We were a small group, but we pray to a God without limits in power, in strength, in mercy, in love. 

He alone is our help, both as individuals and as a community.  And we will continue to gather and ask Him to act for the good, and for the healing, of our community.  And may He, alone, receive all our praise and glory.  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, September 7, 2017

The Working Of The Spirit


I left the house early this afternoon to run two quick errands.  I'd be back in 10-15 minutes. 
                           
Two hours later I returned home.  One thing lead into another, as I did my errands and then some.  It was all good and I came home without regrets. 

No regrets, but certainly a measure of wondering, particularly about an unplanned encounter at the grocery store.

As I was walking into the store I ran into someone I have known from very early in our time in Dulce, but who I haven't seen for a long time.  He is among the many people I know in this community who struggle with alcohol.  Being a pastor I am aware of quite a few people who face this same struggle, but this man is one who is among the ten or so people that my wife and I pray for daily.

Anyhow, this man and I talked for a bit, I prayed with him, and then I went into the store.  I put some signs up on the bulletin board and then came out, but my friend was already gone.

And I wondered.  I wondered, How many times have I prayed with him over the past four years?  How many more times will I pray with him?  How many times, and how many more times, are my wife and I going to pray for him?  At what point in all those prayers is God going to provide the answer we all long for, that of deliverance from his struggle with alcohol?

One of the things I did after getting back to work at home was to read a sermon by James S. Stewart titled, "The Wind of the Spirit."  Tucked into that sermon were these words:

"Perhaps some of us would think twice before praying for the gift of the Spirit if we knew where He was liable to lead us." 

I don't know if I've ever prayed in particular for the gift of the Spirit but I do know that Robin and I prayed quite a bit as we listened for where God was calling us in ministry.  Four years later and we continue to pray for God's providence and guidance as we serve in Dulce. 

Would we have prayed differently if we knew more clearly what lie ahead, of whom my four-year friendship above is but one example?  I don’t think so.

The Holy Spirit was at work in bringing us to Dulce.  The Holy Spirit is at work as we pray for this friend.  And I believe that one the Holy Spirit will work in this friend in such a way as to deliver him from alcohol.  And all of these workings of the Spirit are to the eternal praise and glory of God.  Amen.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lay Of The Land


It is the last day of August, which for us means the end of another year of ministry.  We arrived in Dulce in late August of 2013 and the first Sunday was on September 1st, so by our reckoning the fourth year ends today and the fifth year begins tomorrow.

What an amazing adventure!  Changing careers for Robin and I, moving our family to a part of the country we barely knew, entering a culture that was completely new.  We probably thought that we had a vague idea of what we were getting into as we wondered about all the unknowns ahead.  What kinds of things would happen?  How would we handle the all of the things that we couldn’t even begin to anticipate?

Four years later some of those things have been figured out.  Some things are problems with solutions.  Some are problems that are more managed than solved.  And there are things that we feel there just isn’t anything we have to offer.  Four years have taught us that as long as we will live and serve here there will be many more surprises, things that just cannot be planned for, and we imagine that is the case with ministry no matter where a person may be serving.

One way to frame our perspective at this point is that in four years we have learned the lay of the land.  I took this picture while driving home from Pagosa Springs this week.  I haven’t made that trip nearly as many times as Robin, but I've made it enough times to know what lies ahead as I travel along the road.  I took the picture close to a place called Edith, a scattered collection of houses just across the Navajo River and barely inside Colorado. I was traveling the "back road," a route which saves miles, but not time, and is hard on tires.

About three and a half years ago I took that road for the first time. If my eyes had scanned the horizon everything would have looked the same.  Hills here, pastures there.  Greens, browns, and perhaps some cattle or deer.  Back then nothing stood out as particular to my untrained eye.

But now my perspective is different.  I look towards where I took the picture and I see the change in line that marks where the road crosses the river and then climbs as it bends south.  I understand the lay of the land in ways that were unknown to me four years ago.  While I'm using the physical landscape as an example I have also learned much of the landscape of the people of our congregation and the community which we call home.  

It would be disingenuous to say that the last four years have been a steady upward journey, moving from success to success, learning along the way and with every lesson being easy and nearly intuitive. 

Success? Certainly, but also failure, disappointment, and regret.  Easy lessons? Absolutely, but also the kind of learning that only comes the hard way, and those lessons are perhaps the more precious ones.

As the fourth year comes to a close I still feel as I did at the end of the first, second and third years, which is glad that this place, Dulce, New Mexico, the homeland of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, is the place where God brought us to serve in ministry.  God has given us many gifts for ministry in this particular place, and we dearly love so many of the people we have met here. 

I'm going to close with the benediction from the Letter to the Hebrews, because after four years we do feel equipped, and we pray for God to work through us according to His will, to produce what is pleasing in His sight, to His glory.  Four years to learn the lay of the land, and excited to see what is yet to come.

