A Mysterious and Complex God

I spent some time this week reflecting on the story of Thomas in John 20, where he didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead even after the other disciples had seen Him. In verse 25 he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 

We are a people who often need hard physical evidence before we’re willing to believe something. And like Thomas, if we don’t see it for ourselves, we won’t believe.

The problem is, if this is how we live our lives, how can we relate to such a mysterious and complex God? God has given us His Word to help us grow in our knowledge of Him, but the reality is: We can spend every day of our life reading His Word and still know very little about the mysteries of His vastness.

And one of the greatest dangers is when we try to fit Him into our own idea and understanding of who we think He is. We want this provable, easily comprehendible version of a God that fits into our construct.

How often do we actually try to comprehend God as He is: A God and Creator that is beyond our human understanding and knowledge; A God that loves us so deeply and in ways we will never understand this side of eternity. My prayer for all of us is that we can be people who simply trust in the Lord with all of our heart and that we wouldn’t lean on our simple, finite understanding of this mysterious and complex God—who simply desires for us to return His love.

The Power of Forgiveness

In Mark chapter 2, Jesus heals a man who’s been paralyzed for years with a few simple but powerful words: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” His choice of words bothered the religious leaders, because they didn’t believe Jesus had the power to forgive sins.

The fact is: Jesus did have the power to forgive sins. And yet, I still find His choice of words interesting. Why would He say “your sins are forgiven” instead of just saying “you’re healed.” We don’t know the answer to this question for sure, but I’ve found that the words of Jesus that we read in the Bible often transcend the moment and time.

We believe that the Word of God is living and active, meaning that it continues to speak to each of us and He continues to reveal His truth to us through it.

I find His choice of words here interesting because feeling unforgiven can sometimes feel like paralysis. When we feel shame and guilt from sin, it can keep us from moving forward.

Are you carrying the weight of failures or struggles from your past? Do you have unforgiven sin in your life that is paralyzing you and keeping you from moving forward? I believe Jesus wants to utter these same words to each of us: “Son (or Daughter), your sins are forgiven.” He wants to bring healing to our lives physically and spiritually so that we can stand up and begin to move forward in the fullness of life He has promised to everyone who believes. Our sins are forgiven and it’s time for us to rise up and walk!

Embracing the Opportunities: Take Two

If you read my blog last week, you know that I was able to get away for a week and spend some time with the Lord seeking vision and direction for our church. These times away are always so amazing and life-giving.

The only hard part about these times is coming back and playing catch-up. After being gone, my to do list is generally longer than usual. This can cause me to do exactly what I talked about not doing last week: Being in such a hurry to catch up that I miss the opportunities the Lord puts in front of me.

I returned to the church Saturday night to find that the air conditioner wasn’t working—just one more thing to add to my to do list. With the heat wave we were experiencing, we were fortunate to have a repairman come out on Wednesday.

Of course, the timing of his phone call wasn’t the best as I was in the middle of a few things I was trying to check off my list. But I figured I would let him in and allow him to do his thing, while I did mine. It was a nice thought, but not the way things went.

It was a new repairman who wasn’t familiar with our system. So I had to take some extra time to walk him down and show him where everything was. Right away we discovered that one of the units was iced over and he said he would have to shut things down and wait for it to melt.

As I was trying to figure out how I could get back to my work, I once again sensed that this was a divine opportunity that I needed to embrace. So I grabbed a couple bottles of cold water and pulled out a few chairs in the basement to sit on as we waited for the ice to melt.

In a matter of minutes, this repairman was asking me all sorts of questions about the Bible and God. I found out that he had become a Christian in prison but hadn’t been to church in awhile. By the end of the conversation, he was talking about how he needed to start reading the Bible and focusing on his relationship with the Lord again. Afterwards, I realized how easily I could have missed this opportunity. And it made me wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed. How many times have I been in a hurry and failed to embrace the opportunities that God was putting right in my path? I’m continuing to learn how important it is to stop and look at what appear to be distractions and make sure they’re not actually an opportunity that God has given us to share His love. Let’s seek to be people who do a better job of embracing the opportunities God sets before us!

Embracing the Opportunities Set Before Us

This week I’m away, spending some time praying and seeking to hear the Lord for our church. It’s something I do every year but, with COVID and all the craziness of this year, I am doing it much later than normal. It’s a time that I try to be very focused and take advantage of every minute I have away from my regular routine.

This morning I sat in a coffee shop and read and typed some things that the Lord had put on my heart. As I was sitting there, an older lady asked me if it was ok if she sat there at the table next to me. I told her “Absolutely!” But, if I’m being honest, what was really going through my head was: “There are numerous other seats throughout the cafe—why this one?”

