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Pastoral Meditations

weekly meditations of the First Church of God

Better Learn To Fly

There is a large tree in back of the parsonage in which a number of birds were hatched this summer. Often times there are young birds that just don’t get the hang of flying. They hop around the yard and get the attention of our dogs. We can keep the dogs at bay while we are in the yard with them, but we are not always present. So we say to those young birds (out loud as though they can understand), “You better learn to fly little fella or your lack of flight will be the death of you!”

            Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31

            Life in our world today can be exhausting and overwhelming. We are bombarded by changes. Our responsibilities remain the same, but the manner in which they are fulfilled is new every morning. Add to this the threat of the virus, protests, riots and the election that looms before us. The prophet calls us to look above the madness and catch a vision of God. A God who never grows weary, whose understanding is unfathomable, and who shares His resources with those in need. Because those who depend on God will be strengthened and rise up on wings of eagles.

            To those of you in my flock, I say, “You better learn to fly little ones or your lack of flight will be the death of you!” Even young people will be wearied and fall exhausted so you better get eagle’s wings and learn to fly. Otherwise, the culture will destroy you with its pace and demands.

            Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8 

           So wait on the Lord. Lean on the Lord daily. Draw from God’s resources. Be inspired by worship. Grow in your study. Be renewed in your prayer life. Rest in God’s promises. The lion is on the prowl, so you better learn to fly!

Hard To Be Humble

“Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror cause I get better looking each day!” – Mac Davis

The Bible teaches humility as an essential character trait. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love – Ephesians 4:1-2

Humility is often characterized as genuine gratitude and a lack of arrogance, or a modest view of one’s self. However, the biblical definition of humility goes beyond this. Humility is a critical and continuous emphasis of godliness, as we are called upon to be followers of Jesus and trust in the wisdom and character of God. Humility is being a servant to the Lord and to others, just as the life of Jesus here on earth.

This is difficult, but not for the most apparent reasons. It could be difficult due to arrogance, over confidence or control issues. But I believe humility is often difficult due to insecurity. It is difficult to be humble when self-image is so fragile that one tap of sacrifice can effectively crumble the whole tower of self. Self has become so battered by life, belittled so often, or accused of being wrong so many times, that being wrong, being less, or making a mistake can no longer be embraced without tragic personal consequence. Asking for forgiveness cannot be done, because an admission of guilt would crush the spirit. Going another’s way cannot be tolerated because it would be interpreted as a failure to the way self endorses. Putting another first is so difficult because it feels as though one has always existed at the back of the line. Ego is so tender that it cannot endure being ‘punked’ by one more person.

Thus the key to living humbly is a clear understanding of where we stand with God. It is not who we see in the mirror, but who God sees and God’s evaluation of that person in the mirror.  We, as followers of Christ, are founded on the fact that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son. But the truth of God’s love needs to sink deep into our personal lives. We must believe that God adores us and that we are the apple of God’s eye. We must be sure that we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God. If the love of God can be the source of our self-esteem, then humility can live in us with ease.

Service is not an assault on my self-image when I know that God has first served me. I can ask for forgiveness because my faults have been covered by the love of God. I can take risks of failure because I know that my failures do not define me. God defines me. I can allow another to cut in front of me, for I know that God has me in the front of His line. I can be gentle and patient and kind because God shows me those qualities every day. I can be humble, for a humble Savior serves me with sufficient affirmation.

We should strive to be humble by embracing the love of God and allowing that love to be the affirmation of our soul and the verification of our worth.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. – John 15:9

What Does God Want?

The prophet Micah was sent to a people who had become distracted. There were a lot of things in their lives that took God’s rightful place. Such can be said of our culture today. Many things have become gods in our world and take time, attention, resource, and heart priority over God. These are not bad things necessarily but when they steal from God, they become idols. Sports or entertainment are not bad, but when they become the focus of our schedule, the purpose of our lives, the greatest place of our investment – they become idols. Patriotism is admirable, but when love for country is greater than love for the Lord or love for mankind, we have made it an idol.

To God’s children who had gotten lost in idolatry, God asks, “Why do you treat me this way?” God reminded them of their rescue from slavery and His many blessings. God has saved you, been with you on the journey and has had your back at every corner. And now God has been replaced. Thus, the best has been replaced by the good, the temporary and the shallow. 

To this question, God’s children reply in frustration, “What do you want from us?” Their lives had become complicated. They were overwhelmed. Idols are often taskmasters that consume lives. They knew that God was correct in His assessment but they were unsure how to respond. I think this true in our culture. “Yes, Lord, I know I have gotten way too wrapped up in trivial pursuits and they have crowded you out and stolen from our relationship. But what do I do?”

