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.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Traveling To Happily Ever After


Robin and I still have one child living at home, a daughter who is 10 years-old.  Being ten, and having a very active imagination, she delights in creating adventure as she plays.  This happens when she plays alone and when she plays with friends.  She is at an age where she still will play dress-up games, grabbing a very well-worn princess dress from an old toy chest and letting her imagination run wild.  The stereotypical movie princess ends up living happily ever after. Our daughter's adventures don’t seem quite that goal-directed, but she certainly seems to be having a lot of fun along the way.

This morning I preached a funeral, using Isaiah 35:10 as my text.   When I happened across that passage earlier in the week I thought it might fit into my Easter sermon.  That didn’t happen, but when the funeral came up it turned out to be a very appropriate piece of scripture for the occasion.  Isaiah says,

"And the ransomed of the Lord
shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

Think through those words through the lens of Jesus.  By faith in what has been accomplished in the death-and-resurrection of Jesus, believers in Him are "the ransomed of the Lord," and so we are traveling on the way, right now, to Zion, the place where the Lord dwells.

And the promise of God is that along the way we will enjoy, we will delight, in His presence, or as Isaiah says, we "shall obtain gladness and joy," on the one hand, while on the other "sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

The adventures of movie princesses are fine, to a point, but Isaiah shows God's people traveling to what is truly happily ever after.  A journey that only comes through faith in the Lord Jesus.

This Easter may you know Christ Jesus, as your Savior and your Lord. 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 6, 2017

"Your right hand"


So yesterday I wrote a post that began by lifting up the surprising virtue of modern technology when reading my Bible.  An app on my phone occasionally brings things to my attention that I might have easily missed when reading from a print Bible.

And today…my surprise was found in the virtue of reading from print as I read Psalm 17, where verse 7 says,

"Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand."

Your right hand? Really?  Didn't I just read "your right hand" somewhere else?

I most certainly had read "your right hand."  It was in the Psalm I read only a minute or two earlier, Psalm 16, in the left-hand column of the same page holding Psalm 17, where verse 11 says:

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore."

I spent a little time with my eyes going back and forth between the verses, thinking about how the same place where we can find certain refuge is the very same place we can receive God's blessings.  The right hand of God.  And then I went for a run.

While I was running I continued to think about this idea of refuge and blessing being found in the same place, and then I began to think of a particular friend of mine.

An adversary is "a person, group, or force that opposes or attacks; opponent; enemy; foe," and my friend has a struggle with one.  From my point-of-view, my friend desperately needs deliverance from his adversary.  From my point-of-view it also appears that my friend has a love/hate relationship with his adversary. 

The idea from Psalm 16 of enjoying pleasures for evermore sounds very appealing, particularly to our human nature, but it is hard to enjoy a pleasure from the hand of God when we are not seeking for Him to provide a safe place for us to enjoy His gifts.

I don’t get enough opportunities to personally encourage my friend in the struggle with his adversary.  But the Lord God gives me unlimited opportunities to lift my friend up in prayer.  And so while running I prayed that God's right hand would rescue my friend from his adversary, so that my friend could truly enjoy the abundant blessings God has already poured out in his life. 

May you find refuge, and blessing, at the right hand of the Lord God. 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, April 5, 2017

The Flock


Modern technology can be both a blessing and a curse. If you are reading this article you are probably already very familiar with the many of the benefits and disadvantages that come with technology.

One thing I have come to appreciate is the usefulness of having a Bible app on my phone.  Sometimes I do my daily reading from the app and what I have learned to like about it is that it slows down my reading.  Instead of having a printed Bible open and perhaps 60 verses before my eyes the app shows me five to six verses at a time.  

As I read I've noticed that with the app I ponder the verses, the phrases, the words, more than when I read from print.  Things seem to catch my attention that I might have easily overlooked reading in a different manner.  That happened this morning as I read from Proverbs 27.

Proverbs 27:23 says,

"Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds"

I spent some time thinking about that verse while I was reading and I've come back to it several times today.  The idea of being a pastor is one of caring for a flock.  I am charged with keeping watch over a congregation.  It is my responsibility to guide them safely, keeping an eye out for any who may wander off, leading them back before they get into danger. 

