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Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

At Your Service

My wife and I had several plans for Thanksgiving and none of them came into being. Something unique happened that was never in our plans. Unpredictability has been a part of this unprecedented year. And I fear that it has been a source of a great deal of stress and anxiety. We’ve been spoiled by the amount of control that we have had and we have been fooled into believing we can build our lives from a blueprint of our own making. Though, as people of faith, we are to live available and prepared to adjust our lives to the Lord’s bidding.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Ex 13:21-22

When God led His people out of bondage and into freedom, He went before them 24/7 leading the way and setting the timing. Where the pillar went they followed. When the pillar stayed, they waited. They assumed an attitude of flexibility. Every day was unique and they never knew what God would do. They just kept their eyes open and trusted God to do what was needed and take them where He needed them to go. Just follow, trust and obey. 

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. –  John 10:3-4

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus leads the sheep and they follow because they know His voice. The sheep do not present a plan to the shepherd. The sheep don’t get concerned about the constant changes. They simply listen to the shepherds voice and follow.

In the Health Clinic this week, I saw a sign that said, “If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or fearful, see a professional.” Where I have a great deal of respect for the counseling profession and recommend it, I think much of today’s angst can be relieved by giving your plans over to the Lord and listening to the guiding voice of the Good Shepherd.

When I was in little league as a young boy, I was placed in the outfield. I wasn’t particularly talented so I played where there was little action to keep me from harming the team. One sunny afternoon out in center field I trapped a bumblebee under the front spike of my cleats. I didn’t particularly want to kill it. But I was afraid to let it go. Then, I heard the crowd call my name. When I looked up, a pop fly hit me right in the face! As often as our coach told me I had to be ready, the pace of the game lulled me into a world of my own making. When I needed to move, I was not really in the game.

Every day the rules are changing, plans are being disrupted, demands are being made, events are being cancelled, and our lives are exhibiting an unpredictability as never before. This much disruption is bound to disturb and unsettle us. Ideally it should not. We must be on our toes and ever ready for what ever comes our way. We must listen for the Shepherd’s voice for where He is leading in every circumstance. We must trust that a loving God goes before us and behind us 24/7. It is a day to get your hands off the wheel, your eyes open to the opportunities, and get in the game.

Against The Wind

I love walking my dogs every day. But, many days walking against the wind takes the joy out of the journey. One thing that makes living in SW Kansas unique is the frequent, fierce wind. I asked a lifelong resident of Elkhart if they have ever gotten used to he winds. He responded, “Nope! Never!” 

I read this week about temptation. The devotion said, ‘The same wind that blew at your back on your way to Hell, will blow in your face on your way to Heaven.’ I don’t think I’ll ever get used to walking against the wind on my way to Heaven. In fact, some days walking against the wind of the world takes some of the joy out of the journey and requires faithful discipline.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4

Walking against the winds of the culture and the ways of the world can bring a variety of character building events. Character building events at face value can steal the joy out of the journey. But James instructs us to put such ‘into-the-wind moments’ in the column of joy. With Divine help and Divine perspective we can do this, because we are promised that such a journey will produce steadfastness. And steadfastness will complete us such that we lack nothing. In other words, there is much promised and much to gain by walking into the winds of trials and temptations. Those gains will fit us with tools that complete us and grant us real joy.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith – Heb 12:1-2   

We call this journey of walking against the wind, the pursuit of holiness. And the Bible is clear that this pursuit requires two things. First it requires endurance. When every step is against the wind, it is tempting to quit, take a short cut, or do a 180 and walk with the wind. It is a matter of discipline, determination and persistence to gain the steadfastness required to claim God’s promises.

Second, it requires God’s help.  We must be looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Living separated from the ways of the world and counting it as joy, requires that we have our eyes consistently on the Lord. We cannot be distracted. We cannot look around for options or alternatives. We must stay connected to Jesus as we take one purposeful step after another.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . . . Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:2-3, 23-26            

It is easy to envy those with the wind at their backs. But the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction. With joy, let us all press forward against the wind to gain all the eternal benefits.

Stillness

In a world of constant input from ear buds, cell phones, Alexa, and 24-hour news, it is seldom that we experience a quiet stillness. There are some particularly early mornings as I get my coffee when the earth lays still. Car doors are not slamming, music is not blasting, dogs are not barking, the wind is not blowing, and the only noise is the beat of a dove’s wings. Those moments do something special to the soul. Stillness gives respite to the core of my being. In the stillness, I get rest from life’s chaos. In the stillness, I can hear the voice of God speak peace into the storms.