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

The answer given from the prophet is three-fold: First we are told to do justice. There are a myriad of people crying out for justice in our world. There are the oppressed in every corner. From people of a darker hue, to immigrants, to native americans, to handicapped, to the elderly and orphans there are many who are not finding our community just. How better to love a brother or sister than to listen, fight, and work to see them receive justice. We cannot just sit by and condemn, criticize or hope they get what they deserve. We are called by God to do justice.

We are called to love kindness and mercy. We are called to be holy as God is holy. We are the only Bible that some on our planet will ever read. We must evoke a merciful and kind God. God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved thru Him. There are a myriad, as well, of people who have chosen the wrong path, made bad decisions, and are addicted to sin. So once were we. And we must put to death the idol of our own self-righteousness and not only be a fountain of kindness and mercy, but love being that way.

We are called to walk humbly with our God. To escape the claws of societal idolatry we must remember who we are, remember who God is – and not get the two confused. God’s desire is to walk with you thru all the hills and valleys of this life and give you an eternal purpose and reason for being. One cannot navigate this course of joy and fulfillment from the driver’s seat. Ride shotgun, and let God be God. Do justice and intercede for another. Love being merciful and surprise someone with your care and understanding.

Are You Ready?

This year has come with an unending supply of surprises and life changes. As we head into Fall as both individuals and as a faith family, it is difficult to plan because the road ahead is so uncertain. The degree of uncertainty makes me feel unprepared. There is an anxious sense of a shortage in readiness, experience, and the training necessary to conquer the challenges of the mission on the road ahead. 

The city of Corinth was a major metropolis in the Roman Empire when the gospel was first introduced there. It was a busy city full of merchants and was a melting pot of different cultures. A cultural diversity took up residence in Corinth, all bringing different lifestyles, values, and even gods with them. It was into this context that Paul walked one day. He was ready to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ to a city living in darkness. A few people here and there placed their faith in Christ. A steadily growing group of believers formed. The church in Corinth was born.

Paul moved on to spread the gospel in other cities. In his absence, the church at Corinth drifted to a place where they looked more like the culture around them. The Corinthian believers were engaging in some seriously messed up things. From sexual promiscuity to getting drunk in church, to quarreling among believers, they were far from the ideal loving and thriving church body. But even though the cultural challenges were great and their struggles were huge, Paul believed they had everything they needed to meet the challenges of living for Christ in the Corinthian culture.

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Cor. 1:4-9

Paul imparts some essential wisdom to our church family in the face of the challenges of our culture and the season we are facing. As a follower of Jesus, grace has been given to you. In Christ, you are being enriched in speech and knowledge in every way. You are not lacking spiritually in any way. The endurance necessary to get through an overwhelming and exhausting season is made secure. Your ability to remain pure and holy through the chaos is made possible by the grace given us in our Savior. The Lord is faithful and God’s faithfulness has not been lessened by our circumstances. 

The church at Corinth faced great challenges in becoming just like the culture. We too face the challenges of becoming, fearful, divided, negative, and morally compromised like the world around us. And our call is to stem the tide of the culture as well as not drift toward it. You may not feel prepared. But the Biblical perspective is that you are much more prepared to face today’s challenges than you may feel.  You are being refilled daily as you step into the fountain of God’s grace. You have every spiritual resource at your disposal. And there is a faithful and loving God walking with you every step of the way. These things are in place not to just help you survive 2020, but to thrive and grow and live and bear fruit. Child of God, see yourself as the Father sees you, and use the Father’s gifts to you to bring light and life to the challenges that lie before us all in this unprecedented season.

Will Anyone Care?

With all the attention on COVID, there is a lot of conversation about death and dying. But what about how you live? Will anyone care that you lived when you die? This week I read the story of King Jehoram and his woeful legacy.

Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. – 2 Chron 21:20

No one mourned the death of King Jehoram, and he was not given the normal honor of being buried with the past kings. The New Living Translation says: “No one was sorry he died.” What an incredibly sad commentary on a person’s life. The reason there were no tears shed at his death was because he was a wicked king. Even when a sinner dies we are saddened, because we know they are going to a godless eternity. But when Jehoram died – no one cared, there were simply no regrets that he was gone.

