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.