Complicating the job, at least in relation to the idea of being a shepherd, is that I don't have all the sheep nearby all the time.  I see many, but never all, of my flock on Sunday morning and only a few of them during the week, and those at mostly random and unpredictable intervals.  I can give attention to them only when I see them, and only when they are open about what they are dealing with in their lives.  And so I care for the flock as best I can on Sunday morning, and seek to be aware of the opportunities God might present me with during the remainder of the week.

While I've considered these words from my role was a pastor I think they have a wider application, particularly as mature Christians relate to Christians who have newer faith.  Which brings me back to modern technology.

There is so much Christian material available online that it boggles the imagination.  Books, videos, podcasts, you name it, and often free.  Search, click and dive in.

Much of it is good, but so much of it is bad.  The bad ranges from just being weak and barely appealing, like cold coffee, to things that are toxic for one's faith.  As the shepherd grows in skill and the mature Christian grows in faith it is their responsibility to keep an eye on the flock, on the new Christian, and lead them to good water when you see them drinking from something that looks safe but is really poison. 

If you are a new Christian reading this find yourself a friend of Christian maturity, who can help you along the way.

And if you are a more mature Christian, or someone in the role of a shepherd, keep an eye on the flock, but also keep a measure of humility over your own life, knowing that there will be days when you yourself will need a shepherd.  Watch over others but also seek to have someone who is keeping an eye on you. 

And in all things may all Christians seek to live closely to the Lord Jesus, whom the author of Hebrews reminds us is "the great shepherd of the sheep."  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, March 29, 2017

Love That Endures


The picture on the right is of Dulce Rock, a geographical landmark that marks the western edge of town.  In days past it was legal to climb it and I believe there is an accessible route up along the back side.  Viewed from the front, as in the picture, you can see how the rock has crumbled a bit over time.  It is a local landmark, but one that appears to be gradually decreasing in size and prominence.  Given a long enough period of time it may one day fade to a bump on the ground.

This morning I was reading Psalm 5, where David says number of things about God.  Verse 7 kind of stuck with me, which says:

"But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house."

While David has several things to say about the nature of God in the Psalm, it was the way he talked about God's love that really caught my attention.  For David, God's love is both abundant and steadfast.

Abundant, being extremely plentiful and perhaps overflowing.  

Steadfast, being fixed in purpose, firm in direction, unwavering and resolute.

David knew these things about God's love, and he knew them personally.  But these things are not just true for David.  They are true for every person who has faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.  As we draw near to Easter we see God's love in its purest form in the abundance in which it is given Jesus and the steadfast way in which He secured the salvation of sinners through His death-and-resurrection. 

This is not a love that deteriorates over time, like the rocks making up Dulce Rock.  Nor is it like any man-made structure, such as the Great Wall of China.  Very impressive in its day, and impressive today, but gradually coming apart nonetheless.

The love of God, seen most clearly in the person and work of Jesus, is abundant and steadfast.  It is a love that endures.  And by faith in Jesus it is a love that is freely offered to you.



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, March 26, 2017

Exactly Enough


The picture in this post is of Archuleta Mesa, taken from behind our house and looking north.  I took it late in the day, near sunset.  The top of the mesa is perhaps 3 miles from home, as the crow flies.  Dulce sits at about 6800 feet of altitude, while Archuleta tops out close to 9200 feet.  As far as Dulce is concerned, Archuleta Mesa is the dominant geographical landmark.

During my sermon on Sunday I talked about God's grace, but in order to understand God's grace we first have to have a sense of why a person would need grace.  And the Christian standpoint is that grace is needed because humans sin, and they sin a lot.  

How much do Christians sin? That is where Archuleta Mesa comes in.  If each of the sins that I have committed throughout my life to this point were represented by a rock the size of my fist, and those rocks were stacked at the base of the mesa, the pile would probably be taller than the mesa.  A big pile, and one that grows bigger each day.

That is a whole lot of sin.  By comparison, how large is God's grace? 