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! – Psalm 46:10

There is such a need for stillness in our chaotic world, and so little opportunity to experience it. Noise pollution clutters our hearts and makes the crises of our circumstances more debilitating. There always seems to be some bad news, some voice, some music, some advertisement, or some white noise keeping us from being still and knowing that there is a God who will be exalted among all nations. No one finds time to seek out such stillness, for time is never found. Time is MADE. And these days, it is vital that we make time to find a place and a time of stillness where God can be known.

The next trick is getting used to the stillness. We grow accustomed to the noise and busy activity. We are taught to value productivity. We can face the stillness and grow anxious, not knowing how to do nothing. It is easy to grow impatient with the stillness and fill the void with sound or look for something to do. But it is essential that we be. The temptation in our warped values is to see such time as a waste. What really have we accomplished? We didn’t DO anything! But the Psalmist implores us to be and not to do. To be still and in that stillness know that there is God. And thru that knowledge find peace in the fact that God will be exalted in the nations and throughout the earth.

What does a believer do to experience joy and peace in a time of pandemics, elections, riots, quarantines, injustice and economic uncertainty? However inexperienced or uncomfortable, believers make more time than they have to be still, to embrace that stillness as quintessentially vital, and to listen for the still, small voice of God.

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

Watchman

Every Monday at noon the local sirens go off. They are tested so that they can be ready to give the citizens of our community fair warning of bad weather. Most of us have our cell phone listed with emergency services so that if bad weather is headed our way we get both a text and a call. We embrace the warning because if something is coming our way we want to be prepared. But how do we warn of what will arrive with the end of our lives? Don’t we need to be prepared to face God? Jesus says there may be some surprises.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

God was coming to His people in judgment in the days of the prophet Ezekiel. And Ezekiel was given a responsibility. Ezekiel called to be a watchman to Israel, their warning system. He had a two-fold responsibility: he was to hear the word from God and then give that word to the people. God’s method has always been to use those who are in touch with Him, in order to reach those out of touch with Him. Ezekiel was not called to convert them. His only responsibility was to warn them.

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. – Ezekiel 3:17-18

We often speak of evangelism, the task of winning souls. But in reality that is not our responsibility, that is the work of the Spirit. Our work is to warn. Our responsibility is sharing our concern, our testimony, and the word God has given us. Those who receive our warning and testimony are responsible before God, for what they do with what God has given us to share with them.

God has called all of us. God’s call on our lives is first to salvation – then to service. Jesus said, “Come unto Me.” As soon as one comes He says, “Take My yoke upon you.” God has given grace to us so that our lives might have reason. That grace-given purpose is to join Christ in service. God seeks to use those of us who are in touch with Him to reach the lives of those who are not in touch with Him. God holds us responsible to be watchmen for the lost.

God said to Ezekiel: if you do not warn them, their blood is on your hands. But if you warn them, you have delivered your own soul. If we observe someone that is out of touch with God, we should warn that person that God is not pleased, and if they do not change their relationship with God, their eternity will not be enjoyable. We are not to condemn them. We don’t have to preach to people. We don’t have to argue over other religions. We don’t have to defend God, the Bible, or our faith. If they sincerely ask honest questions, seek to answer them. If they seek to argue, just restate your concern and let it go at that. We must be diligent to trust God and fulfill our responsibility.

Standing Firm

There are a number of important questions to answer that the pandemic has brought to the surface. Where does caution end and over-cautiousness begin? Where does submission to authorities end and rebellion begin? How do we live richly and not fear in extremely frightening circumstances? How do we know what is right and act on it, when so many would coerce us away from such belief and action? How do I know God’s voice in the midst of so many conflicting (godly) voices?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11

The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians that we must be strong in the Lord and wear the armor of God so that we might stand. That may not sound very ambitious, but in truth, it is a significant goal in our day. It is not an easy thing to stand for what is right and true, stand for what you believe, with so many voices pouring contrary points of view into our lives. This is particularly true when those voices come from people we respect.

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ – Matthew 11:15-17

Jesus expressed His frustration with His own culture in that they were hard to please and opposed every idea. If you would proclaim joy, they would not be happy. If you would proclaim sadness, they would find no reason to be sad. No matter what is suggested, they would not agree or go along. They found fault in everything. The truth is that people desire to do their own thing and then look to conform you to their ideals in order to confirm their ideal’s righteousness.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29

The Bible is clear that the loudest voice in our lives should be the voice of God. But in the midst of so many passionate, influential, authoritative, educated, and familial voices, it is often difficult to hear the voice of God. If it is heard, then you may have to choose whom to offend by standing your ground in obedience to God. It is very easy to be shaped by the culture and the voices around us, rather than seek out and follow diligently the voice of God.

