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Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

Attitude Adjustment

John Maxwell, the accomplished ministry mentor says, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Your chosen perspective or disposition will flavor your outlook, and your outlook will determine the degree of joy and success you achieve in this life. The trouble is, this world will challenge you and shade your outlook. Life can look so defeated that we become established in a bad attitude and live miserably in opposition to the will and promises of God.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9

The Apostle Paul gives us some sound instruction as to attitude adjustment in order to achieve the peace and promise of God. Rejoice in all circumstances. No matter how hopeless or dark the outcome may appear, remember that the Lord is near.  Our Savior’s promise is that He is with us always even unto the end of the age. If God is for us, if He is with us, who or what can come against us? Our attitude should be one of confidence because the Lord is on our side.

Pray with thankful hearts about everything. Let all things that might steal your peace and your good attitude be known to God. Purposefully put the challenges of every day in the hands of God. Lay them at the foot of the cross and leave them there. Share your needs with brothers and sisters who will pray confidently. Ask the Lord to guard your heart and your mind, imparting to you a healthy attitude.

Think on the good, count your blessings, and focus on the truth. Try not to jump to conclusions or buy into worst-case scenarios. Allow the good around you to bring light to your path. Try not to be certain that what you dread is right around the corner. Lift your chin to see the bright and beautiful work of God around you.

And take what you have learned and heard in your spiritual growth, and put it into practice. Remember the Bible passages that have been significant to you. Sing or listen to the music that inspires you. Stay in your devotion book, study your Bible, make time for meaningful prayer, and worship and praise the Lord because He is who He is. Putting your spiritual tools to work when things are glum, will lift you up to where you can see the presence of God.

Have you been too grumpy, defeated and negative? Take Paul’s words to heart and give yourself a ‘negativectomy’. You will be blessed by the attitude adjustment and gain a clearer perspective of the work of God in your life and in the world around you. You will also find that your attitude will open up God’s purpose for your life and your part in God’s kingdom.

Utilizing Prayer

As I walk my dogs in the parks this time of year, they pick up lots of sand spurs in their paws. They know that if they stop, I will pluck those nasty little stickers off and ease their journey. But normally, they are in too big of a hurry trying to get to the next tree or the next squirrel. So, they will limp along on three legs and sometimes just on two. They know their master will remove the source of their discomfort, but they are too busy to slow down and let their master help them.

I find that our membership is often like this. We come to a place where we need God and would desire divine intercession, but we are moving too fast and have our agendas filled with so many things that we don’t slow down enough to let the Master do what He would do for us. We need to be coerced into allowing the Elders to lay hands on us and anoint us with prayer. We will ask for prayer, but rarely use our corporate gathering for being surrounded by prayer.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:13-16

The Apostle James shares with us the place of praise and prayer in a community of believers. If things are going well praise the Lord – share a song of God’s faithfulness. But if you’re in trouble, if you are sick, or if you are struggling with sin, you should pray and allow the church to pray for you. The Body of Christ holds the gift of healing and the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective. Before my knee replacement surgery, I had the church lay hands on me and anoint me on Sunday morning, and I drove to the Spanish building on Sunday night for them to lay hands on me and pray for me in Spanish. I guess I wanted coverage in two languages! An essential part of Body life is corporate prayers of intercession.

“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ “– Mark 11:17

When Jesus cleared the Temple of the sales and money-changing that was going on there, He proclaimed God’s house a house of prayer. He did not proclaim the Temple a house of preaching, or a house of music. Jesus was concerned that God’s house be a place where people could get access to God through prayer. Here is a place where I believe the ministry of the church is under utilized. There is little as powerful and Biblical as the laying on of hands, anointing with oil and the gathering of the Elders to pray. And yet, this is a part of church function that gets so little used.

I implore you. If there are things going on in your life that need divine intervention, stay after service or stand up during service and demand a circle of prayer. Come by the church office during the week and allow us to gather those who are present to surround you with prayer. We have been given a tool to use to access abundant life. We dare not leave that tool in the toolbox. Let’s do more than say we will pray, but let’s make time to actually voice our prayers to one another.

