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Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

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.

Clouding Another’s Day

Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-20

I took my boys to Disney World one summer day and I put a little fun money in their pocket to spend as they desired. As usual they were walking 20 yards ahead of their parents, social distancing themselves from those less cool. As one of the boys walked along a $10 bill fell from his pocket and a man swooped in between us and snatched it up. I confronted him with the fact that it belonged to my son and that I had seen the whole thing. He simply denied it and there was little I could do. My son began to cry and begged for the return of his treasure, but the man only laughed at him. It spoiled the whole day for us all. The rest of the day my son was angry and disappointed. The man put a dark cloud over my little boy’s sun that day, and the shadow it cast was with him for a long time.

How easy it is to put a cloud over someone’s sun, to make some life dark that might have been bright! It may seem only a little thing, but sometimes a little cloud can leave a huge shadow. We may not see either the cloud or the shadow, but the heart that is darkened both sees it and feels it. How many times can people, by unkind words or actions, cloud another’s sky!

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. – Romans 14:7

 There is a circle of influence about our lives that affects every other life that we touch. We brighten or darken the lives around us. We lighten or make heavier the burdens of others. Every unkind word or look puts a shadow on some life. Every slighting remark, every sarcastic fling, every contemptuous smile, puts a cloud over somebody’s sun. Lack of appreciation has darkened many a life. How much better it would be to take away the clouds, to banish the gloom! You can do this just as easily as you can bring clouds. It is just as easy to speak kind words as to speak unkind ones, and you will feel much better over it yourself. When people please you, let them know it. When people do well, or even when they try to do well and fail, you can show that you appreciate their efforts. You can be cheerful and courteous and kind. That will make a little sunshine for others. There are enough clouds of life in this world of sorrow. Be a sunshine-bearer. Drop a little good cheer into every life you touch. No matter what you are by nature, you can form the habit of being cheerful and encouraging. Even when you have heavy burdens yourself, you can be encouraging and helpful to others.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:29-32

Confession

LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. – Nehemiah 1:5-6

The Elders of this congregation have felt called to shape our worship in order to accommodate the current pandemic and to align ourselves anew with Biblical practices. We are not doing a greeting time as a measure of safety, but we have added Bible reading and responsive readings. All this has had me thinking about worship in our culture. What is worship and what does it need in order to be pleasing to God and to meet the true spiritual needs of our community? One of the foundational tools of worship is confession. Nehemiah confessed the sins of the nation, his family and himself before he took on the mission or rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem.

Confession can be a time when the church comes together as a repentant people and asks God to forgive and cleanse; to renew and restore us in order that our hearts are filled with Christ. We are a part of a holiness church that has long proclaimed sanctification but has had little understanding of it. A poor understanding of sanctification can obstruct the vision of our own sins and therefore leave us without a need to confess. Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from that sin, and turn toward a merciful God. We should be amazed when we see the brightness of God’s glory; and ashamed when we see our sin for what it is. Before we can move forward in worship or move outward in mission, we must agree together in repentance.

Making confession a part of our worship service could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach the Lord after doing penance. This would lead us back to an image of a God whose favor we must somehow earn. This is the opposite of the God of grace whose favor is freely received through the work of Christ and His righteousness. Leaving confession out of worship our worship service could give the impression that God is apathetic about our struggle with sin and who is compromised and accommodating. If we don’t see God taking sin seriously, we won’t take it seriously either. And once we stop taking sin seriously, confession and repentance lose their power. 

My hope is that the practice of confession will make a comeback – whether in a time of silent prayer, corporate confession, or songs where we plead for God’s mercy. After all, we are not really in a position to receive from God’s presence until we have first owned our sin. So, in preparation this day and this week of service, I challenge you to bow before God in repentance; receive God’s mercy; and rise anew by the cleansing work of our Savior. I challenge you to come together to confess the sins of the nation and repent. Such prayers are powerful and effective and can bring healing to the land.