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. 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.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Distance


When we were on vacation last month we drove close to 3,000 miles over 16 days.  Most of those miles were in the two days it took us to get to the Midwest and the two days back, while the remainder happened in various shorter trips to see family and friends in the places where we stayed.  There weren't any days where we didn't go at least one or two places, and all those miles added up.  Any way you look at it, we covered a lot of distance.

One of the blessings of traveling to the Midwest was that for a few days we could enjoy a greatly decreased distance from members of our families, especially our parents.  In Minnesota we were just two miles from Robin's parents, and in Wisconsin my mother was often no farther away than the next room in her house.

The Bible also shows us something of distance, particularly in the distance separating God from humans.  On the one hand the distance between the two is impossible to measure.  God is holy and humans are sinful, and so the distance between the two is vast.  But on the other hand, under the right circumstances, the distance is virtually erased.


"The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."

As I read that verse I understand "truth" to mean a  recognition that the psalmist is a sinner, who acknowledges his sin before God and seeks God's forgiveness.  The psalmist understands this very basic notion about God.  In the New Testament we see with clarity the means of God's forgiveness, which is our having faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the sacrifice that removes our sin, so that we can confidently come before God and know His very presence with us each and every moment of every day.

Unlike our trip to the Midwest, which we have to save for and can only happen once a year, the closing of the distance between any human being and God costs that person nothing except surrendering their own sense of pride and living as the god of their own life, and placing their faith in Jesus.   

And once it takes place it is a permanent action.  God's promise is that He will be there with you, end of story.  Moses reminded the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 31:6,

"Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."

Like the words of the psalmist, the words of Moses are made clear in the person of Jesus Christ.  

Place your faith in Him today, close the distance, and know that He will be with you, now and forever.  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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Having a Thought Towards the Future


"Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter."           

Those words come from the opening chapter of Lamentations, as the author expresses his grief over the fall of Jerusalem and the carrying off of the people of Israel into captivity.  Last week I finished reading through Jeremiah, where the prophet makes repeated calls for the people of Israel to repent of their sin and turn to the Lord.  The call for repentance is accompanied by a word of warning of the dangers of persisting in their disregard for God.  Lamentations follows Jeremiah, with grief over the fact that God's chosen people got exactly what they were warned about.

As I read Lamentations that one phrase, "she took no thought of her future," hit me hard and stuck with me.  The people of Israel are God's chosen people, called by Him and set apart by Him as His witnesses in the world.  It is they to whom He has revealed His law and it is through them that He will work out His promised plan of redemption.  When it comes to sin, or willful disobedience of the will of God, they, of all people, should know better. 

They should know better, and they probably do know better, and yet they persist in following their own will rather than Gods.  Living in the present, with whatever temporary sense of pleasure, or escape or what have you, as they disobey and disregard God, with no thought of their future.

I don’t know about you, but those words are convicting to me when I look back at my sin.  It was something I did at the moment without any care for its effects in the future.

Ongoing sin, unfortunately, is part of the Christian life.  We can understand our weakness in one area, and deal with it accordingly, and then find that as soon as we turn from that one thing we fall into another. 

While I am convicted by the words of Lamentations, I am also comforted, knowing that in Christ Jesus there is a truly merciful Savior.  The fall into sin does not have to be a free fall into a bottomless pit, or a fall to a hard landing and no possible way out. 

My sin has consequences, affecting me, and, both selfishly and unfortunately, other people as well.  May God, in His grace, make me more mindful of that truth, as well as the grace that come through Christ, the next time I consider taking a step into the pit.  May I live with a thought towards the future in terms of the effects of my sin, and also a future where one day sin will be no more.  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, August 10, 2017

Full Disclosure


In just 11 days a solar eclipse will pass across North America.  The "band of totality," or area that will be 100% dark as the moon blocks the sun's rays from reaching Earth, is expected to be right through the heart of the United States, reaching from Northwest to Southeast.  As a result of this area of total darkness, virtually all of the United States will be affected by the eclipse.

One of the ways in which Robin is taking notice of the eclipse comes in a humorous t-shirt she bought.  It shows various arrangements of the sun, moon and Earth, and labels them "lunar eclipse," "solar eclipse" and "apocalypse."  Kat, our inquisitive child and growing reader, saw the shirt during dinner and asked, "What does apocalypse mean?"

A pretty good question, to which Robin and I looked at each other and each said, "Hmmm."  And then I decided to get up and fetch my New Testament Greek dictionary, recalling that the Greek title for the Revelation to John is roughly Apocalypse to John.  According to that reference the primary definition is: making fully known, revelation, disclosure.  The New Testament uses it fourteen times, including just once in the book where it is also part of the title. 