MILK or MEAT?

            The last few years I have noticed some of my own physical decline. My eyes have gotten worse, my hearing needs assistance, my joints have become painful, and my energy is not what it used to be. But, on the bright side, I am more mature spiritually than I have ever been. This is the way the Bible says it should be. The temporary will diminish while the eternal should flourish. Though our physical life should be weakening, our spiritual life should be strengthening.

            So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

            Even though our physical self grows more feeble, our spiritual life can be refreshed and renewed every day, and it should be. Where we spend hours and money taking care of our failing bodies, we should be investing in our spiritual maturity as much or more. It is too easy to remain in spiritual infancy with a foot in the door of Heaven. We need to take responsibility for our spiritual lives because we have been given vital responsibility in God’s work in our world.

            And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. – Ephesians 4:11-14

            The work of the church is to equip its members to do the work of the ministry, not continue to be coddled by that ministry. It is the believer’s responsibility to use the work of Christ in their lives to strive for spiritual maturity and the fullness of the likeness of Christ. We must mature in order to be sources of unity and stability in days of a turbulent culture that can wreak havoc on the faith of Christ’s followers. So we must be diligent to feed, mold, and mature our spiritual life daily.

            For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 6:12-14

            The Biblical warning is that we cannot afford to continue our lives on spiritual ‘baby food’. We will not grow spiritually if we continue on a diet of spiritual milk. There must be a place in our lives where we dig deep into the Word of God and make significant personal discoveries and practical life transformation. There must be a handful of places in our lives where we, in personal study, grow in the knowledge of the Son of God. There must be a place in our lives where we ask or are asked the tough questions and are required to make real life application of our faith. We must be careful of setting aside our spiritual growth opportunities to make time for the transient things in our life. 

            Is your spiritual life feeding on milk or meat? Is your spiritual life preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison? What must you do to “beef up” your spiritual input?

A Reformation Movement

            The First Church of God of Elkhart, Kansas is associated with the Church of God of Anderson, Indiana. Our group of churches does not consider itself a denomination, because that would divide the Body of Christ, which we believe should be united as one. Instead, it considers itself a reformation movement. In other words, we are a group of like-minded believers given a message that proclaims the need for holiness along with salvation. This is a vital component of our purpose, because we see that revival of the soul without reformation of one’s daily living, leaves the church impotent and unable to bring about the change in society that God desires.

            A change in a person’s belief without a change in their behavior renders that new believer spiritually ignorant and powerless. The Reformation Movement is one of repentance from sin and transformation into a holiness that reflects the character and values of God. It is the reflection of the character of God in practical, day-to-day living that gives the message of Christ’s viability in community. Too often, the hindrance to the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth is hypocrisy in the lives of those who proclaim to be disciples.

            I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. – Acts 26:20

            When we share the Gospel in India, we find that it is not terribly difficult to get people to receive Jesus Christ. The Hindu believers have a pantheon of more than 300 gods and adding Jesus to the list is not much of a stretch. The real work of carving out a follower of Jesus is the removal of the other 300 gods. Evangelism is a work of both addition and subtraction – the addition of Jesus by faith and the subtraction of that which would compete with Jesus’ place in the heart.

            This is true in our culture as well. Ministry begins with showing others how to add Jesus to their lives and continues by showing them how to subtract sin and be obedient to the words of Jesus. The living testimony of our discipleship is the daily demonstration that we have both taken a step of faith to include Christ as our Savior, and that we have used His presence to transform our lives by diminishing sin.

            The reformation is needed today because the Gospel has become a gospel of addition with very little subtraction. Much of spiritual conversion has not been followed by moral conversion, and the message of holy living has gotten lost. At the risk of sounding legalistic, we cannot continue on our path of sin under the guise of grace and refuse the transformation that God offers our lives, regardless of how drastic those changes might be. I hear people dismissing the Old Testament rather than working to understand it. I hear people eliminating the letters of the Apostle Paul in an effort to justify their lifestyle, while maintaining their status in the kingdom of God. This kind of rationalization makes cultural Christianity a work of addition without subtraction. I believe that it leaves faith empty and fruitless.

            Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. – Romans 6:15-18

               Let us fight any cultural compromise by adding to our faith daily and growing in intimacy with the Savior. Let us also be students of the Bible and allow the truth of the Word to transform our lives.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:23-25

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Since my knee surgery, I’ve developed a fear of falling or tripping and possibly reinjuring my knee. Thus, my tendency is to walk with my eyes focused downward. I watch the ground in front of me and scan for uneven ground and obstacles that might cause me to stumble. This habit causes me to miss a lot of the beauty around me. I miss much of the sunrise or the wildflowers or people waving hello. I think we can walk like this spiritually as well. We can focus on our circumstances, our problems, our fears, and all that lays at our feet, and fail to see the beauty of the work of God around us.

            We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

            If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. – Colossians 3:1-2

The Apostle Paul calls us to look to things that are unseen, to lift our eyes to see the work of God going on around us. The things we can see are here today and gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see will last forever. This is a call to make a deliberate, or purposeful choice to focus on the activity of God.  Setting our mind on things above requires personal action. If we choose to look to the presence of God. We can diminish the power of our demanding circumstances and release the power of God’s peace.

One weekend while doing prison ministry, I noticed that the inmates all prayed with their chins up and their eyes looking skyward. I asked one of the brothers what this practice was all about. He told me, “If we look down, we see our prison clothes and are reminded of our sins. If we look out, we see the walls and fences that hold us and are reminded of our limitations. But when we look up we see freedom and are reminded of God’s presence and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

            Your word O Lord is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105

            I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2

If we stay in the Word, we need not fear the challenges at our feet. The Word of God will guide us through life’s challenges. We should not look around for the temporary or the worldly, for their help is fast fleeting. We must focus on the unseen by faith and live in the beauty of the sight of God, by seeking FIRST the kingdom of God.

What About the Future?

   There is a multitude of things in our lives that can steal our peace and bring on fear and anxiety. The COVID now has a variant that threatens to bring us back into shut down and quarantines. Government mandates that impose upon our freedoms threaten to bring a revolution. There are questions about the value of the dollar and the safety of our savings and investments. There are serious questions about our physical, mental and financial health. In the midst of such threats, there are a bevy of voices giving us advice and direction for the times in which we live. I would like to remind you of a few things that the Bible has to say for such an hour as this.

   Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me – Psalm 23:4   Though our path leads us from the mountaintop to the valley of shadows, we are assured that we are not alone. God is with us. We have a powerful advocate that will walk with us through any of life’s toughest circumstances.

   They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. – Psalm 107:28-29   We can pray for protection, and the Lord can speak to our circumstances. God is the God of deliverance who can make the storms be still and hush the waves. In the midst of all we can do to protect ourselves, we need not forget to pray and enlist the abilities of the Almighty.

   Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? – Matthew 6:26   We need to remember how valuable we are to God. We are cherished by the Lord and He cares for you more than you can imagine. As we wish for and work for the very best for our children, God too is at work toward the very best for you.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” – Isaiah 41:13   We are told that the Lord’s word to us is: fear not. Why? Because, God has a hold of our hand. God is holding our hand not because He is afraid but because He is there to help and lead us through whatever may come.

   Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand. – Gaither Vocal Band

Send Out The Singers

   In our world today, where do we gather in an auditorium and give an inordinate amount of time singing together? Not at a performance or a concert where you can sing along; where the point is to hear those on stage sing and play. But, where is there a gathering where the very purpose is to give significant time to singing together? The obvious answer, with some exceptions I suppose, is in church. Singing is a part of worship. Singing praises to God is a vital tool in our journey through life. Singing is an essential part of the church’s function. Why?

   In 2 Chronicles 20, God’s people under the leadership of King Jehoshaphat are under attack. Their enemies have joined together such that Jehoshaphat is facing a massive force that he cannot match. 

   Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. – 2 Chron. 20:3

   Jehoshaphat’s first response in the face of overwhelming odds was fear. There are things that cause us worry and fear. Some of those things shouldn’t cause fear, as they are not real threats. But other times, the threat is real and fear is a proper response. There are some very scary circumstances that you may have to face in this life. Fear is a normal response and it is healthy if it drives you to pray.

   Jehoshaphat’s second response was to seek the Lord. Fear caused him to turn toward the Lord not distance himself from God. His calling out to God in prayer turned to action. This produced his third response. He gathered others to come together in spiritual discipline. He proclaimed a fast throughout Judah. He got others to get serious about prayer for the situation.

   Our God, will you not judge our enemies? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. – 2 Chron. 20:12

   Focused on God and using their spiritual tools, God gives them assurance that He knows where the trouble is and He will take care of it. The Lord also gives them simple instructions.

   You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you. – 2 Chron. 20:17

   Having heard the Lord’s assurances of victory, Jehoshaphat went to battle with singers out in front of the army. What?? Who sends singers out to lead into battle? . . . God’s people sing praises to the Lord because they know that all battles belong to Him. The songs of God’s children bring victory.

   Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. – 2 Chron. 20:21-22

   We gather and sing on Sunday mornings because there is power in our songs of praise. We give time to singing together because it is our testimony of faith in the victory that is ours in Christ. We sing, though we may not be good singers, because we know it is a spiritual avenue to defeating the things that cause us fear. We trust that God knows our troubles and can take our fear and discouragement from us.

   Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7

   When your opportunity for congregational singing comes, be bold in exercising a spiritual tool that brings victory over those things that can steal our peace. Don’t clam up. Don’t ride it out. Don’t hide your voice. We don’t want to give our enemies an opportunity. Together let’s slay the enemy with our song.

With Heart and Voice

   I am often confronted with those who feel as though they are not good enough for church or for God’s favor. When asked why some did not partake of the Lord’s Supper, they responded that they did not feel deserving. The unspoken ‘message’ here is that there are some who are good enough, and some who are deserving. But the Bible denies this fallacy.

   All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23

   The truth is that no one is good enough. There are none who deserve salvation from sin. The righteous works of any person’s life are simply dirty rags in God’s eyes. Not that righteous works don’t have value, but they do not have the power to save. Salvation is simply a matter of faith. It is a matter of trusting that the loving work of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is good enough to secure our place as a child of God.

   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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13

   The Apostle Paul writes to the church of Rome that is it essential that we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead. In other words, that from the depth of your being, at a gut level you have faith that Jesus lived, died on the cross for your sins, and God raised Him from the dead in victory over sin and death for you. It does not mean that we will never have doubts or questions. But the circumstances of life, the work of the enemy, nor the confusion that those can cause will be able to shake the core truth you believe about the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is ingrained in your life and rooted in your daily existence.

   The apostle also includes the need to confess this faith in Jesus with your voice. The reality that exists in your heart will not remain hidden. The truth that has saved you from death is a truth that must be shared. The message is that the authority of my life has been handed over to Jesus. Because faith has accessed salvation, confession becomes Jesus is my Lord. Lordship implies that Jesus becomes the foundation of life. There is recognition that Jesus has won the victory over sin and thus wins His place on the throne of life. Jesus has become my guide, my authority and my owner’s manual. Jesus is calling the shots in my life and I’m calling Him my Master. I was not good enough. I was not deserving. But a heart faith has justified me and my mouth’s confession of Christ’s Lordship has saved me.

   I believe we find is very assuring to have Jesus in our hearts, but discomforting to confess Him with our mouths. Jesus as Lord must be lived and as it is lived, it must be proclaimed. We were not with salvation given a spirit of timidity but a spirit of boldness. Let’s not only believe in our hearts but boldly proclaim with our mouths to all who will listen that Jesus is our Savior and our Lord.

   Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:15-16

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

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