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Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

For Others We May Never Meet

Many years ago when I pastored the Hilltop Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, there were two families that were unable to come to church because of family members that could not use the stairs. They got together and proposed a ramp addition to the building. Over the next 5 years they were the champions of fundraising and supplied most of the funds themselves. But by the time the money was raised and the ramp was finished, neither of the two in need were alive to ever use the ramp that they had envisioned and fought for. What they accomplished was for the generations of believers that followed them.

As Israel became an established nation, King David sought to build a permanent home for the ark of God. But though he had the vision, he was told he was not the one to build the Temple. So David did everything in his power to see that the work was done so that there may be a Temple for the generations that followed him.

So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble. Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God.  –  1 Chronicles 29:2-3

Maybe only a few remember names like ‘Red’ Bales or ‘Teed’ Moore. They are names on a plaque in the hallway of our church building of those who gave so that we have a facility to worship in. The may not have seen the completion of the work (because maybe it is as yet not complete). But they gave generously so that the generations that follow them might have a house of worship that they can call home.

There are people yet to be born who are counting on you to lay a foundation of faith so that there is a path that they can follow. There is some fruit that needs to be produced from seed that you have in your hand. Take time to look beyond your next two steps and catch a vision of your spiritual legacy and how it impacts generations of Christ followers.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Fellowship

Of all the programming and activity in a church, the best attended and most loved are the fellowship opportunities. That begs the question of what is fellowship? What is the church doing or accomplishing with a fellowship? What happens when fellowship breaks out? What happens in a fellowship? 

The dictionary uses words like communion, companionship, and community to define fellowship. We know it to be experiencing life together, getting to know one another, working through life’s challenges as a team, and living a certain way in community. It should involve food, play, stories, laughter and tears. Fellowship is about personal encounters that create community.

There are a couple of verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that capture the Biblical definition for me. Paul writes to the believers in Rome about his desire to fellowship with them.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. – Romans 1:11-12

Paul says he can’t wait to see them so that he can impart to them some spiritual gift. Do you know your spiritual gifts? Do you know how to impart them in order to encourage another? We must be aware of our gifts and how to utilize them. We also need to be motivated to use our gifts for the purpose of inspiring others, coming together with the premeditated purpose of using our gifts for mutual edification.

I like this particular translation because it clarifies the purpose of fellowship. It is to make each other strong.  There are so many things in our world that weaken us, drain us, and tear us down. We need to be strong, inspired and energized in order to fulfill our mission and the mission of the church. Fellowship should be that part of the mission of the church that counteracts the effects that daily living have on our lives. Functioning properly, good fellowship should revitalize the Body of Christ and make it fit for the mission of the church.

What is proper function? Paul says that we should be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. The picture here is of a spiritual potluck so to speak. Everyone comes hungry but they bring their best to a common table. Then the hungry can feast together on an abundance of spiritual food. Though we come weary and in need, we still bring our gift to the table. And there with the other gifts we are mutually encouraged at the feast of spiritual giftedness.

Let’s not minimize our fellowship opportunities to simply food and visiting. Let’s come prepared to bring our spiritual gifts and use them to make others strong. And be prepared to receive from the gift of others that we too might be encouraged and strengthened. There is nothing wrong with food, games and visiting with one another. But let’s take it a little deeper and with purpose. May our mission be revitalized and our membership renewed by the times of fellowship where we share with one another the gifts that the Lord has given us.

Divorce

            This week I want to look at the all too common issue of divorce. At a time when Jesus is busy with His ministry, the Pharisees trying to test Him with controversial questions, interrupt His work.

            Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” – Matt 19:3

            This may surprise you, but divorce was a matter of great debate in Jesus day. There were conservative and liberal rabbinic schools of teaching that defined lawful divorce differently. Marriage was a place where people found living difficult and confusing. The religious authorities of the day only added to the confusion and brought division. The Pharisees bring this matter to Jesus, to get Him to choose a side. Jesus responds by appealing to the nature of creation and God’s plan.

            “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” – Matt 19:4-6   

            Jesus returns to the way God initially created things as a clue as to how things should be. He said the answer to the question is in the ideals and the standards of God that were put in motion from the beginning. This is not an attempt to legislate life’s failures, but to proclaim God’s will. In the face of God’s standards, the Pharisees throw Moses’ words into the debate.