It is curious that the popular definition we would have for apocalypse, that of a cataclysmic conflagration marking the end of civilization as we know it, with zombies left to run everything, is not the apocalypse per se but merely the end result.  In actuality an apocalypse is a full disclosure, a revealing of things that were not previously known.

The last book of the Bible, the Revelation to John, is most certainly a full disclosure of end times from a biblical perspective.  But taking another step back, to look at the Bible as a whole, we also see this idea of apocalypse, of revelation, at work.

It is in the Bible, and nowhere else, where humans are given insight into the mind and purposes of God as He works in the world.  Through the pages of the Bible we understand why God created the world, why He created humans, why things went awry between humans and God and God's subsequent promise to one day make things right. 

We see the fulfillment of that promise in the person and work of Jesus, and God's plan to continue drawing people to Himself until the day when He brings time and space in the creation we see and know to an end. 


In no way does the Bible provide exhaustive knowledge of the things of God.  We will always have questions that remain unanswered, no matter how long or deeply we study God's word.  But for our purposes, from God's point-of-view, His word contains the revelation, the full disclosure of all that we need to love Him, to worship Him and to serve Him.  Amen


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Life is short. God is good.


We are on vacation, arriving last night in Rochester, MN, where we used to live.  We have family here and many friends, and two of those friends from our former church very generously  invited us to stay in their home and use it as our base for our visit.

When we arrived last night we were saddened to learn that their neighbor, whom we also know from our former church, was found dead in his home last week.  Paul was in his late 50's, roughly our age, and without significant known health issues, and his death was completely unexpected by all who knew him. 

For Robin and I this news came on top of the sudden death last week of a leader in our denomination, a man who was a good friend of our congregation and had visited us three times in the past 16 months, most recently in January.  Tony was in his early 60's a two-time member of the US Olympic team, and looking as healthy as ever when I saw him last month.  Like our friend Paul, Tony had no known major health issues.

For reasons I don’t have answers for, the news of these two deaths brought to mind the passing of our granddaughter, Raelyn, in 2015.  Just past her second birthday, Rae died following an accident at home.

The thought that brings these three particular deaths together for me is a phrase that is so very familiar: Life is short.  Be its span two years or 62 years, human life is short.  Rare is the person who does not desire their life to extend a bit longer.  Even among people dealing with painful and/or prolonged illness, the desire for healing and a even just a bit more life is often present.

"Life is short" rarely stands alone.  Just saying it is a springboard to something else.  Life is short, therefore…  If you 'google' "Life is short" you'll will see an amazing number and variety of things that people are encouraged to consider once they come to the conclusion that life is indeed short.  These range everywhere from the well-meaning to the inane.

I'm going to suggest a different thought to follow "Life is short," which is that "God is good."

The truth is that whatever happens in this life, including its unexpected and seemingly premature end, God is good. 

As Christians, we grieve, but we do not grieve without having hope that is grounded in the promises of God to always hold His children.  Of the many places in the Bible that speaks to our eternal hope in God, the closing words of Romans 8 are among my favorite;

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Nothing, not even death, separates God from the children He loves.

Rae, Paul and Tony may have desired a life that was a little bit longer.  Their families certainly grieve their passing and they may have a place in their hearts that will always hold sorrow for what never came to be.

But I believe that Rae, Paul and Tony are in the presence of Jesus, who gave His life for theirs.  Right now they delight in the visible glory of their Savior and Lord.

Human life, even to 100 years, is short when compared to eternity.  And by faith in Jesus, a Christian lives in the goodness of God today, and it is a goodness that has no end.
  




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, July 13, 2017

Can You Hear Me Now?


"Can you hear me now?"  That was the catch-phrase for a cell phone company a number of years ago.  A man was walking around and speaking into his phone, asking if his listener was getting the sound of the message.  In the language of the Jicarilla Apache there is a phrase that means someone has ears but they aren’t listening to what's being said to them.  In each case sounds are being sent but we might wonder if the person to whom they are going to is receiving and understanding them.  So also is it as we hear from God.

Article Two of the Belgic Confession introduces our understanding of how it is that God speaks in this way: 

"We know God by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures,
great and small, are as letters to make us ponder
the invisible things of God:
God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation."

God speaks, in a general sense, through what we can see in creation.  He speaks in a more particular sense through what we read in His word.  Whenever we open our Bibles and read the words on the page, it is as if God Himself was speaking directly to us.

What are we to make of such speech?  We hear so many words, so many voices, through the course of the day that it becomes very easy to treat God's voice as just one among many.  We hear the words, perhaps briefly consider them, and then move on to the next voice clamoring for our attention.  

This week I read a sermon by Alexander Maclaren, where he said:

"When God speaks, it is neither reverent or safe to refuse to listen."  

