Tuesday, July 17, 2018

IMPATIENCE


Psalm 27:14
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

                One of the things that gets us in trouble more than anything else is impatience. There is a story in 1 Samuel 13 about the impatience of King Saul. Saul was faced with the threat of a mighty Philistine army. He had been instructed to wait for Samuel to come to him before he took any action, but he got impatient and pressed ahead on his own. His actions had long term consequences.

1 Samuel 13:5-15
    The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.
    Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings." And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
    "What have you done?" asked Samuel.
    Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering."
    "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command."
    Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.

                Waiting is hard. It makes us nervous. We feel unproductive. We feel compelled to do something! That is exactly how Saul felt. He had to do something, but he chose the wrong thing. There are some lessons that we can learn from Saul’s experience.

1. Impatience causes us to make rash decisions.
                One of the corollaries to impatience is frustration. The longer we have to wait for something the more frustrated we become. Our frustration can turn into motivation to do something right now. “I can’t wait any longer!” When we act out of frustration, we live to regret our actions. As the old saying goes, act in haste, repeat at leisure.

2. The wise course of action is the wait on God’s timing.
                Waiting is an act of faith. When we get impatient, we are really saying that we do not trust God. We begin to doubt that God is paying attention to our situation. That is dangerous territory. If we want our plans to succeed, we need to wait on God’s timing.

Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21

3. Use our time of waiting to prepare for action.
                Saul’s focus was on his enemy instead of on the Lord. The reason (possibly) that his army was beginning to lose heart, was that their leader was losing heart. He could have spent that time preparing his men for the challenge before him. He could have strengthened their resolve by turning their eyes toward the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, he allowed the enemy to dominate their sight.
                God never wastes time. When God calls us to wait, He wants us to use that time to prepare us for what is ahead. Active waiting is a time to sharpen our skills, focus our efforts, and seek God’s direction.
                When I was in high school, I felt called by God to go into missions. I set my sights on attaining that goal. As I moved toward that goal, on several occasions, God put up a stop sign and called on me to wait. During my time in college, a dynamic speaker came to campus and challenged us to leave school and follow him into the mission field. God’s clear message to me was wait. When I finished my degree, I considered my next step toward my goal. God made it clear that I was not ready, so I was called upon to wait again. In seminary, God made it clear to me why He had called me to wait, because He was calling me in a different direction. Instead of missions, He was calling me into pastoral ministry. Even then, the call to wait was not over. Half way through my time in seminary the pastor from my home church contacted me and invited me to come home and be his associate, with the goal of stepping into his position when he retired. The clear message from God was wait. I declined and God opened the door for me to serve Him as an associate in a church in Minnesota. I could go on, but you get the picture. My point is that appropriate preparation is not a waist of time, it is essential. God is not in a hurry and we should not be as well.
               
                There is a group of flowers that fall under the name of impatiens. I’m not sure why they were given that name, because nothing that I could find suggests that they are impatient. But maybe they can remind us of an important truth. If we want our lives to blossom and flower for Christ, we need to be patient. If we will exercise the faith to wait on the Lord, the outcome will be productive, fruitful, and beautiful.

Psalm 40:1-3
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A JOURNEY OF FAITH


Genesis 12:1
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.

                I have always been fascinated by those brave souls who left their families on the east coast to travel west into an unknown land. They left knowing that they would not return or see their loved ones again. Yet, they were driven by a vision for a better life that spurred them forward. What they faced was not easy, in fact it was often overwhelmingly difficult. Yet, those who persevered and did not turn back were rewarded for their efforts.

                A very long time ago, God issued a call to Abram to leave his homeland and to travel to an unknown land. God promised him that, if he was faithful, God would bless him in unimaginable ways.

Genesis 12:2-3
 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."

                The journey that Abram embarked upon was a journey of faith. All that he had to go on was a promise from God; a vision of a better future. He was willing to endure many hardships and trials. There were times when he wanted to give up. On several occasions he tried to take things into his own hands and make things work. But in the end, he trusted God and God fulfilled His promise to Abram.

                When Jesus called His first disciples, He called them into a journey of faith. He didn’t give them a roadmap for the journey. Instead he gave them a vision. As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:18-19

                Little did these men know what following Jesus would mean. At first, they were drawn by the excitement of following this young Rabbi. Their excitement turned into a solid commitment to the vision that Jesus had given to them.