            “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” – Matt 19:7  

            Jesus says that Moses did not command such a thing. Moses gave a concession to fallen humanity out of compassion for them. The culture looks for loopholes to rationalize their behavior. Our fallen nature does not change the will of God for our very best, as God designed it. The Pharisees want to debate the particulars of broken relationships. Jesus wants to reveal a God who desires our best.

            Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matt 19:8-9   

            Some things are in place because you have a hard heart, but that does not reflect God’s heart. God still wants to walk in the Garden of Eden with you. He wants the very best of peace and joy for you. He never compromises His standards or principles. Now, Jesus’ words make even His disciples get a little uneasy. Seeing the principles of God beside the reality of life is a little overwhelming.

            The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. – Matt 19:10-12  

             The disciples feel if this is true, we might as well not try. It is better not to marry! In the face of God’s will for our lives, in the face of His calling for Biblical principles and for our best, it is easy to feel powerless, because we are. It is easy to feel unworthy, because we are. It is easy to try to rationalize and invent new rules that are easier to reach by our own efforts. But at the end of the day, God will not compromise the very best He has in mind for us. He does not desire that we get there alone. Quite frankly, we can’t. God still holds to the ideals because they are for our best. He also has a plan to redeem our brokenness and failures because He loves us. God still has the best in mind for us, even in our brokenness. And He has made a way for us to get there built on Biblical principles and standards. In relational success and failure, we must hold God’s hand and walk in His principles. This is the road to God’s promises.

What Does God Want?

Recently I had a very good friend respond to a prayer request by quoting the following: “Do your best and you can trust God to do the rest.” This statement got me asking myself lots of good questions. Is doing our best the sole condition in which God can be trusted to do the rest? What can God be trusted to do when we don’t do our best? What does God expect of us? How does God respond to less than our best, like a lazy effort or a poor performance? How does grace come into play? What is required to move God to action?

I think that God is always at work in our lives.  God is faithful and His love is unconditional. Accepting the fact that we are unconditionally loved is a hard concept to fathom for most of us. But it is a concept that is foundational to our faith journey. Understanding God’s love is such a powerful thing.  A better question could be, how should I respond to God’s gift of love and grace?  I don’t think I can earn His love or my way into heaven, but after accepting God’s call on my life and believing in Christ, shouldn’t I then be different somehow? Having the Holy Spirit dwell in me, am I not a new creature in Christ? How then should I live?  Christ told his disciples that the world will know you are mine by how you love each other. Maybe that’s a good starting point for trying to do our best. You can only begin to do your best, after you trusted in God’s love for you. Trust God with His love and love others with the love you have received.

Thus, giving your best to motivate God to act, to earn a reward or to get God’s attention is the wrong motive. God is gracious and loving all the time. God gives His best for our best continually. We give our best out of a response to the love that we have been given. God’s grace and mercy is all around us and always at work.  There is one thing that God absolutely asks us to do: seek him and his kingdom with all our heart. If we do that, we’re on the right track. We’ll make mistakes, we’ll foul up and in certain situations we will not be our best, but God will be with us no matter our performance or what our best may be under our circumstances. It all comes down to the fact that God loves us and gives us grace when we need it.  We then use that resource to love God and to love others as a response to the abundance of love and grace we have received.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:30-31

  • Thoughts borrowed from the Anderson Outlaw Theological Society

Room For Jesus

   One of the infamous moments in the Christmas story is when Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and there is no room for them in the Inn. God is leaving eternity to be born in the flesh. Jesus is coming to be the salvation of all mankind. But as Jesus arrives there is no room for Him. This is a struggle that has gone on for over 2000 years since that time. Jesus has come not only to be a Savior, but to be our Savior. Yet we find little room for Him in our busy lives.

   One time, the prophet Elisha was confronted by a widow in debt. Her debt was so great that she might forfeit her sons to pay that debt. She came looking to Elisha for help. Elisha asked her what she had. All she had was a jar of oil. Then, he instructed her to gather empty jars from any source possible and gather them in her home. After that, she was to pour into the empty vessels from the jar of oil that she had.