When I read those words I took them as a reminder, and a gentle rebuke, to consider the way I approach the Bible.  Reading it is not something to do because I know that I should, or because I believe it is good for me, although both those reasons are true. 

Sure, it is a book, but it is a book unlike any other book.  It is the book that, alone, is filled with the words of God from beginning to end. 

The question as we read it not "Can you hear?" but "What do you hear, and what are you going to do about it?"




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, July 9, 2017

Hands


A pair of human hands has to be one of the most useful and versatile things around.  Think of everything that you can do with your hands, or perhaps said differently, think of everything that you need your hands to do.  All of the practical, everyday things, such as getting dressed, eating, doing the tasks of whatever vocation a person has.  In my former profession I often had to help people find new ways to get things done with hands that would never function in the same way again.  And that's not all, as hands perform other tasks of great meaning, such as gesturing to add emphasis to speech, or embracing someone to comfort them in sorrow. 

The many uses of the human hand came to mind as I was reading Psalm 144, which begins,

"Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle."

As a veteran of the US Navy I guess I could say that my hands were at one time trained for war, although pretty much all I ever used them for then in my work was to maintain the electrical systems of my ship.  But as I read the psalm I thought of a different kind of war, one in which my hands were preparing to fight at that very moment. 

My fingers had opened my Bible to the psalm, and my hands were holding the Bible as I read the psalm and then set the Bible back on my desk, to fold my hands and begin to pray. 

When the psalmist first wrote his words I have no doubts that physical combat was what was on his mind.  But the warfare that goes on every time a Christian folds their hands together in prayer can be just as intense.

Of all the many things that I can do with my hands, some of which are for better and some of which, quite frankly, are not good at all, perhaps the very best is to fold them together as I seek God in prayer.

And for those times when prayer involves spiritual battle and warfare, the Christian need never doubt that the Lord he seeks in prayer has never lost, and never will.



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, July 5, 2017

A Better Country


Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a holiday marking the colonies that became the United States of America declaring their independence from England.  The declaration happened in 1776, and so yesterday was the 241st celebration of that event.

On the reservation that day of celebration closed in the same manner as happened in many communities across America, with fireworks.  It was our pleasure to gather with some friends at a house close to the fireworks show, where we could watch a first-rate display light up the night sky. 

America is a great country. We might all agree that it isn't a perfect country, and we would have many different opinions as to what is wrong with it and how those particular problems could be addressed, but I think that there would be broad agreement that there is no other country in which we would rather live.  For all of its flaws, the strengths of this country make it one in which far more people would like to move to, rather than move from.  And yet, there is a better country.

In Hebrews 11 the unknown author tells briefly of a number of people who lived lives trusting in God's promises.  These people kept their eyes towards the future, knowing that even in times of God's blessing that there was something better, something truly lasting, to come.

Hebrews 11:13-16 says,

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

Last night, about a half-hour before going to our friends to watch the fireworks, Kat and I were outside.  She looked to the west and saw the setting sun shining through the clouds and said, "Look Dad.  God is showing his glory."

The fireworks were a reminder of what America has been through in the past 241 years, and perhaps also hope for the future, but the sun through the clouds points us to something that is so much better.  As good as this country is, let us remember that God has prepared a better country, a heavenly one, for all those who live by faith in him.




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, June 29, 2017

Names


Being "old school" the way that seems to work best for me at present is to keep track of things I pray for is on index cards, such as the one in the picture.  One of the things I do after church on Sunday afternoons is to update the cards I will use for the next week.  One of the cards will have the names of the people who came forward to prayed over for healing.  Another one will have the names of the people for whom prayer was asked for during worship.

The card for healing prayer is the hardest, in that I have to remember who came forward that day.  Occasionally I have to ask Robin, telling her that I counted ten people but can only recall nine names, and see if she can help me recall that last person.  The other card is easier, because I wrote all those names down as the requests were made, so my index card is done by copying the names from one place as I write them down from another list.  

This past Sunday there were ten people who came forward to be prayed over for healing.  There were also 29 names given to me of people to pray for during our congregational prayer.  With the cards I can more easily keep these people in prayer during the week.

Names.  Names are usually the only thing I have as I pray.  Occasionally people ask for prayer for this person and that concern, but usually they only give the name.  As far as healing goes, again, I occasionally know something more specific, but most often all I know is that some person feels the need to be healed of something and they ask me to lift them up in prayer.

Are the names enough?  I believe so.  Absolutely, I believe so.  Psalm 139:16 says,

"Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

We pray to a mighty and powerful God.  There is nothing about us he doesn’t know.  There is no situation in our lives he doesn’t have power over.  We may not be able to understand why he allows certain situations and circumstances to come into our lives, but we need not doubt that he cares for his children and that when the timing is right, from his vantage point in the story of our lives, he will answer our prayers.