She asked me if I was working and I explained that I was on a work getaway of sorts. I realized at that moment that the work I was currently doing was about to come to a halt. It’s interesting because, as I realized this, the thought that went through my head was, “Am I going to view this as a distraction or as an opportunity to show love to this lady who is obviously desiring some human contact?”

I decided to embrace the moment, close my computer and engage in conversation with this sweet lady. It didn’t take long before she found out that I’m a pastor, which created some interesting conversations. I discovered that my new friend Benita was raised Catholic but didn’t believe in God or organized religion herself.

However, she was very interested in my church and my views as a pastor. We had some wonderful conversations about Jesus and life. And I realized very quickly that this moment was not a distraction keeping me from my work. Rather, it was a beautiful opportunity to show Benita the love of Jesus.

As she got up to leave about 30 to 40 minutes later, she told me it was a blessing to meet such a caring and enlightened pastor. It was a great reminder of how important it is for us to embrace the opportunities that the Lord sets before us. I don’t know if my time spent with Benita will change her views on God or life, but it reminded me that we are called to love people. We live in a time and day where human contact can be somewhat rare and I’m learning that we need to take advantage of every moment we’re given. Because we never know how that moment will impact someone else’s life, or even our own!

Praying Persistently

This week I was replacing an old drinking fountain outside my office that had probably been installed in the 50’s or 60’s. I found a new one online and it seemed like an easy enough job, so I decided to take it on myself.

A job that I thought would take half an hour or so ended up consuming a good portion of my time this week. I took numerous trips to the local hardware store trying to find the right parts. I even drove into Salem (15 miles east of us) to go to an actual plumbing store.

After all my hard work and trips for parts, I thought I was done, only to find out that I needed one more part. Everything in me wanted to just say forget it and put it off until next week, but there was something in me that couldn’t. I needed to keep going and see this little project accomplished.

As I tightened up the last fitting and saw the water begin to flow from the fountain, I reflected a little on how my persistence paid off. As that word persistence popped into my head, I couldn’t help but think about the parable of the persistent widow found in Luke 18.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, this widow continued to come before a judge that really didn’t care about her problems. But she continued to go before the judge pleading for justice. Her persistence caused the judge to finally give in and grant her justice.

Jesus used this parable to encourage His disciples to continue to bring their prayers to God, who does care about their problems. Often times we pray once and hope God answers our prayer. But Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayer. Just because God didn’t answer your prayer today, doesn’t mean He isn’t going to answer it tomorrow. We must continue to pray.

I’ve heard numerous stories as a pastor from people who have prayed for loved ones for years and years and then, suddenly, one day their prayer is answered. We must be persistent in our prayers. And when we pray we need to say, Lord I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I know that your will will be accomplished. And I will continue to faithfully and persistently pray with expectation as I wait for that day to come.

Converting Our Sacrifice Into Worship

Earlier this week I was reflecting on the post I shared last week about the sacrifice of others. This got me thinking about my own sacrifices. As followers of Christ we are called to live a life of sacrifice.

This, then, reminded me of something I learned years ago as a young youth pastor from a senior pastor that I have always admired and looked up to. I was with a group of youth pastors at a monthly get together when this senior pastor popped his head in the door to say hello. The youth pastor from his church asked him if he had any words of wisdom to share with us.

He began telling us how he had recently read in the Bible where God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Then he read to us part of that scripture, Genesis 22:5, which says: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

He highlighted the part where Abraham said: “We will worship and then we will come back.” And then he said something that has impacted my life greatly over the years. He said, “We need to be people who learn to convert our sacrifice into worship.”

When sacrifice is simply sacrifice, we tend to focus on the cost, we focus on what we’re giving up. But when we convert our sacrifice into worship, we’re able to focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing: bringing glory and honor to the Lord. We are created to glorify the Lord in all that we do, but God doesn’t want it to be a burden for us to serve Him. His desire is that our worship would be a delight, and that our love for Him would enable us to convert our sacrifice into joyful worship!

Remembering the Sacrifice

*Disclaimer: I typed out this blog and then forgot to publish it. This should have gone out a week ago.

This past Monday was Memorial Day: A day where we take time to remember those who gave their life for our country and others. Their sacrifice has allowed us to experience freedoms that many people in our world have never experienced. We are grateful for their willingness to serve and lay down their lives for others. And it’s important that we take that time to remember and reflect on their sacrifices.

Taking time to stop and remember is important. It’s something that we see encouraged time and time again throughout God’s Word. In the Old Testament they put up memorial stones to remind them of different moments and ways God provided for them. Many of the Jewish customs and traditions come from events that impacted their lives and community. So every year they remember as they take part in these special days and events.