    From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
    "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
    Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." John 6:66-69

                The vision that Jesus had given to them carried them through many trials and hard times. Because of that vision, they were willing to persevere to the end. All but the Apostle John were martyred for their faith. None, save Judas, abandoned the journey.

                Jesus calls us into a journey of faith. He casts a vision of us being the people of God and of transforming our world. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) He doesn’t give us a roadmap for the journey, as much as we desire to have one. Instead, He points us in the right direction and then says, follow me. He warns us that there will be hard times along the way; times that will test our faith and challenge our endurance. But if we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will overcome every obstacle in our way. It will take courage and perseverance, and above all faith.

Hebrews 12:2-3
    Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

   




Tuesday, June 26, 2018

SEEING THE HAND OF GOD


Psalm 119:18
    Open my eyes that I may see
        wonderful things in your law.

                                I was reflecting the other night on different events in my life where I saw God’s hand at work in my life. I was able to come up with a list of over a dozen specific incidences. In the majority of cases, I was able to see God only as I looked back and reflected upon the event. On several occasions I could see how God protected my life, such as when I crashed my bike into a moving car or when I spun out on the freeway doing 70 mph. In other cases, I saw how God provided exactly what I needed at just the right time, such as when He opened the door for me to work at Samaritan hospital. I could also see how God was directing my path from being selected as a junior counselor at Stony Glen Camp by Charlie Steward, to my parents discovering Wheaton College at the time I was looking for a college to attend, to being called into the placement office at Bethel Seminary and being offered the opportunity to serve as an Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church in Fergus Falls.

                I find myself in the place again where I am looking for the hand of God. As I move into the next stage of my ministry life, the future is pretty cloudy. I do not know what the next step is, yet I am stepping out in faith, trusting God to guide me, as He has in the past. I know that God has given me the freedom to make choices along the way. I also believe that, if I will seek Him first, He will direct me toward the choices that are best for me.

                We tend to live our daily lives blind to the hand of God. We don’t see it, because we are not looking for it. We are quick to look for the hand of God when we are faced with some significant change in our life. But when it comes to the routine of life, we often live as if God is not involved or concerned about it.

                A number of years ago, I attended a conference at Bethel College where the speaker talked about training himself and his family to look for God sightings every day. Each night at dinner, the family would report where they saw the hand of God during that day. He commented that even if only a third of those incidences were really God actively involved it trained them to be more sensitive to God’s work in their lives. I think his idea was a good one for all of us. Are we actively looking for God in our daily lives?

                In Psalm 119, David asked God to open his eyes so that he could see wondrous things in His law. As you read through the Psalms, you encounter a man who was constantly looking for God’s hand. You can see him struggle when he cannot see God’s hand. You can see him rejoice when he clearly sees God at work. When David kept his eyes on God, he prospered in every area of his life. When David took his eyes off of God, he stumbled and fell.

                We are no different from David. If we actively seek God in our daily lives, we will discover that He is far more involved than we imagine. If we take our eyes off of God, we often stumble into situations that we would rather not deal with. Paul challenges us to live lives that are focused on seeing God in the everyday of life.

                For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

                God is actively involved in our lives every day, not just in the significant events of life. Like David, we need to ask God to open our eyes so that we can see the wonderful things He is doing in and around us. I want to challenge you to take the time today to see where God is at work and then praise Him for His amazing care for you.     


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

RECEIVING ENCOURAGEMENT


1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

                We all get discouraged from time to time. Our discouragement can take different forms. It can come in the form of a mild malaise; a general lack of energy and drive. It can come in the form of sadness; a dark cloud that hangs over our head. It can come in the form of depression; a sense of hopelessness and defeat. In whatever form discouragement manifests itself, it always hinders our forward progress on the journey of faith and life.

                As I am facing a major transition in my life, I have been experiencing a form of discouragement. It has come in the form of weariness, coupled with a sense of loss. It hinders me from being fully engaged in the ways that I should be. This past week, God spoke words of encouragement to me through some of the people I encountered.