   So she went from him (Elisha) and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. – 2 Kings 4:5-6

   Part of the lesson of this encounter is that God will fill as much space as we make for Him. The widow found that God would pour through her life into every empty space that she collected. When there were no more vessels, the oil stopped flowing. The flow of God’s provision was limited by the space that she made for it. And so, it flows to you and I, that God will fill whatever empty space we make for Him. When we become too busy and too full with our pursuits, the flow of God has nowhere to go. Not that our pursuits are evil. Most of them may be very good. But the enemy of the best is the good. It is easy to get so overscheduled to the degree that there is no room for God to work.

   Our culture in particular provides too many activities to get involved in. It is no wonder this culture is so anxiety-ridden. We are overloaded. If we want to teach our children to take care of themselves spiritually, we must teach them to do so by our example and by limiting our extracurricular activities. Scripture even recognizes the need to rest and the need for Sabbath principles in our lives.

   The most precious gift that a parent can give any child is to demonstrate a personal relationship with God and consistently teach that child through their actions what having faith in God really means. We must be able to set boundaries and have priorities that give the Lord empty space in which to flow. In the toughest times of their lives, our children will learn in large part to rely on God by the example we display for them. 

   I remember my mother would cook breakfast for my father at dawn every morning. The smell in the house of a hot breakfast would draw me from my bed and lure me to the kitchen. There I would find my parents reading the Bible, studying their Sunday School lesson, interceding for family and friends, and listening for the voice of God. To achieve this practice, they had to rise much earlier in the morning. But it was space that they made; a priority they kept that readied them for whatever life threw at them, and helped them to grow and be fruitful through every season of their lives. Their discipline left a legacy of faithfulness for my sisters and I.

   There are lots of great activities and incredible opportunities that we have available to us as our post-covid world opens up. There are some important commitments and needs that will arise in the life of the church. There are plenty of athletic, educational, and social opportunities that we would love to see our children experience. All of these are very good and healthy. But we must be diligent in maintaining space in our lives for the Lord to be able flow into. This is crucial to our continued growth and fruitfulness, and it also sets a standard of spiritual discipline for the generations that follow us.

   “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” – Psalm 46:10 (The Message)

Feeling Cursed?

            Have you ever felt like there were days or seasons in your life when you were cursed? Have you had that feeling that Murphy’s Law (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong) describes your reality? Maybe everything was going along just peachy and then the unexpected happened, stealing your joy. Maybe you were stopped in your tracks by an injury or disease. Maybe your career has taken an unexpected turn into what appears to be a black hole. Maybe your family dynamic has suddenly turned upside down. Whatever it may be, there is a word from the Lord for you in those moments when you feel cursed.

            The Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you– Deuteronomy 23:5

            This word comes from an encounter that God’s children had with the Moabites. Unable to conquer Israel, the Moabites hired a man named Balaam to curse them. And though Balaam tried to curse God’s children, he couldn’t, for God turned the curse into a blessing. This is what God does for those who are His children because God loves them.

            When we feel we are cursed, we need to remember two things. The first is that God is indeed able to turn what looks like a curse into a blessing. No matter how final, how dark, how miserable any outcome may appear, the Lord our God has the power and the creativity to transform that curse into a blessing. It may not be the blessing you were looking for, or the escape and rescue you were praying for, but God can bring a blessing to you, those around you, and the kingdom of God from what first appeared as a curse.

            The second thing is that God loves you. Deuteronomy proclaims that God turned the curse into a blessing because God loves you. You must, in the face of what looks like a curse, believe that God loves you. You do not embarrass God. You are not a second-class citizen in the family of God. You are truly and deeply loved by God because God is love and you are God’s treasure.

            Thirty years into my marriage, just as my youngest son was to leave home, my wife informed me that she was leaving me. The curse of divorce was at my doorstep and it took me by complete surprise. I prayed for a miracle. I looked for God to do a divine restoration. I thought God would heal hearts and bring about a revival in my home. None of what I thought God would do came to pass. Instead I simply got the message that God was taking me where I needed to go in order to prepare me for the calling in the next season of my life.