In a day where there are so many voices calling you to give up your ground, we must first develop a discipline that allows us to truly recognize God’s voice. We must have faith that God speaks and the direction that He imparts is the wisest course of action. We must be determined to persevere in the direction that the Lord points us. We must be willing to absorb whatever persecution that obedience may bring. We must be strong in the Lord and put on the armor of God. Then we can stand for good in the onslaught of tempting and manipulative voices that would turn the ground beneath us to sand. Standing your ground is a daily battle that requires daily attention and spiritual discipline.

Listen Up!

This past Sunday I was getting ready for morning worship by performing my normal routine. There is not enough space behind my ear to hold my glasses, my hearing aid and my microphone, so I remove my hearing aid and replace it with my microphone head set. It occurred to me that I was removing my ability to hear in order that I might speak. That action reminded me that the inability to listen in order to be heard, is a common hindrance to ministry.

I was always been taught that we have two ears and one mouth and that was God’s way of saying that we should listen twice as much as we speak. It is true that listening to another (and to God) is a discipline and necessity for a Christ-like spirit. Too often we listen to figure out what to say or what advice to give. We can listen long enough to interject a thought of our own. We can stop listening because we assume what another will say. We can also tune out another’s voice for the purpose of coming up with a better example, story, funny line, or worse circumstance. None of these scenarios is as appropriate as intently listening in order to understand.

Jesus was traveling to Jericho when a blind man called to him. The blind man came to Jesus and it would have been easy for the Lord to assume that he wanted to be healed. Maybe in omniscience he knew that the man wanted to see. But Jesus asked him a question and listened for the answer.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” – Mark 10:51

I had a gentleman come to the door of the church one-day. He wore a long, worn out military coat. His gray hair was disheveled and it had been some time since it was washed. He had not shaved and there were black smudges on his face. I just knew he was looking for food or money. I asked him, “How can I help you?” He responded, “I have written and illustrated a children’s book and I wonder if I can make a copy so that both of my grandchildren could have it.” Sure enough, from his long coat he pulled a pristine set of pages with drawings and a story about the little cloud that cried. I could not have been more surprised.

I’m so glad that I did not offer this gentleman the assistance that I assumed he was looking for. What a powerful moment that encounter remains for me, as a reminder of the importance of listening. There are those that God will put on your path who need you to hear them. They may need you to pray for them, but you will have to listen to know how to pray. They may need to be connected to God, but you will have to listen to know how to introduce them. They made need tangible assistance or direction, but you will have to listen to know how or what to share with them. The key in our interaction with others as the Lord’s ambassadors is listening.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19

These days the culture is full of those who are quick to speak, quick to assume, quick to give advice, or quick to post or tweet. We must be of a different nature. Let us be quick to hear and slow to speak. Let us be willing to take the time and effort to understand. Let us build a reputation for being those who are good listeners. Rather than prepare for the day by removing our hearing aid to wear a microphone, let’s turn up the hearing aids and put the microphone away.

Seize The Day

            I am more convinced (or convicted) that our corporate calling is to live out our doctrinal proclamations in the presence of the generations that follow us. If there is a disconnect between our faith and young people, it exists because there is a disconnect between our proclamation and our application. In recent weeks, there has been a theme that we have taught through our children’s curriculum. That theme is that God sees great value in His creation. God sees great value in you!

            The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. – Matthew 13:45-6

            One way to interpret this parable is to see God in His kingdom as the merchant in search of fine pearls. In finding one of great value, he sold all that he had in order to purchase that pearl. God has been searching for you. God has pursued you from the day you were conceived. He sees you as a pearl of great value. So much so that God gave His only Son that whoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. While you were still in sin, the Lord found you. He saw value in you. Christ gave His life for you for the forgiveness of your sins and that you might be adopted into God’s family. Can you see how precious you are to the Lord? This is the doctrine we proclaim to the generations that follow us.

            Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

            As Jesus sent His disciples out to share the Good News, He calls them to be bold and confident because they are so highly valued. Sparrows are a ‘dime a dozen’ but God knows the whereabouts of everyone of them. Nothing happens to a sparrow that God is unaware of. The Lord is so aware of you, that the hairs on your head are numbered. Thus, there is no reason to be afraid of anything, because you are so valued. We proclaim that “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me”. But do the generations that follow us see in us a fearless, worry-free existence that is the application of our doctrine?