The names I pray for vary from week to week, but the God I lift them to does not change in any way whatsoever.  If a name is all I have to lift to God, I can lift it with confidence and faith, knowing that the name itself is more than enough.




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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Looking Back, Looking Ahead


Have you ever found yourself taking a moment to consider your life at present and then looked back at an earlier time and wished that perhaps you were there in the past, rather than here, in the present?  I know that I have, as recently as yesterday morning.  I know that I do this kind of looking back more days than not.
 
There is almost always a trigger.  There is something that is giving me difficulty today, or is perhaps disappointing in some way.  I look back and see a different set of circumstances, when something that is hard to do now was effortless then.  I see a relationship that is challenging now was nothing but joy then. 

In a sermon titled, "The Young Man's Prayer," Charles Spurgeon said, "We look back upon our younger days and think that they were far happier than our present state.  We sometimes fancy that we used to be satisfied then, but I believe that our thoughts imagine a great falsehood."

Ouch!  There is a lot of truth that touches me in those words.  The satisfaction that we recall from the past, that we may find ourselves longing for in the present, was likely not as satisfying as we remember it.

This coming Sunday I am preaching from Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul writes,

"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."

In these verses Paul looks forward, to the end of history, where the lordship of Jesus Christ will be clearly evident to all peoples.  Christ will be seen in a place of unparalleled honor and glory and there will be great rejoicing from his people.  To combine the thoughts of Spurgeon and Paul, the "good old days" were likely not as good as we think they were, while the "day to come" will be more glorious than anything we can imagine.

We can certainly learn from our past, but we shouldn't seek to dwell there.  Paul points us forward, to the glorious future promised to all people with faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.   Enjoy a look back from time to time, but set your eyes, and your heart, on the future promises of the Lord Jesus Christ.  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.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Authority


The day I wrote my sermon for this week I read Matthew 5-7 in my morning prayer time.  This is one of Jesus' most famous pieces of teaching, the Sermon on the Mount.   Again and again in these three chapters of the Bible Jesus teaches people how God would have his children live with each other and serve him in the world.  The sermon closes with these words:

"And when Jesus finished these sayings the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."

The teaching that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount grabbed people's attention not just through what he had to say, but through the unseen force that his words carried as they entered into people's minds and hearts.  Matthew compares the power of teaching that comes from Jesus with that teaching that comes from the scribes, and basically finds that there is no comparison.  The scribes were educated people, thoroughly understanding all parts of Jewish law and religious practice, and I suspect that many of them were good teachers, but compared to Jesus their teaching is found to lack something of critical importance.

"Authority" is a word with multiple definitions, and I believe that two different ones are meant here. The first is "persuasive force; conviction," and the second is "a statute, court rule, or judicial decision that establishes a rule or principle of law; a ruling."

The readers of Matthew know something that the original audience of the Sermon on the Mount don't know, which is that Jesus is God Incarnate.  By his very nature as God the words he speaks carry with them an authority that no one else on earth has ever had.  He is not saying "Live this way" as a piece of advice or wisdom, something we might want to give consideration to as we go about our business each day.  He is saying "Live this way, because the Lord God says that this is the way in which his children should live."

And because Jesus has the very authority to make declarations that carry the weight of God with them, it follows that his words carry with them a singular persuasive force, a sense of conviction, that no other words in the world can possibly compare to. 

Ultimately, the authority that speaks the words in the Sermon on the Mount is the same authority that fills every page of our Bibles, from the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation.

We may wrestle with understanding things in our Bible.  I know that there are times I certainly do.  But we are wrestling with words that are trustworthy, that are true, that are good, and that are unfailing.  They are words that bring us peace and comfort.  They are words that challenge the way we see the world and our place in it as disciples of Jesus. 

And they are words spoken with authority by one who loves his children in whatever state of mind or circumstance of life they may be in.  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, May 24, 2017

Not Our Home


"This world is not our home."

Those were Robin's words to me as I told her of the sudden death yesterday of the son of friends from our former church in Minnesota. Not only were his parents very supportive of us during our six years at that church, but the man's wife has been a friend of mine for 28 years, beginning the week after they married.

And the news of this particular death comes on the heels of my conducting a funeral today and another one yesterday. One man, one woman, each in their 30's and between them leaving behind nine children.

And as I write this it is about 24 hours since the terrorist bombing in Manchester, England killed 23 people and injured 59 others. 

Christians looking at the world through the lens of the Bible clearly see evidence of sin and the brokenness that travels with it all around them.  It is a view that is crystal clear as I think about the four events mentioned in the first part of this writing. 

But Christians looking at the world through the lens of the Bible also see clearly, that God has something much better in place as the true home for His children.  I noted that in yesterday's funeral sermon from John 14:1-6, where in verse 3 Jesus says,

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." 