            I walked thru the darkness, the depression, the financial stress, the career strain, the judgment, and the loneliness. I discovered that God loved me and His love could see me through any circumstance. And thru the apparent destruction, God prepared me in ways that allowed me to bless others whose journey took them to dark and scary dead ends. The depth and breadth of God’s love and God’s guiding hand turned the curse into a blessing. The blessing has born fruit again and again in lives transformed.

            Today you may be facing what looks like an undoing and it feels like a curse. Hold on to the Bible’s revelation of a God who turns curses into blessings. Believe that God loves you too much to let the curse stand, but will do everything within His power to transform the curse you face into a blessing. Let go of your agenda and let God do above and beyond what you can imagine to bring divine fruit from your circumstances.

            You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil;my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever– Psalm 23:5-6

Trouble Sleeping?

            One of the things that life in our culture steals from us is sleep. Stress, worry, planning, pain, schedules, catching up with thoughts from a busy day, or any number of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual things that can so consume us that we lose sleep. What I have often said, more truthfully than kidding, is that sleep is such a vital spiritual gift, that you are invited to sleep during my sermon. If you know me, I am quick to quote Psalm 127.

            Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for the Lord grants sleep to those he loves. – Psalm 127:1-2

            Solomon begins this song by reminding us our reality is that we depend on God for everything. Everything done without God is done in vain. Unless the Lord is in the building, the construction is done in vain. Unless the Lord is on guard, our safety is not secure. At work, at play or at home everything is dependent on God. And that includes our ability to sleep. If the Lord is involved, then we are more blessed in our rest than others are in their striving and achieving. How can this be?

            By way of faith in Christ, we are set free from the weight of our challenges and our fretting about the future or life’s outcomes. We can be sure that God has everything under control. Remember how Jesus slept in the boat during the storm that had His disciples panicking? (Luke 8:24) While others were fearful of the turmoil around them, Jesus was at peace because of His connection with God.

            So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:31-33

            I want to share three words in regard to this thought. The first is: focus. In these memorable words from the mouth of Christ, we are told to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. If we focus on God and God’s mission around us, we are promised that our needs will not go unnoticed. We are warned not to focus on the needs or the “what if’s,” but trust that God has it all in His hands. Focus on your connection with God and in that connection you will discover a peace that will allow for sleep.

            The second word is: fix. We cannot attempt to fix every need as though we are not dependent on God. I’ve heard it said that we should not pray for a hole when we’re leaning on a shovel. Where we have our part to play, the Word is clear that unless the Lord fixes the problem, the fixer fixes in vain. We need not be our own Savior. Let He who is more capable take His place on the throne of our life and fix what needs to be fixed when, where, and how the fixing will take place. If you can trust in the Savior’s ability to repair what needs attention, you can sleep like a baby.

            The last word is: control. If I find I cannot sleep, it is too easy for me to take control of the situation. Take a pill, drink a warm drink, buy a new mattress, play some soothing music. None of these are sinful, but we must remember that making Christ the Lord of our lives means giving Him control over every area of our life. The path forward is not one where we take control but one where we listen to Christ as He guides our steps through the myriad of options we have before us. Unless God is in control, our efforts to control our life and environment are in vain.

            Focus on your connection with God. Allow God to fix the things that are stealing your peace. Surrender control to God’s bidding and direction. Once everything is in God’s hands, then take a nap in the midst of the storms.

Wait Upon The Lord

            I have recently had knee replacement surgery and I am in the process of healing and rehab. The very word process indicates time. Time includes waiting. Waiting for the swelling to go down. Waiting for the therapy to finish its work. Waiting for healing to take place. I am not very good at waiting. But God’s Word has been very inspiring to me.

            God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31

            When we think of waiting, we often think of passivity. Waiting is practically synonymous with doing nothing besides just sitting and fidgeting. Such time seems both boring and a terrible waste of life. But when the Bible speaks of waiting, it’s an entirely different thing than what we do when we are stuck in construction waiting for the pilot car. Biblical waiting is not a passive activity, but is demonstrated by active dependence upon and obedience to God. Thus, waiting upon God is a spiritual discipline that we should seek to practice in our lives. 