Jehoram was ambitious and he grasped at power by any means available. He was ruthless. He failed as a leader. He viewed privileges as his right, and felt that the end justifies the means. He believed that might is right. And the root of the problem, the Bible suggests, lies in the marriage between Jehoram and his wife, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Rather than follow the godly example given him in his father Jehoshaphat or King Asa of Judah, he followed in the footsteps of his in-laws Ahab and Jezebel.

Jehoram’s death saw so few tears because he gave in to sin. He followed the wrong example. He got into an ill-advised marriage. He received counsel from the wrong people. The prophet Elijah wrote him a letter of warning and he ignored the divine warning he was given. He killed his brothers and followed after false gods. He did his own thing and in the end – no one regretted his death.

The question comes to mind, “Will I be missed?” But the scenario here is more severe than that. “Will any one even care that you are gone?” I’m sure that most of you who are reading this will have a multitude of people who will care deeply that you are gone. But there are some significant warnings in this simple verse.We don’t want to live our lives so selfishly, with so little real, eternal purpose, that when we die it is “without any significant loss.” Jesus said if we build our lives to please ourselves, we are building on sand and our lives will crumble. But if we build our lives on Him, on the Rock, then our lives will hold up and have an eternal impact. So, we must seek out godly mentors, have a fair number of inspirational peers and beware of unholy alliances. We must stay in the Word and both receive the instructions and heed the warnings. We must invest in our character and value honesty and integrity in our lives. We must love unconditionally and live sacrificially. Given the gift of life, we must use it to have a lasting impact on generations of your family and neighbors. So that when we are gone from here the way we lived can truly be celebrated.

More Than a Sparrow

I love to take pictures of the birds that frequent the parsonage. I love to see the hawks, the kites, the grosbeaks, finches and all the birds that I consider beautiful. I never consider the sparrow in that category. They are small, brown, numerous and have little value in my estimation. They were of little value in Bible times as well. Jesus shared that you could get two for the price of one.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31

Sparrows may have had little value on the market. Some may have thought they were not beautiful but plain and boring. They are very small and may seem insignificant to the masses but Jesus says that the Father cared for every one of them. There is not a thing that happens to any sparrow that goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father! Now that is awesome.

Here is Jesus’ point. God knows every detail of the sparrow’s life and cares for them. You are of greater value to God than a sparrow because you were especially created in God’s image. God is so aware of every detail of your life that He could give you the number of hairs on your head! This is the detail of God’s knowledge and a reflection of God’s vast appreciation of your life.

The world around you may not appreciate you. Others may not see your beauty and consider you plain, ugly, or not photogenic. The people in your world may not give you much notice and see you of little value. Your life may seem invisible, boring, or insignificant. But, GOD DOES NOT SEE YOU THAT WAY! You are precious, beautiful and significant to God. Your were created in beauty and born for purpose. You are of incredible value!

You may look at yourself in the mirror and say, “Well, that ain’t purdy!” You and others may have convinced you that you are ugly, worthless, a failure, and a sinner. You may be your own worst critic and constantly underestimate yourself or put yourself down. (In the name of humility) You must gain a divine perspective of your beauty and value and cease to dismiss yourself. You may be a sparrow, but God is taking pictures of you to post on His Facebook page to brag about your splendor. 

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Follow the Instructions

When I had children at home, we would have what I termed ‘electricity wars’. The kids would turn lights on and I would turn them off. I would set the thermostat and they would change the setting. I can remember saying to them, “When I come home I don’t want to find every light in the house on!” But inevitably I would arrive home and the house would be lit up like a stadium. “Did you not understand my orders?” I would ask. “If we knew when you were coming home,” they would reply, “we would have turned the lights off!” 

Jesus tells this parable:

“Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will remove him and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating . . . . Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:42-48

The Lord has graciously placed you and I in management over His mission. He has given us responsibilities until He returns. And we must take those responsibilities very seriously. We cannot bank on doing what He has asked us to do and at the last minute be found doing what we were instructed to do all along. It is very clear that serious consequence falls upon those who ignore the commission they have been given, and hope to get by on excuses when they see Christ face to face.

So much has been said in our current circumstances about the signs of Christ’s return. I have frequently been asked what I think. We have been given orders to fulfill until Christ comes for us, as individuals and as a whole. I think we need to focus on fulfilling the instructions we’ve been given so that we are found faithful whether Jesus comes quickly or is delayed. We have been told to love one another as Christ has loved us. We have been told to share the Good News of salvation wherever we go. We have been told to be gracious and generous with our words, actions and attitudes. We’ve been told to be peacemakers, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. We’ve been told to fight injustice and stand with those who are treated unfairly. We are told to live lives that are holy and pure and be a light in the darkness. We have been given clear, Biblical instructions. Let’s stop being too busy, too distracted, and too self involved to have any impact in the Kingdom of God. Light your lamp and keep it burning so that you are ready when the Bridegroom returns.