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 5:16

An “Unprecedented” Day

            A word I have heard often to define this year is unprecedented. People proclaim, “I never thought I would see the day when . . .” Many are sure that there has never been a day like this and that what is happening around us is a sure sign of the return of Christ. I don’t believe anyone is privy to the date of Christ’s return. In our world today there may be signs of the apocalypse. But what I am sure of is that the state of our world and our country is no surprise to God.

            The words of Isaiah spoke to a rebellious nation between 740 – 680 BC. Several millennia ago the nation walked away from God and godly principles and thus stepped away from God’s protection. Isaiah spoke of the results of living outside of God’s direction and instructions. The Message translation adds a relevant tone to the words of the prophet.

            The Master, GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies, is emptying Jerusalem and Judah of all the basic necessities, plain bread and water to begin with. He’s withdrawing police and protection, judges and courts, pastors and teachers, captains and generals, doctors and nurses, and, yes, even the repairmen and jacks-of-all-trades. He says, “I’ll put little kids in charge of the city. Schoolboys and schoolgirls will order everyone around. People will be at each other’s throats, stabbing one another in the back: neighbor against neighbor, young against old, the no-account against the well-respected. – Isaiah 3:1-5 MSG

            Life outside of God began with the scarcity of basic necessities. Then it affected the police department, the churches, the military, and the medical community. The immature rose to places of leadership and common sense went out the window. People turned on each other and it became divisive, disrespectful and down right mean. Sound familiar?

            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

            God is not surprised by the events of our day and the ‘unprecedented’ season we find ourselves in. God is not shocked or confused or baffled by the chaos of our culture. God has a plan to draw people back into order. God has a plan to put the nation back under His protection. God has a plan to bring harmony and love back to our neighborhoods. That plan is YOU!

            “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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 5:14-16

            Immature leadership will only exacerbate the problems we see and continue the downward spiral. God has chosen you and I to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are to channel much needed wisdom, grace and love from the Father to our neighbor. We are to point to the direction of the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are to be peacemakers, healers and unifiers. We are to live in such a way that the world can see the good of God and the benefits of living with God’s boundaries. We are to swim against the tide and bring hope to our world by bringing Christ as the solution.            

My parents often taught me that I was either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. I know that Jesus is the answer. I know that I am called to walk with Him and work with Him. As Christ’s ambassador, I am a much-needed part of the healing to this ‘unique’ time of history.

Live It

As I prepare once again to lead the youth group on Wednesday night, I ask the question: “What does it take to get young people to dig deep and discover their own unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer keeps coming back that it requires young people to be surrounded by adults who are living their faith and truly experiencing joy.

            “Adults have a credibility problem. We grind our way through each day and our slogging is not lost on young people. . . Quietly, desperately, a deep resolve is born in their hearts: Not for me!” – Dave Rahn

            “In spite of unprecedented programs and resources thrown their way, adolescents feel systematically abandoned by adults” – Chap Clark

            “If young people have a flimsy, inarticulate faith, they learned it from adults. We’re modeling for teens a way to live that is exhausting, unappealing and a poor representation of the rich life God intends us to enjoy with Him.” – Kenda Creasy Dean

            Could it be that we are staying so busy, “earning our way into Heaven” that we have let exhaustion take the place of our joy? Has our culture of activity and productivity put us on a treadmill that we can never seem to get off? What has happened to our jolly disposition and the simple bliss of doing life in the footsteps of Christ?

            Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. – Romans 12:11-12

            For our benefit and the benefit of the generations that have their eyes on us, we must keep the flame to our zeal and maintain our spiritual fervor. Leaning on the strength of the Holy Spirit, we must fill ourselves with joy and hope and patience and faith. We must avoid being those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. We must adhere to the Sabbath principles and see that we are well rested, well fed, and well connected to the Savior in our daily journey. We cannot manufacture a fake smile or demonstrate false joy. God has for us life abundant and eternal. May we live in such a way as to grasp the reality of such a promise for our best life and our best example. The Kingdom of God needs followers who are truly living joy.

Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory – 1 Pt. 1:8

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