John later gives an eyewitness report of this image of home in his Revelation, describing the new heaven and new earth in 21:1-4.  Verse four is particularly clear in the way it talks about how drastically different the this dwelling with God will be, saying,

"He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

If you are in some way suffering from the broken nature of a world soaked in sin, may you know rest and peace in the arms of a loving God.  Jesus lived and died that you might know true peace and true hope. 

For the Christian, this world is not our home in the truest sense of those words.  But it is place where we can live with faith in Jesus, serving Him until that day He brings us to be with Him forever.



(The picture is of the southwestern San Juan mountains, looking north into Colorado, about 40 miles west of where we live. I took it today while traveling to do some hospital and nursing home visits.)


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, May 17, 2017

Hail, part 2.


Last week our family got caught in a hailstorm while in Denver.  The storm gave me a few things to think about, one of which I wrote about on Monday, and the other, which is today's post.

I have been inside the house during a hail storm before, most noticeably the storm that came through Dulce two years ago.  There was really large hail that day and Kat and I watched it fall and then bounce three feet into the air. From the comfort of the house it was primarily entertainment.

But that storm wasn't entertaining for Robin, who was outside at the post office parking lot, using a box to protect her head.  She came home with bruises from hail hitting her shoulders and arms. 

The storm last week was intense.  The hail started falling as Robin was checking our family into a motel.  Kat and I were waiting in the car and the storm turned from rain to hail while Robin was in the motel.  Several things came to mind during the fifteen minutes, by my best guess, that the hail lasted.

First was the violence of the storm.  As we sat in the car the noise of hail striking our car was so loud that Kat and I had to yell to hear each other.  The violence was also evident when particularly large pieces of hail struck the car.  The noise sounded as if someone was swinging a framing hammer on our car.

Second was the relentless nature of the storm.  When I think of hail I think of a storm that is intense, but brief.  My memory of hail in Minnesota is the it would only fall for a few minutes  and then the storm would either turn to rain or just fade away.  There was so much hail during last week's storm that the city had to get plows out to clear off the freeway.

And lastly, as I hoped that everyone who might have been outside had found shelter, I wondered what it would be like to out outside in a storm like that, with no options for shelter.  Violence that is intense and unrelenting, and with no escape and, while it is happening, no end in sight.  That last image is one that I think gives us a glimpse of the wrath of God towards human sin.

From our point of view, as sinful humans living in a fallen world, the wrath of God against sin is almost impossibly hard to grasp.  We can make all kinds of excuses and give all kinds of reasons for believing that there is no such a thing as God pouring his wrath out against sin.  "God is love." "That is old fashioned; a hold-over from the Old Testament."  "Sin isn't really that bad."  "Surely you are misreading the Bible."  The list could go on and on.

But whatever we might want to say against the idea of God's wrath, we can't deny that from Genesis through Revelation, God hates sin and promises to deal with it.  And one of the ways he promises to deal with it is to offer a substitute, to bear his wrath against our sin, so that we can be made whole with him.  That substitute, Jesus, knew the truth of God's wrath when, as he approached the moment of bearing it, the Bible says:

"And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”"

Last week's hail storm gave me a glimpse into the wrath of God against human sin, wrath that I fully deserve, whether I can grasp how terrible it truly is or not.   But is a wrath that I have been delivered from, in the mercy and grace God gives to all who call on Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

Salvation is found in no other name.  May you know salvation in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  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, May 15, 2017

Hail, part 1.


Last week Monday we went to Denver so that Robin could watch her favorite sports team, the Chicago Cubs, play a game against the Colorado Rockies.  We had a good trip, but certainly not the trip we had expected!  One of the unexpected things was getting caught in a hail storm late
Monday afternoon, which inspired me to think about a few things.  One post comes today, and I'm hoping to write along a different line of thought later this week.

We had an uneventful drive to Denver.  It was a beautiful day to travel.  There was minimal road construction and the traffic was light.  As we got close to Denver it looked like it might rain and a storm began as we ran a few errands before checking in to our motel.  And that's when things really got interesting!

We drove to the motel.  Kat and I sat in the car while Robin went in to take care of the arrangements for our room.  The rain, which was not falling very hard, turned to hail, which quickly increased in intensity.  As it struck the car it got louder and louder.  Looking outside there were pieces on the ground ranging from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter.  Judging from the violence of the noise and vibration as some struck the roof of the car some pieces must have been larger. 

I usually consider hail to be a fairly brief phenomenon but this storm last about fifteen minutes.  The picture is of the hood of our car, after the storm.  The car's roof looks about the same.  The hail also broke both side view mirrors and the taillight covers.  Inside the motel lobby, where Robin was, the hail broke four double-pane windows.  Fortunately the blinds were closed as the storm began, minimizing the spread of glass shards in the motel lobby.

