Search

Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

Fear part 2

The greeting on the planet Pandora, in the Disney classic movie Avatar, has always intrigued me. When two Pandorians greeted each other, they would say, “I see you.” https://youtu.be/ixzUQPkaR-U  This greeting was not a matter of catching sight of each other, but a recognition of the other’s value. In other words, you are not invisible to me. Such words address a basic need and a common fear. Each of us wants to matter, to be seen, whether it is those 15 minutes of fame or simply the desire to be loved and appreciated by those around us. We tend to fear being overlooked, dismissed, forgotten and abandoned. It hurts to not be ‘seen.’ But the Bible shares that we are not only seen by God, but we are very valuable to God.

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 (personal emphasis added)

We fear insignificance. We fear disappearance. We fear coming and going and no one knowing, no one noticing. This is why it bothers us when someone doesn’t return our calls or texts. This is why we are grieved when we go uninvited or are not included. It affirms our deepest concern – that no one cares.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:13-14

For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

God sees you. God values you. As the popular slogan so accurately reminds us: “God don’t make no junk!” The high opinion that God has of your value should outweigh any assessment of the world. This includes your own self-evaluation. In the face of God’s proclamation of your worth, let’s abandon the self-depreciating evaluations we harbor and cast them with any other dismissal by man, placing them at the feet of Him who truly matters. Let us diminish our fears by seeking out the value that God sees in us. Let us strive to recognize the potential that is created in us, and live fearlessly in the face of a world that may or may not see us.

Fear part 1

            It is a frightening world that we live in. There are forces that threaten our health, our safety, and our security. It appears as though the cultural foundations that we’ve come to depend on are crumbling. Fear mounts and doubts creep in when we hear the reports of the world around us. We can begin to wonder if the Lord sees what is going on. He is Lord of all, but is He asleep at the wheel? Matthew relates an incident where the Lord was found to be asleep in a frightening moment.

            And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”– Matthew 8:23-27

            Several of the disciples were fisherman on this very lake. It must have been some storm if they were concerned about dying. The waves were flooding the boat and the disciples were filled with fear, yet Jesus was sleeping. The thunder roars and Jesus snores. So they woke Him and cried out for His salvation.

            Jesus asks them a very pointed question. Why are you afraid? The answer seems obvious. – “The boat is being rocked by an incredible storm. The boat is sinking. We are about to die. And you, Lord, are asleep!” Yet Jesus speaks to their faith. He doesn’t deny the reality of their circumstances. He doesn’t deny that He was asleep. Despite the storm and His apparent indifference, their faith should have kept them from fear. No matter the reality and no matter how their predicament appears, faith conquers fear.

            And so, to boost their faith and alleviate their fears, Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves. Jesus reprimands the very forces of nature and brings their reality into a state of calm. His work so astounds the disciples that they ask, ‘What kind of man is this?’ They have followed Him, heard His teaching, seen Him perform miracles, and watched Him stand up to the religious leaders. But they still have not fathomed the depth and breadth of His authority, power, and love. They have succumbed to fear because they didn’t understand what kind of man He was.            

Do you know what kind of man Jesus is? In the midst of the storms of life and apparent distance from divine influence, do you have faith enough to conquer fear? You may be drowning and Jesus may be asleep. But if He is in your boat, there are peaceful moments ahead. Hang on to Him and let your faith dissipate your fear.

Perfection

In this week’s sermon, I found an old nemesis in the idea of Christian perfection. It really doesn’t matter who does the evaluation, I still can’t see myself measuring up to perfect. God knows all about me. Surely God knows I don’t measure up to perfection. Others may see me generously, but still would hesitate to put me in the perfect category. And I am too harsh a judge of myself to consider perfection as a label. And yet Jesus calls for it in my life and in yours.

 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48

To understand this word perfect, we must go to the original language. The Greek understanding of perfection is functional. Something is perfect if it realizes the purpose for which it was made or designed. We are perfect when we realize the purpose for which we were created and brought into the world.

 Suppose I have something that is loose at my house and I want to tighten it. It is held in place by three identical bolts. I go to my garage and find a socket. It fits nicely on the ratchet, is not too small or too large, is not too deep or too shallow, and it fits perfectly on the head of the bolt. I put the socket on the head of the bolt, turn it with the ratchet and tighten the bolts. The problem is fixed. In the Greek sense, that socket is perfect, because it exactly fulfilled the purpose for which I bought it and have it in my toolbox.