                Suanne and I attended a gathering of retired pastors in the Twin Cities. Even though we have not yet crossed the line into the land of retirement, we were graciously invited to mingle with those who have. Most of the people gathered there were people we have labored alongside of for years. One of the things I have been struggling with as I move forward is the loss of those connections. It was greatly encouraging to know that there is a group of people who are actively working at maintaining those critical connections. I came away from that gathering truly encouraged.

                On our trip to England in May, we had the privilege to meet an author that I have come to appreciate. Since that time, we have been exchanging periodic e-mails. I shared with him my feelings about moving into the future and about the gathering of retired pastors. He graciously responded with words of positive challenge and encouragement.

                On Thursday morning, I met individually with two friends, each of whom spoke words of encouragement into my life.

                There are three times in the New Testament where we are specifically told to encourage one another. Each comes from a different angle. In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is writing about the return of Christ. He reminds the Thessalonians that they cannot figure out when Christ will return. Then he challenges them to not give in to the darkness that is all around them. Instead, he calls them to live lives that reflect God’s light into the dark world. He concludes with the words, Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

                The other two occurrences of the command to encourage one another come in the book of Hebrews. In the first incident, encouragement is seen as a safeguard against the hardening of our heart.
    See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion."
 (Hebrews 3:12-15)

                The second occurrence comes in Hebrews 10. It is a powerful reminder of our hope in Christ. It is a jubilant passage, calling us to stay the course. It ends with a call to encourage one another.
    Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25

                Discouragement is like a virus that infects our soul. It can linger in the shadows for a long time before it attacks, sometimes with devastating effect. That is why we need regular doses of encouragement from one another. We are co-laborers for the cause of Christ. We are fellow travelers on this amazing journey of faith. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Check it out!

      In preparation for our recent trip to England, I pulled my well-worn copy of "Meeting God in Quiet Places" off of my shelf. This delightful devotional was written by F. LaGard Smith. Each devotional is set in the context of his daily walks in the English countryside. I thought, what better way to prepare to for a trip to England.

      As I was reading "Meeting God..." I wondered if LaGard had written anything else. To my surprise and delight, I discovered that he has written 30 books covering a wide variety of topics. (LaGard is a lawyer, and taught criminal law for many years. He is now retired.) One of the titles immediately caught my attention. "Troubling Questions for Calvinists and the rest of us" Within the first few pages of that intriguing book I was captivated.

      At the end of the preface, an e-mail address is given through which you can connect with the author. I took a risk and sent him an e-mail stating that we would be traveling to England in May. He graciously replied and invited us to stop by his cottage in Buckland. We did, and had a delightful time with LaGard and his wife Ruth. It was truly one of the highlights of the trip for me.

      I want to encourage you to check out his books. I can specifically recommend "Meeting God in Quiet Places" and "Troubling Questions for Calvinists". Both of these are worth the read.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Building on a Solid Foundation


1 Corinthians 3:10
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

                When I was in college, I was not very excited about history. Too often, history was taught in a dry, boring manner. Other topics seemed much more interesting to me. When I got to Seminary, I had to take Church history. It was one class among many, and it did not grab my attention. I waded through Church history in the same way I waded through World history.

                A number of years ago, I developed a series of classes that I taught on Sunday nights. One of those classes was on Church history. As much as I had not been thrilled by Church history in the past, something had changed for me. I had started to put the pieces of the puzzle together in some new ways. I began to see how the events and people of the past had laid a foundation for who the Church is today. I began to discover the answer to the “Why do we do that” question. I also began to become aware of the answer to the “Why is that important” question. Church history began to make more sense to me. It also took on greater meaning and importance. I realized that, if we are going to be fruitful in ministry going forward, we need to be aware of where we have come from.

                Although our faith history begins with Genesis 1:1, Church history begins with the New Testament, and, in particular, the book of Acts. In the book of Acts, we see the birth and the growth of the Church. Through the first 12 chapters of Acts the main character is Peter. But in chapter 13 the focus shifts to Paul. While Peter’s ministry was primarily to Judah, Paul carried the good news of Jesus into the rest of the world. Everywhere that Paul went he established small groups of believers, who were knit together by the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Later on, Paul wrote letters to those little bands of believers to encourage and strengthen them in the faith. We are the beneficiaries of the truth and wisdom of those letters.