During the storm, and in its aftermath, I was glad that everyone in my family was in a sheltered place.  To be outside in that storm would be physically dangerous and perhaps terrifying emotionally. And then I thought of Martin Luther

One of the turning points in Luther's life occurred on July 2, 1505, when he was caught outside in a thunderstorm.  A bolt of lightning struck so close to him that he cried out in a vow to pursue a life of particular devotion to God.  We might say that one thing led to another and the rest is history. 

My experience in the hail of last Monday gave me a glimpse into the terror that Luther felt at the time of the thunderstorm.  Like Luther, I am glad to have come to understand that the God who created the heavens and the earth is not merely a God of law and judgment, but also a God of gospel and mercy. 

Psalm 91 begins with these words:

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”"

My refuge and fortress, Luther's refuge and fortress, is not the protection given by a car in a hail storm or a vow made during a thunderstorm. 

The refuge and fortress that was Luther's over five hundred years ago, and is mine today, is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

By faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, you too can know the only refuge and fortress that will never falter.  

Life will still have its hazards, and storms will come into your life, but your eternal place will be with Christ, and He will never fail.  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, May 11, 2017

A First Time For Everything


There is a saying that goes, "There's a first time for everything."  As a pastor on the rez I had not one, but two, of those experiences yesterday.

It began when I went over to church to look for a package that supposedly had been delivered Monday, while we were out of town.  Supposedly, because the tracking info from the delivery service said that it had been left at the front door, yet it was nowhere to be found.  The regular UPS and FedEx folks know where we live, but if it was a substitute driver then there are no guarantees.  Not all buildings in Dulce have street addresses and if a person puts our address into Google Maps they are taken to a location ½ mile up the street.  Go figure.

So I expanded my search from the house to the other buildings on the property.  I went to the church.  No package there.  It was raining so I walked through the hallway connecting the church to the gym/office/classroom building.  And as I entered that building I heard several voices.

Multiple voices got my curiosity up.  Our cleaning person usually works alone and to the best of my knowledge we had no organizations or people using our building yesterday.  I also thought I smelled cigarette smoke. 

Following my nose and ears I went upstairs and  in the large classroom were three men, smoking and drinking.  I don't recall the conversation verbatim, but the gist of it on my end was telling them they had to leave, and on their end telling me that "so-and-so" had let them into the building.  I told them I didn't know "so-and-so" and that they still had to leave.  And so they gathered their things, leaving behind half a can of beer, and headed outside.

Finding people drinking inside the building…that was the first "first time for everything."

When they were outside and I was checking the lock one of the men asked me if I would pray for them.  I get those requests often, sometimes from people I have never met.  Sometimes from people who are intoxicated.  I always pray for them, although perhaps not always in the way they quite expected.  This time I did something different.  I said, "Pour out the rest of your liquor and then we'll pray."  Attaching a condition before agreeing to pray was my second "first time for everything" of the day. 

They very briefly considered my requirement, and then walked off in the rain.

In John 8 we have the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus calls out those who intend to stone her, saying:

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We read that story and are reminded  that we are all sinners and to pretend otherwise is hypocrisy.  But that isn’t all Jesus says, as he tells the woman:

"Go, and from now on sin no more."

Alcohol abuse is like a cancer here on the rez, except that people with cancer are much more interested in seeking treatment than people abusing alcohol.  I have no idea what other issues in the lives of those men drives their alcohol abuse, but living here for four years has taught me that each of them knows at least one person who is no longer living as a direct result of alcohol abuse.  The issue here is that pervasive.

This is one of the occasional weekends on the rez where many people are going to have more cash on hand.  More cash on hand means a number of things, including, unfortunately, an escalation of all manner of behaviors related to alcohol abuse. But as I think and write of all this right now I have a new thought, which is that perhaps this weekend will be the one where someone stops by the parsonage and says, "Pastor Brad, I really need to make my last drink the last drink of my life. Will you help me?"

There is a first time for everything, and that is an invitation I would readily accept.






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, May 7, 2017

Earned or Given?


Out here on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation they have a lot of respect for veterans of the US military.  There are signs as one crosses the boundary onto the reservation saying that the Jicarilla Apache Nation thanks all veterans for their service.  During the community summer festival they have a program and lunch for veterans and their families.  I went last year and the lunch was incredible!  On Veteran's Day they have a breakfast and parade, and the newspaper that day includes the names of all tribal members who have served in the military of the United States.  And if all that wasn't enough, veterans get free coffee at the gas station, year-round. 

The Nation appreciates veterans, and most of the ways they thank them are available to any veteran, and not just tribal members.  Peace time service, wartime service, overseas service, or service no farther away than the next state, none of those differences matter.  All that matters is that a person signed up for the military and served honorably. 