You and I are perfect when we fulfill the purpose for which we were created. The Bible is clear about what that is. That purpose is love. The great characteristic of God is a love for saint and sinner alike. God is benevolent, merciful, gracious and constantly seeking the highest level of good for every person. When we live out the unconditional, forgiving, sacrificial love that we have received from God, then we have become perfect in the New Testament sense. We have fulfilled the primary command of Christ.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ – Matthew 22:36-39

Our perfection is not found in performing without failure, and cannot be attained by eliminating mistakes. We fulfill the command when we love well. As we allow the love of God to fill us and leak out all over those who are around us, friend or foe, we achieve perfection. It is in loving God and loving our neighbor that we are perfect, for we have realized the function for which we were created.

There has never been a day where fulfilling our created purpose has not been essential. Today God is asking you and I to be perfect – in loving God through worship and functionally serving others by bubbling over on them with divine love.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. – Philippians 3:12

Lukewarm

The weather is pretty fickle here in SW Kansas. This winter it could be 70 degrees one day and 17 degrees the next. Thus, depending on the day, when I come in from outside I’m either looking for something cold to drink or something hot. On a 70 degree day there seems nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold lemonade. On those 17 degree days I come in looking for some hot coffee or hot cocoa. Rarely, if ever, do I look forward to something lukewarm to drink!

In the letter to the church in Laodicea, the word of the Lord comes to the church that they have been lukewarm. No matter what the temperature of our own spiritual walk, we would all do well to consider the serious accusations the Lord Jesus uttered to these lukewarm Christians.  “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16

This church was not medicinal at any level. The church was so mediocre that it was no good for the kingdom of God. These believers became apathetic toward God because they thought themselves capable of handling life by their own resources. Laodicea was a great banking and financial center. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world at that time. It was a great center of clothing manufacture. The sheep from Laodicea were famous for their soft, violet-black, and glossy wool. It was a considerable medical center. Their medical school was famous for two products: ointment for the ear and ointment for the eyes. But the Lord spoke to them of their self-sufficiency. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” – Revelation 3:17  They thought they were all that, but in reality their own achievements had left them spiritually lukewarm. And God warned that they would be spit out of His mouth. (not an enviable result)

We are a part of a considerably wealthy culture. We decide what we are going to eat or what we are going to wear rather than if we will eat or if we have anything to wear. We have the world’s finest medical facilities and options of levels of care. It is very easy for us to get lukewarm about our relationship with the Lord and our responsibilities. We can easily get consumed by taking care of ourselves with our resources and (until there is a crisis) neglect spiritual disciplines and the calling upon our lives.   The Lord advises the church to get from God spiritual gold and be rich in spirit. To get from God white garments that will cover our shame and make us pure. To get from God salve for the eyes so that we might truly see. In other words – we have time, talents, resources, freedom, and health to invest in some way. Let’s invest in godly resources so that we may be cold refreshment to those in the heat of the battle or hot comfort to those walking in the wilderness. Don’t be lukewarm, poor, blind and naked. Live up to the potential God enables you to live when you invest in spiritual riches.

Said And Done

     One of my great weaknesses is promising what I cannot produce. I can truly desire to do something and fully intend to do that which I said I would. But, I can get distracted, I can forget, or I can get busy, or just not get around to what I said I would do. With God, saying and doing are NOT two different things. What God says, God does. God said let there be light – and there was light. God speaks things into being. God’s word is creative and active and powerful. When God makes a promise it is a done deal. The Lord will not forget you, or forsake you, or get busy with someone else and forget what He promised you. His word is said and done.

     The prophet Joel speaks of God’s promise for the day of redemption. In that day God would do a work that none other can do: You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. – Joel 2:26-27

     What is repeated twice in scripture is not a mistake. It is a tool of driving home a point with emphasis. God says that never again will my people be put to shame. Shame is an unpleasant, self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self, along with feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness. Feelings of shame often stem from what other people think. A person may be subjected to what feels like criticism, even if it isn’t, and may feel rejected by others. Inside, they may feel self-contempt and worthlessness. Shame can grow roots when a person accepts another’s evaluation of their worth or fails to find forgiveness for themselves.

     The Bible reminds us that God sent His Son into the world NOT to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him. God so loved the world that He gave His Son so that the world might know forgiveness and salvation. Jesus came as a sign as to how highly valued you are. Jesus has done everything possible and everything necessary to cleanse you from sin and remove all shame. God said so, thus it is done.