            In this calendar year, God has allowed a disruption to shake our lives and our world. We are given an opportunity to live out our faith in the midst of chaotic and ever-changing circumstances. But are we embracing the opportunity to live out our faith? Are we living discouraged and praying for rescue? Are we hanging on in the hope of the return of some form of normal? Are we looking to the East for the return of Christ to bring a new heaven and a new earth, simply waiting out the last days? Are we in panic over an election, believing government to be our salvation? Or do we believe that God values us and has us right where we need to be, in order to show the Way, the Truth and the Life? Are we living out our belief that we are chosen for such a time as this?

            The generations that follow you need to see your doctrines lived out in the face of the unprecedented times in which we live. Young people need to see your joy, your peace and your love in the face of daily conundrums. Youth need to see people who know that they are a valuable pearl, see disciples who live the knowledge that God knows, God cares, God can, and God will, see followers who will follow fearlessly into uncharted waters with the assurance that they are of much more value than the sparrow.

            What an honor to be chosen as God’s representatives in the year 2020! What incredible opportunities we have to be encouragement, hope and love – at an hour when such light has dimmed. Let us not live as though God has abandoned us. Let us run into the fray of each day knowing we are loved by God, resourced by God, chosen by God, and are made to bring God’s glory to our community. As I have taught our youth recently, when you rise and look in the mirror to start the day, say to yourself, “You’re a pearl baby!” Then embrace the challenges of every day with passion, knowing that the Creator has your back and is in control.

Putting on Christ

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. – Gal 3:27

The Apostle Paul shares with the saints in Galatia that the act of baptism is an act that certifies a transformation in the life of a believer. The water acts as both a cleansing agent of the forgiveness that is ours in the work of Christ, as well as a coffin that symbolizes our death to self and a coming to new life in Christ. The hallmark of that new life, known as Christianity, is a people who have put self away and put on Christ. Like putting on a uniform, we are no longer on display – Christ is. We are now to live by a different mandate. We are to bring about a new reality. We are to be the authors of the ‘new normal’. And it looks like: unity, love and oneness in Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal 3:28

We are called, in putting on Christ, to be initiators of a world that embraces all believers as one. But – we are facing a divided world that has invaded the church and brought about a sense of spiritual distancing even within the Body of Christ. We have created denominations that divide us. We have embraced political allegiances that supersede the oneness of the Spirit. We allow an ‘us and them’ theology to arise based on color, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status. We can let our agendas and opinions get in the way of the Body Life that was intended to be manifest by putting on Christ at our baptism.

It is vital to the Kingdom of God in our day that we dress properly. That we, every morning, put on Christ. In order that what is seen on us is grace, mercy, love, compassion, understanding, affirmation and the Spirit of God that binds us together as brothers and sisters. The world is much in need of a people filled with the Holy Spirit revealing a united front of the values and principles that align with that Spirit. Let’s put on Christ and build bridges and be peacemakers, that the kingdom of God comes to earth as it is in Heaven.

The day of sects and creeds for us forevermore is past,
Our brotherhood are all the saints upon the world so vast;
We reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one,
While love entwines about each heart in which God’s will is done

– “The Church’s Jubilee” by Charles Naylor

Old Faith for a New Generation

The 71st Psalm has been called a Senior Citizen Psalm as it appears to be written by David in his later years. It is a song that reflects his life journey with the Lord through the storms of life and the victorious mountaintops. Having seen my hair go with the wind and what hair remains grow white, I appreciate this song more than ever and it’s message of thanks, praise, and our purpose.

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. – Psalm 71:14-17

There is no time, no place, no circumstance where it is inappropriate to have hope. Throughout our walk with Christ, we regularly find that God is bigger than we thought. In fact, as David says, the praise I have formerly given the Lord is insufficient considering what I have discovered in Him today. God’s acts of grace and salvation are impossible to number. In fact, if I recall everything the Lord has done for me personally, things both seen and unseen, I am overwhelmed by His wonderful deeds. Wherever we go, we must carry hope and proclaim the Lord’s sufficiency and power.

So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.  – Psalm 71:18-20

The hope we have gathered, the testimony we have of God’s faithfulness is to be our mantra. It is our purpose to share the hope and power in the Lord with the generations that follow us. Those younger around us must see the victory we have daily as we lean on the everlasting arms of the Savior. Who is like our God? The generations that follow us should hear it, see it, and recognize its truth through our joy, thanksgiving and praise. In this negative, pessimistic culture that grows around us, let us ‘old timers’ sing a new song of God’s faithfulness and hope. Let us lead the generations behind us into a hopeful and fearless future.

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