Remembering is important and we even see it as a command that Jesus gave us in the scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 it says: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Jesus didn’t say think about doing this or this might be a good thing for you to do. No, He said, “Do this.” We are commanded to do these things in remembrance of Him. Why? Because when we do these things we proclaim His death. When we do these things we remember what He did for us. We remember that He is our Savior. That He saved us from sin and death and that He saved us for a greater purpose: so that we could go and tell others of His Good News! It’s important that we take time to remember: to remember those moments or times in our lives and throughout history that have shaped who we are and to remember the power of sacrifice. The sacrifice of men and women who served our country and helped give us amazing freedoms and the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ that has given us new life.

Putting Others First

As a pastor I do my best to look at situations from all angles. We are all flawed individuals and we all tend to have our own skewed perspective on things. So could my view be the wrong view? Absolutely! This is true for all of us; the problem is that many of us don’t like to think about this reality.

We live in a world that is fixed on the idea that “my way is the right way” and we don’t like to think otherwise. Our sinful nature pulls us in a direction that says it’s all about me, it’s all about my beliefs and ideas. The thing is: this is totally opposite of how Christ has called us to live.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to put others first. Philippians 2:3-4 says it this way: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Do NOTHING out of selfish ambition. Wow, what if this was how we actually lived our lives. What if we lived life with an other’s first attitude? I’m guessing there would be a lot less fighting and arguing in our world. We love to put ourselves and our own beliefs first, ostracizing others and making them feel less than. I don’t believe this is God’s desire for our lives.

In today’s world, I’ve heard people talk about their “God-given rights” and we do have specific rights as human beings. But something we need to understand is that when we say yes to Jesus, we actually give up OUR rights. When we make Him Lord of our lives, we are saying yes to His way of life.

This means we should be seeking to live the way He calls us to live in His Word. We are called to put others first, we are called to first be servants, we are called to lay down our own wants and desires to live and love like Jesus did.

Let me finish by sharing with you the next part of Philippians 2. In verses 5 through 8, Paul says this: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  Thankfully we don’t need to die on a cross, but we do need to die to ourselves. We need to stop making it all about us and seek to put others first as we learn to live and love like Jesus!

Helping the One

This week was a busy week for me. I recently learned of an older gentleman from my church who had the place he was staying burn down. In the fire, he lost pretty much everything he owned including his glasses, his dentures, and his Bible. So I spent a good portion of this week making phone calls, setting up appointments and doing everything I could to help him get these essentials replaced.

Years ago I read a quote from Andy Stanley that said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” The truth is, as a pastor I’m still only one person and I can’t put the kind of time I put in this week with everyone in my church. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Thankfully we have an amazing group of people in our church who volunteer and help us take care of stuff like this on a regular basis. But it’s interesting because there are those specific times when God tells me to do for the one what I wish I could do for all.

We may not have the capacity to help the masses, but we do have the capacity to help the one. Who is the one in your life that God is calling you to reach out to? I know for me that one has changed at times. Different seasons have brought different people that God has called me to love on and take extra time with. My encouragement for all of us is that we keep our heart and eyes open to see those that God has put in front of us to love and care for in the way we wish we could love and care for everyone. We each are only one person and we may not be able to help everyone, but we can help the one!

He’s Doing A New Thing

“Because that’s how we’ve always done it!” This is a phrase we hear a lot in the church and in our world. We are people of tradition and we often cling to what is comfortable. It’s why the Jews who became followers of Jesus tried to force the Gentile believers to follow the Laws of Moses. Because after all…That’s what followers of God had always done.

Hebrews 13:8 tells us that: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus doesn’t change, because He is perfect and He always has been. From the beginning of time through eternity, he was, is, and always shall be. You can’t make perfect more perfect, because it’s already perfect!

Now we, on the other hand, are a totally different story. We are imperfect people and from the beginning of humanity and our fall on this earth, God has been working to transform each of us from the inside out. By the renewing of our minds He is seeking to transform us into the men and women that He is calling us to be.

In order for that to happen, though, we have to be open to change. We have to be willing to admit that we are imperfect and we don’t have all the answers. Oftentimes our perspective is skewed and we need to be willing to let God change our thoughts and our view. Which means “that’s how we’ve always done it!” doesn’t work anymore.

The disciples’ lives were turned upside down as they began to realize that this Kingdom they had heard about for so many years was nothing like they imagined. Are we allowing God to turn our world upside down? Or are we clinging to the familiar and comfortable things that for years have actually held us back? Isaiah 43:18-19 tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” God wants to do a new thing in all of our lives. The question is…are we willing to change?