What To Do?

I have often taught that our personal creation is a miracle that demands greater attention and respect. I believe that any birth, planned or unplanned by mankind or out of love or out of strife, is an act of God and a part of God’s plan. As the t-shirt says: God don’t make no junk.

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. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-16

I believe the Bible upholds the principle that we are born with potential and purpose. We are created to have an impact on this very hour of history. If you are alive in 2020, you were created to not only live in such unprecedented days, and not to just survive such an hour in history, but thrive and rise to the occasion for which you were created. In God’s journal is written every one of your days for which God designed you and you were designed to have an impact on history.

I find my belief, as such, rather daunting in the face of the pandemic, the protests, and the great divides that appear to be widening in the perspectives of our community. Why am I here? To what purpose am I called? How could I have an impact on what is going on? Whom am I to do so?

Thru the teaching of a friend, I found anew the voice of John the Baptist that gives some general direction: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” – Luke 3:1-6

To a difficult day and a day when there were plenty of powerful people, God chose to speak to John. There were Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas who were in seats of influence. These and others held great sway both politically and religiously. They held the positions. They had the power. They were those to whom people were naturally looking for direction. But God spoke to a man with none of those things. He was a man who was living in the wilderness. The word that John is given from God comes from the Bible. The word John is given from God gives me traction for my life today.

It is this: Make the way to Jesus simpler, clearer, and easier to navigate. Live and speak in such a way that though there is chaos all around, the people in your world can see the hope that there is in the Lord. Make the path to Christ straight and eliminate the detours. Level out the bumps in the road that keep people from seeing the hope that is available in Jesus. Help smooth out the rough place in life that many find in these days in order to be for them the Body of Christ.

I understand that this is pretty generic direction. But I find it a place to seek for God’s direction toward the purpose of my life at this point in history. In all of the fear, worry, violence and misunderstanding, I don’t need to be a ‘somebody’ with position and power to have an impact. I may be in the circumstantial wilderness with everyone else. But I can live and speak in such a way that it makes God easier to see at a time when life seems to be crowding God out.

Dependence Day

This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. The Fourth of July has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson declaring freedom from British rule.

Where it is wonderful to celebrate the birth of our country and the ideals of our democracy, we must not take those ideals too far. There is a Biblical call on our lives toward dependence on God and interdependence on one another. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Prov. 3:5-6

We are created in the image of God. And thus, we never prosper alone. We are always a part of a web of relationships. We begin our life inside another person, ideally the fruit of a married couple’s love. Our decisions affect other people. We draw our lives from others who provide food, water and shelter. We come in various styles: male and female with various gifts, personalities and life experiences. We, as believers, exist interdependently like a Body. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. – 1 Cor. 12:14-15

The English language is one of a few languages with a weak set of pronouns. The pronoun you, for example, can serve as both singular and plural. In a culture that values independence we can read the Bible in such a way that every you is about the individual and we can miss the Biblical emphasis on community.  What this means is that we are not self-fulfilling. Our fulfillment is always found in relationship. Consider these verses in a plural or community manner:  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Mt 5:14   “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Mt 11:28

You are to be a part of a community of dependent relationships. If our relationships are broken, then people suffer. If our relationships are good, then people have an opportunity to grow and reach their potential. So it is essential that as we live in community, we depend on God and each other in order to mature together toward our spiritual potential. It is also essential that we recognize the need for our primary relationship to be in good order (our dependence on God). Having come from God, we are wired for a relationship with Him. Any hindrance to our relationship with God can be destructive to our lives and to the lives of others. 

When we find our joy and fulfillment in our dependence on God, we gain a freedom that opens doors of grace not only for us as individuals, but also for our community. We are a part of a community of faith that is charged with leaning on God, and leaning on each other. We are a part of a real web of relationships that reveals the Kingdom of God to the world. It is essential that in the quiet moments of every day we make a solid connection with God. You need to lean on God for His resource and also lean on others in your community of faith, living the dependent life. I hope your Fourth of July weekend will be filled with family, friends, food and fireworks. I pray the holiday affords you rest, fun, relaxation, recreation and renewal. But in the celebration of our national independence I hope you remember the foundational principles of dependence on God and the body of believers and make every day – Dependence Day.

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