God's grace, His forgiveness of my sin, is exactly enough.  Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, puts it this way:

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Christ Jesus, who had no sin, took all of my sin, every last bit, every boulder and pebble, and exchanged it for His righteousness.  The grace He had for me, the forgiveness of my sin, was exactly enough.  Or given the fact that while forgiven I remain a sinner living in a fallen world, so that I continue to sin each day, I could say that in both the present and future tenses as well.  He has forgiven my sin, He forgives my sin, and on the last day, He will forgive my sin.

I might be writing this in reference to myself, but being a pastor gives me no exemption before God as a sinner.  The number of my sins is great, but the forgiveness that comes by God's grace is exactly enough so that one day I will stand before God in the righteousness of Christ.

And this isn’t a gift that is only available to a few people, for He has exactly enough grace to forgive each and every one of your sins too.  All you need to do is to place your faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, and you, too, will know the forgiveness that He freely gives.  The grace He has for you is exactly 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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Glasses


Once upon a time I had 20/20 vision. Then in my later 30's I began needing glasses to read.  It wasn't a big deal.  I got some inexpensive glasses and put them on to read.  Over time I needed to get stronger reading glasses but my vision for distance was fine.  Or so I thought.  Around the time I turned 50 I got an eye exam that showed trouble seeing things both near and far, and so it was time for bifocals. 

Wearing bifocals was an eye-opening experience.  It took some time for me to figure out how to read with them without driving myself crazy.  But the changes I noticed with distance vision were more dramatic.  It turned out that things in the distance were much clearer and crisper through my bifocals than I had thought.  My impression had been that my distance vision was fine but wearing bifocals proved that wasn't the case at all.

Living life as a Christian can be a bit like my experience with my vision before I had bifocals.  I thought I was seeing things clearly, but I really wasn't.  We can live each day and think that we are doing things in ways that are pleasing to God, and then we find out that there is a big blind spot in our life.  We come to find out that we drifted off course, and that we're continuing to drift farther away each day.

This all came to mind recently when I was reading Psalm 7 and got to verse 8, which says:

"The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me."

The Psalmist is in the midst of a conflict with someone else and asking God to be his judge, basically in comparison to this other person.  But that isn't the way that God acts as judge.  God's standard isn't how we compare to other people but how we measure up to the guidelines He has given for us.  And by those standards everyone of us falls woefully short.  Our own righteousness, or own sense of integrity, will carry no weight with God.

When we read our Bibles and seek for God to be our teacher we find that God's word works like my bifocals, showing us things the way that they really are, and not as we seem to think that they are.  And that means that by faith in Jesus as my Savior I can read the words of the Psalmist and know how far I am from God's standards, and yet…

…and yet know that I can come before God confidently as my judge, because the righteousness that I do have is a gift from Jesus.  On the cross He took all of the things I have ever done that were offensive to God, replacing them with His perfect standing before God.  

He did this for you, He did this for me, and He did this for everyone who calls on Jesus as their Savior and Lord. 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, March 15, 2017

Food That Satisfies


I had some outstanding meals for lunch yesterday and today.  Yesterday I was in Santa Fe and found a diner that still served breakfast at 2 PM.  I had huevos rancheros with green chili.  They came with beans, potatoes and a tortilla and my hunger was satisfied. 

Today I was just getting ready to dig around in the kitchen for something to eat when the family having a pot luck lunch at the church gym invited me to join them.  A pot luck on the reservation by a large family has an amazing quantity and variety of food.  The red chili stew was fantastic. 

One plate. One bowl.  A second plate.  Several desserts.  Then I went back home to work. 

In a sense each of those lunches was unexpected.  I knew that I was going to eat something but until the time came I had no idea what it would be.  And they were both meals that were more than adequate in their amounts, and equally delicious.

But now, nearly six hours after lunch, and I'm thinking about food again.  I don’t need a lot and I may just snack on the items in the picture.  Not the healthiest choice, but I covered the food groups pretty well at lunch. 

The thing about our bodies and food is that the time will come when what we last ate is no longer sustaining us and we need to take in some more. 

But…there is a food that satisfies…

I made a pastoral visit yesterday, where I shared John 6:35.  Jesus says:

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."

When we have faith in Jesus we have something precious and enduring.  Something that he describes here in terms of food, a way that we can understand, and yet also with a  bit of mystery, because what we receive in him will never fail us.