            In order to get good at waiting, we first need to acknowledge that God is sovereign and nothing we are presently experiencing is outside of his direct oversight. Even our present circumstance is of the Lord. And we cannot straighten what God has made crooked. As much as we may want to “fix” our problem, we are first to wait upon the Lord by acknowledging His divine purpose in it. When I get involved, my hurry makes an even bigger mess of things. But, God will arrange things in a much better way than we ever could. Sometimes the most difficult thing for us to do is to do nothing at all—nothing except wait upon the Lord. 

            Our impatience becomes especially obvious during times of calamity. In God alone do we find the strength to wade through life’s troubled waters. We do not suffer from a lack of anything we don’t truly need only because we have Christ as our Good Shepherd. Waiting is time to stretch our faith and trust in God’s timing.  Instead of watching the clock or the calendar waiting for divine intervention, we can open our eyes to see what God is doing in us during the waiting hours.

            Fear can be a helpful response to dangerous situations. But it can also be something that overwhelms us and takes our eyes off of Christ. No matter our situation, however, Scripture shows us that a part of waiting upon God involves avoiding being controlled by fear and worry. The remedy to our fears is God himself. One way we can fight fear and worry is by immersing ourselves in God’s Word.

            “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” –  Psalm 56:3-4

            “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. –  Psalm 46:1-3

            As we wait upon the Lord, we are to grow in knowledge of Him and His purpose for us. And we are to be diligent to seek him and apply His Word to our lives.

            Another key side of waiting upon the Lord, is the idea of expectancy. Waiting upon God means expecting God to act. Christ rescues us from the wrath of God, and he delivers us from the bondage of evil and our own sin. Thus, when we find ourselves in difficult times, we should expect by faith that our God who has already delivered us from sin and wrath will also deliver us from our troubles.

             If your waiting on God, work at making that time fruitful. Ask God the questions you have. Take extra time in the Bible to hear God’s voice. Be determined to grow in faith and obedience. Make the most of the time you have been given because you know God has given that time for a purpose.

Pentecost

   I recently had a new member remark that he really enjoyed our Easter service because it reminded him of why Easter is a big deal. It is difficult for me to let Pentecost slide by without a reminder of what a big deal Pentecost is. It doesn’t get the fanfare that Christmas and Easter get, and sadly, we rarely do anything very special to mark the day. But, make note that Pentecost is a very big deal! I read somewhere that at Christmas, God came to live among us. At Easter, the Lord was raised from the grave so that we might live forever with Him. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came that God might live within us!

   Just before Jesus ascended into eternity, He told His disciples that God’s Spirit was going to descend on them. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8

   Jesus also told them that His ministry would continue through them in even greater and more powerful ways.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12

   So in short, Pentecost is the prophesized empowerment of Jesus’ followers to continue the mission that Christ started in the flesh. Pentecost is the presence of God within us to enable us to take the saving work of Christ to the ends of the earth.

   When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4

   In unity, they gathered expecting God to do what was foretold, though they did not really understanding what would happen. Thus, it was in faith and prayer that they met together in obedience to their calling. And the Holy Spirit came upon them in wind, fire, and word. The Lord moved upon them and was felt, seen and heard. The Spirit came to rest upon each one of them. In Hebrew the word for wind, breath and spirit are the same. Luke describes the moment as God breathing new life into them. God blew away their fears, their inability, and their insecurity. God breathed into them new thought, new wisdom, new boldness and new power.

   With this anointing of the Spirit, they were not given positions, weapons, or privilege. They were given the ability to share the gift of life that had been given to them. They could communicate, relate, proclaim, model and point the way to eternal life through the work of Jesus Christ. They did not become more private, more stoic, or more inward. They were sent out to places near and far to allow the Gospel to be felt, seen, and heard. The work of the Holy Spirit remains the same today.

   You may not consider yourself a Pentecostal, but Pentecost should still be a big deal for you. It marks the intimacy of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in the life of every believer and that includes you. That Spirit is the power, wisdom, and direction that every child of God needs to fulfill their God-given calling. The Biblical call upon us all is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us not neglect the presence that God desires to have in our lives.

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