That last distinction is where things get just a bit more complicated.  I spent four years in the US Navy and in the Navy, as in any of the other branches of service, in order to serve honorably one, at a minimum, has to complete basic training.  A person isn’t truly an airman, soldier, sailor or marine until they have completed basic training and earned that title.  The Marines even used that in their advertising at one time, noting that the title of Marine was "Earned, never given." 

It occurred to me that the title of "Christian" works in a way that is exactly opposite.  In Romans 10:9, Paul writes:

"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."

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

And in John 4:13 Jesus tells the woman at the well:

"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

To receive the gift of salvation in Jesus there is absolutely nothing that we can do except to come to Him and have faith in what He has done on our behalf.  All we can do is to believe that He gave His very life so that our sin against God could be forgiven.  That is it.  It is something that is impossible to earn but which He very freely gives away.

Since coming to live on the reservation I have become proud of my service in the US Navy in ways that I had not really considered before.  But something of infinitely greater value is the name of "Christian," a name that is impossible to earn, but is very freely given to all who have come to have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

May this name, His name, be the name that you are known by.  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, May 4, 2017

No Other Options


In my last post, which was derived from my piece for our church newsletter, I encouraged people to think of one friend or family member they know who is not a Christian and to pray for that person daily in the month of May.  I suggested two different parts to those prayers, which were:

1) Pray that God might soften their heart and prepare them to receive the good news of Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

2) Pray that you might be sensitive to an opportunity to serve God in working to reach that person.  This could happen in any number of ways, such as being willing to pray for them over a situation in their life, or inviting them to come to church with you, or perhaps even directly sharing the Gospel with them.

There is a road leading east of town I run on several times a week.  In doing so I go past a ranch, where there are some cattle, horses and goats.  We live in a part of the country where there are predators, including coyotes and mountain lions.  I've never seen a lion in the wild but early one morning I did see a dead deer in the area of that ranch that had recently been fed on by a large animal.

At that ranch the horses and cattle are generally out all night, year-round.  But the goats are brought in to a fenced area near the barn and house every night.  The goats may or may not know the dangers around them, but the rancher knows, and in they come, each night.  For the safety of his herd there are no other options.

The refuge found in the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is so much like what I see with the goats that even Jesus speaks of it in similar terms, saying this in John 10:7,

"So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.""

The hazards of the world, both the visible and the invisible, are very real.  The damage that can result from some of them is eternal.  Jesus never promises that we will go through life problem-free, but He does offer the only place of safety from the very worst of hazards, which is spending eternity apart from Him. 

When it comes to a person's eternal destiny, the only place is through Jesus.  There are no other options.

As you continue to pray this month for your non-believing friends may they come to find in Jesus the way, the only way, to everlasting safety, peace and joy. 


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, April 30, 2017

Reaching One Person


This past week some of us from our congregation went to Phoenix for the annual gathering with other Native American congregations in the RCA.  Things were a little different this year from the past because our gathering also included several Presbyterian churches.  We spent some time together to talk about what we were doing, what kinds of things we were having success with, and what things we were struggling with. 

Something that leaders of several churches shared was that on Easter Sunday they had attendance that was much higher than usual, but then the next Sunday things dropped back down.  For a  variety of reasons people made it a priority to come to church on Easter and then went back to whatever their usual practice was the next Sunday, instead of returning to church again.

That pattern happens in  Dulce too and I was thinking about it the day after we came back from Phoenix.  It occurred to me that each one of us knows people who are not Christian, or if they are it is only in the barest sense of the word.  They may say they are Christian but there does not appear to be anything in their life that is changed because they follow Jesus.  As people who call ourselves Christian and do try to live lives that follow Jesus, we should be praying for our non-Christian friends. 

As we begin a new month I thought that I would encourage everyone to do something to bring the good news of Jesus to their non-Christian friends.  I would like everyone to think of one person they know, perhaps a friend or someone in their family, and to pray for that person each day in the month of May.  Pray for that person in these two ways:

1) Pray that God might soften their heart and prepare them to receive the good news of Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

2) Pray that you might be sensitive to an opportunity to serve God in working to reach that person.  This could happen in any number of ways, such as being willing to pray for them over a situation in their life, or inviting them to come to church with you, or perhaps even directly sharing the Gospel with them.

God provides answers to prayer on His timing, and it well may take more than one month to answer the prayers we lift for the salvation of those who are dear to us.  But He won’t answer prayers that we don't make, and, as Christians, caring for our friends and neighbors should begin with praying for them.  And perhaps after a month of praying for one person you will keep praying for that person, until God does answer, and then you can start for another person.


Let's all make the month of May, 2017, one of prayer for God's saving work in the lives of people who are dear to us, that they might learn to live in the love of Jesus Christ.