Red chili stew…cheetos…  They feed one for a time and then we need something else.

Jesus…food that satisfies, now and forever.



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, March 12, 2017

If Only



About five miles east of here, on the highway that heads towards Chama, NM and Pagosa Springs, CO, there is a speed limit sign saying "55 MPH."  The sign comes as one leaves Lumberton, where the limit dropped to "45" and lets a driver know that now it is safe and legal to drive a bit faster.

If only it were that simple.  You see, the road is in very good shape, it has a wide shoulder, and it doesn't get much traffic.  The temptation is to drive over the limit, and I've seen people go a ways over, maybe to 75, or a bit beyond.  And I know the temptation well, for once, while my mom was in the car, no less, I climbed the hill to find a state trooper just over the crest.  He informed me I was going 70 in a 55, and he wrote me a ticket.

Before church this morning I read the opening chapter of Proverbs, which says this in verse 10:

"My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent."

If only it were that simple.

The Christian lives in a world surrounded by temptation, and they know it.  Some days it can seem as if everywhere they look there is something calling out to them.  Something calling them to follow a path separate from the one that leads towards God.  We can begin to see something that God has spoken of as right or wrong being more like a suggestion, rather than a rule for our own good.  Sort of like my episode on the highway.

One aspect of the good news of Jesus is that today we can see something clearly that the author of Proverbs only pointed towards.  And that is that our ability to resist the enticement of sin is something that we don’t do on our own.  It is something that we can't do on our own.  It is something we can only do when we rely on Jesus.

Jesus is the one who lived a human life that did not consent to sin, or to sinners, from his first breath to his last.  And when we have faith in Him then we know that we can turn towards Him and rely on His strength during those times of our own temptation.

When it comes to sin, "the struggle is real," as they say.  I can’t promise that you will never give in, for every Christian knows that they yield in different ways every day.  But I know that God is faithful and that if you turn towards Christ Jesus, you will find Him.  

If only?  The truth of God's word is that it truly is that simple.



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, February 28, 2017

Set Free


Do you ever find yourself occasionally longing for another time or place in your life?  A time when you recall certain things or circumstances with fondness, and you have a desire to return there, if only for a moment?  I know that I do.

For me some of these longings include a time with my children or a particular scene on a vacation. And in all honesty, in my case more often than not these longings involve running.  I'll be out on my run and find my mind wandering back to a particular day and I long to be able to run at a certain pace again, or to re-live a particular competitive moment.  Those days are, as they say, in the history books.  I might recall them fondly but there is no going back.

When I was a new Christian I used to look back on some of my sins that way.  Sure, I had learned that I shouldn't do them because God said so, but they felt so good!  It hardly seemed right that something that delighted me in a particular way should have to be left at the wayside.  Turns out that for God's people this is a way of looking at things that is very old, and likely very common.

I was reading from Exodus and the Hebrews were in a tough spot.  They were fleeing from slavery in Egypt and reached the Red Sea, a seemingly impassable barrier.  Faced with the sea in front, they also know that the army of Egypt is chasing them and closing in from behind.  And so in this predicament the people cry out to Moses, saying:

"What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?  Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: "Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'?  For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."

The Hebrew people see the choice starkly.  Serve as slaves or die in the wilderness.  What they have lost track of is the fact that they are God's chosen people and that they are in the wilderness because He is leading them there.  In a moment of crisis they long for the familiarity of slavery. 

But the thing is that God loves them too much to let them remain as slaves.  He is leading them to freedom.  The road may be bumpy but He is, as they say, "driving the bus."

This God, the One True God, is doing the same thing today.  He is reaching into the lives of His children, snatching them from slavery to sin, and setting them free.  And I might add that He does this without asking anyone's permission.

As a person grows as a Christian they learn that those "good old days," separated from Christ and oblivious to that fact, weren't so good.  They learn that those sins that felt so good weren't just an illusion.  They were a delusion.

As a child of God, know that God loves you too much to let you stay in slavery to sin.  He has set you free in Christ and He is taking you to an infinitely better destination.  The road may be rough at times but nothing will compare to the joy you'll know when you arrive.  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.