      It is very easy to allow the critique of others to define us. It is a battle to not let our past cast a shadow on our present. It is strenuous spiritual work to forgive yourself. But these are the things that the Christ child has come to help you with. God knit you together in your mother’s womb and said you are good. God is the only one with authority to assess your value. Your past has been removed from you by the work of the cross. Jesus has forgiven you of all your sins. With God’s help you can receive the gift and forgive yourself. So, let’s embrace the promise of God in the coming of Christ as a done deal. You are deeply loved and cherished. Your debt of sin has been paid. You have been made anew and the chains of the past have been broken. And you shall never again be put to shame.

Leave a Godly Legacy

This past week as I made my daily walk with the dogs, I did so mostly through the snow. There were not a myriad of others tromping through the snow and ice at Whistlestop Park, so it was easy to take note of my previous journeys. I left very obvious footprints behind that left a testimony to how and where I had walked.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide – John 15:6

The Gospel of John makes it clear that we have been called to bear spiritual fruit, fruit that will last. We, as followers of Christ, have been commissioned to live in such a way that we plant seeds of truth, water with grace, and harvest fruit that is eternal. In other words, as we walk through this life we’ve been granted, we leave footprints. We leave a legacy with our life. Our journey leaves a trail. But should that trail be followed? Should our life be emulated? 

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Our fruitful legacy begins when we put the Word of God in our heart. It grows as we make God’s instructions our personal directions. Then we must enable others to follow in our footsteps. How? We must be diligent in our teaching of the generations that follow us. And we must live these words practically in every area of our life and at every opportunity. The Word of God must come alive in us when we wake up and when we go to bed, when we are on the move or when we are standing still. We are leaving footprints behind whether they are visible or not. Our desire should be to leave a legacy of godly living that produces fruit that will last.

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Tim 2:2

Paul tells Timothy that he has received a gift from Paul’s legacy and that he is responsible to see that what has blessed him will get entrusted to others. There’s a song we used to sing years ago around campfires and the lyrics went: “That’s how is it with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it. You want to sing, it’s fresh like Spring, you want to pass it on.” If you are leaving a trail of faithfulness, entice some folks to follow in your footsteps and pass on to them that which has had a fruitful impact on your life.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! . . . . We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. – Psalm 78:1,4

As I walked through the snow I could see where I stayed on the path, when I strayed, and even when I fell. But ultimately it could be seen where I got up and got back on the path. Your journey will be obvious to many in your life as well. Let’s work together to leave a legacy of following Christ that persists on the path of Christ and bears fruit that is everlasting.

Unprecedented People For Unprecedented Times

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said ‘unprecedented’ this year. It is because I have faced challenges I have never faced before, because my life has been turned upside down, or because I have faced cancellations and closures as never before, that I assume that I am experiencing something that is new. But has this year been as unprecedented as it seems?

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Somewhere in the late 900’s BC, Solomon wrote that there is nothing new under the sun. And yet, there was the coming of the Christ child, the Renaissance, the Industrial Age, the Space age, the age of technology. Haven’t there been lots of new things? Is there not some sound reasoning for use of the term unprecedented? Is there something new under the sun?

I believe that there are many things that are new, and circumstances that our generation has never experienced before. But there is not a single thing that is a surprise to God. I’m very confident that 2020 did not bring anything unexpected into God’s creation. God is aware of the fear, the exhaustion, the frustration, the challenges, and the changes. I’m not so sure that the Lord is not the author of much of our disruption as a tool to drive us to deeper devotion and greater dependency. Jesus has given us a prophecy and a promise to take with us into our seemingly unprecedented times.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

If you take heart from something, you are encouraged and made to feel optimistic by it. It is to be comforted, to be cheered up, perked up. Jesus has said to us that in His teachings there is a peace to be found. While you are in the world there will be turbulent, even unprecedented times. But live encouraged and optimistic because He has overcome everything that you are going to face. In fact, the Lord intends to use you as an overcomer to bring His promises and peace to our unprecedented circumstances.

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

Jesus shares with us that His resurrection has enabled us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That Spirit enables us to do as Christ would do, and more, even as we face the challenges and weariness of each morning. We are invited to use His power to be His witnesses. We are not to quench the Spirit but to be filled with His Spirit and anointed by the Spirit. We are to maintain the unity of the Spirit. We are to fight the good fight by the Spirit within us. Christ is to be our anchor in the storm so that, we might be an anchor for others.

Tho’ the angry surges roll on my tempest-driven soul,
I am peaceful, for I know, wildly though the winds may blow,
I’ve an anchor safe and sure, that can evermore endure. And it holds, my anchor holds: 
Blow your wildest, then, O gale, On my bark so small and frail; by His grace I shall not fail,
For my anchor holds, my anchor holds

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