                In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul wrote the following. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

                Paul stated clearly that he had laid a spiritual foundation for the Church. That foundation is secure. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that Jesus died on a cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Because of what He did for us on the cross, we can be forgiven, redeemed, and restored into a proper relationship with God. That is the foundation of the Church, the foundation of our faith.

                Paul went on to say that each of us is building on that foundation. The way we build, the materials we use as we build, matter. Our efforts will be tested by God. If what we have done passes the test, we will receive our reward. If it does not pass the test, it will be lost.
               
                Church history is the record of that building process. As we look back, we can see both gold and silver, and wood and hay. There are parts of Church history that shine light the sun. There are parts of Church history that are as dark as any night. Both the bright spots and the dark times have played a part in shaping and molding the Church today. But the building process is not over.

                We, the Church of today, are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. We are placing new stones on old foundations. We are part of creating a spiritual house where the very presence of God may dwell. Therefore, we must be careful how we build. We cannot afford to ignore the lessons of the past. If we do, we will surely repeat the failures of the past.

                Let us rejoice in the solid foundation that has been laid in the past. Let us also build on that foundation carefully, with wisdom and discernment. How we build today will set the course for generations to come.

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

THE JOY OF NEW LIFE


                Over the past couple of weeks, as we enjoyed our adventure in England, we experienced the joy of new life in two similar but very different ways. As we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean, headed for England, our second grandson was born. He was a late arrival; ten days overdue. When we landed in England a text popped up on my phone announcing his arrival. We were both thrilled and sad, because we will not be able to see him in person for a while. We did get to see him via video chat, which was amazing!

                We arrived in England at one of the most amazing times of the year, and I am not referring to the Royal wedding. We arrived at lambing season. Everywhere that we went there were new lambs in the fields with their mothers. Usually there were two lambs with each mother, occasionally three. These new lambs were full of life; bouncing around the fields with unrestrained energy. On several occasions we took a walk on a public footpath through a field filled with ewes and lambs. We were met with both curiosity and apprehension. Often the lambs would run up close to us and stare wide-eyed at us. But when we got too close, they would bound off toward their mothers. It was truly a wonderful experience. The mothers, on the other hand, would basically ignore us, chomping on the grass, unless we got too close. Then they would gather their lambs and slowly move away.

                The Bible tells us that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ we experience a new birth. It is like we get to start life all over again. We become like those new lambs. We are curious and excited about our faith. We desire to learn all that we can about Christ and about the Bible. We have unbounded spiritual energy and enthusiasm. We also experience a certain amount of apprehension. If something seems to threaten our faith, we quickly retreat to a safe place. This enthusiasm for our new life can last months or even years. But at some point, our enthusiasm wanes and we settle into a more routine faith. We continue to take in spiritual food, but with less eagerness and excitement. We become like the ewes that contentedly munch the grass while their off-spring bound around the field. If fact, we often smile at the enthusiasm of new believers, thinking to ourselves that it will soon fade into a more “realistic faith”.

                I am not sure that God ever wants us to settle into a more realistic faith. In fact, I think God wants us to live daily in the wonder and amazement of the new life we have been given. Both Peter and Paul call us to revel in this new life. Peter gives full voice to this “lamb-like” enthusiasm in 1 Peter 1:3-9.
    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

                When we live in the reality of our new birth, we see life through different eyes. There is joy, even in the midst of hardship. The reality of our new life gives us the courage to face the hard challenges of life, knowing that we are secure in Christ. He is our Good Shepherd who constantly watches over us, especially when we get distracted and wander away. Like those ewes, He is never far from us, keeping His eye on us at all times. And when we get spooked, He is there to reassure us.

                New life is always exciting, whether it comes in the form of the birth of a child or the birth of a lamb. New life always gives us hope for the future, even though we know the future will be hard at times. During our time in Cornwall, we had the chance to connect with my English relatives. Part of our conversation centered around family connections, but past and present. One of my relatives was bemoaning the fact that their family name was not going to continue into another generation because of the lack of grandsons to carry it forward. Silently, I could rejoice that our name will have at least one more generation of continuance.

                As believers in Christ, every time a person puts their faith in Christ, we are assured that His name will continue on into the future. In fact, heaven rejoices every time the “family” name is passed on. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10) Let us never lose the awe and wonder of new birth. Let us not sink into spiritual complacency but always live in the reality of the abundant life that Christ has given to us.

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.