Causing a stir in my world! 08/07/14
I finally finished the book "The Insanity of God" and it didn't end quite the way I expected. Through most of the book I was thinking about how I and others should prepare ourselves for persecution and difficulties. Get prepared, gear up, tuck verses away and be strong in the Lord.
But the author declared that persecution would be over today "if" we quit sharing about Jesus. If people around the globe would not share a word about Jesus Christ it would be a very calm place, but what else would be missing?
Silent Christians would be disobedient Christians. The great commission is a huge part of our purpose. Not sharing Jesus would eventually bring forth an awful world, empty of God's truth and the principles of His Kingdom.
This is the dilemma in our universe, our sphere of influence. Are we sharing Christ? Jesus made it clear that if you follow Him you can expect the very same treatment He received.
I am concerned with what is happening in our world. We see much more persecution today. I am not advocating being unwise and throwing caution to the wind, but I am serious about the necessity of sharing the truth of Jesus Christ and understanding that He and He alone is the answer to today's problems.
He and His truth need to be lived out and presented with love and effectiveness. If that causes problems then let us continue to follow Him wherever that leads.
Let us remember that Jesus first calls us to Himself. Only then does He send us out to show and to tell the world that He is the way, the truth and the life!
Deep in thought. 07/31/14
I love a good read! Finding the right book at the right season with sufficient time to savor the meaning is a must for me. A few things must merge together and blend for it to be a memorable book. A challenging topic, good writing, as well as showing and declaring Christ in a new and fresh way makes a book a sure winner.
"The Insanity of God" was written by Nik Ripken, a pastor of a small church in Kentucky. Nik went to Malawi with his family, stayed for two years and then had to move due to malaria. He ended up in Somalia. The story is heart breaking and gripping at the same time. I could not stop reading - another sure sign of a good book.
Here is a quote that really got my attention!
I had always assumed that persecution was abnormal, exceptional, unusual, out of the ordinary. In my mind, persecution was something to avoid. It was a problem, a setback, a barrier. I was captivated by the thought: what if persecution is the normal, expected situation for a believer? And what if the persecution is, in fact, soil in which faith can grow? What if persecution can be, in fact, good soil.
This book tweaked me and made me do some deep thinking!
What does Somalia, America or Paso Robles need right now? The answer: Believers who are serious about their faith - who will follow Christ no matter what. God has not sent me to Somalia but He does ask me to trust Him and follow Him no matter what the cost.
My prayer: Lord, do not let the message of being committed and faithful stay on the pages of this book, but may it be lived out in my life every day! May I embrace the truth that the Christian life is not a walk in the park. It is more like a war with very high stakes. Lord, help me be ready for anything!
I am His! 07/24/14
The verse I have been meditating on all week is one from Sunday's sermon.
"He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them." 2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT
Mom and I went to visit an assisted living facility yesterday trying to figure out what is best for her. So I am sitting in her living room where my step-father breathed his last, with a life-time of pictures and mementos staring at me. Was this our last breakfast together in this home? How do you pack your life into a suitcase?
This puts many things in perspective for me! If I have lived my life for 'things' as if they were the ultimate goal, then I am in deep trouble. But if I have valued these things as gifts from the Lord, they can be enjoyed and then surrendered much more easily. After all, when it is finished, it is going to be me and the Lord!
Is He really the center of my world or have I just been playing games? When 'things' must be put aside and loved ones depart what then? Am I faced with emptiness and longing and trying to make sense out what is left? Or is the One who has always been there, my creator and Savior, enough to not only sustain me, but be the ultimate fulfillment of my deepest longings?
I made a decision long ago to pursue Him, trust Him, love Him, enjoy Him and I have never been sorry. In fact, He is the best decision I have ever made. And I know I will not be disappointed!
Out of Africa! 07/17/14
I have been home for about two weeks and I'm still trying to catch my balance. Jet lag was not a problem but other adjustments have not been as easy.
This morning at coffee a special friend George asked, "How are you doing?" And I responded, "I am a bit confused."
The conversation went something like this. I have been waking up with two verses, verses that tell me what I am supposed to do.
The verses are Matthew 28:19-20, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
I get the part that means "as you are going." My 'going' is putting myself in places besides church and reaching out! I get the baptizing part too. I have experienced profoundly the promise that says "I am with you!" But the part about teaching them to obey/observe all that I have commanded you! That is the rub.
How do I do this? How do we as a church do this? Many folks are pushing aside truth and making idols of trivial things.
I'm learning once again that love is the key! "If you love me," Jesus said, "you will keep my commandments." So if I have an obedience problem, I have love problem! I am centering my attention and trying to catch my balance on two amazing things. The first is God's Word, where I really learn and understand my God. The second is what He wants me to do about it. It boils down to, "Love Him and then love my neighbor!"
It's a clear and simple focus in these confusing times.
The Word of God! 07/10/14
Here are David's words concerning His Word. The Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, enduring, true and righteous. "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." Psalm 19:10
Do you know anything else that you can apply those words to? Perhaps this is not only a good time to meditate on Psalm 19 but to memorize it as well.
It seems in America the thought is, "Well, we have tried that and it didn't work. Let us move on to something new and fresh." But the Word is the place to go! One of His disciples said, "To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Here are Paul's amazing words about the Scriptures. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Bible is not just for amusement or just for education. It equips us for the work of ministry and many other blessings as well. Just read all of Psalm 19.
While in Africa it was really clear. The Word was all I had to give that was helpful and long lasting. You could actually see them hungering for it, devouring it. Their questions were the hungering type and not arguing kind.
With Klolo, a local pastor, I left my study Bible, my short coat, my running shoes, a few ties and all the cash I had on me, but the most important thing I left was the Word shared and taught. There were thirty-five opportunities in that setting to share the Word of life with precious people. I related to the Apostle Paul's longing to have some fruit among the Romans.
Heaven will be sweet because of the Word of God! It is powerful and works in every culture.
Running the race! 07/03/17
When I first came to Christ everything seemed to be automatic. I confessed my sin and I sensed His cleansing and the peace of God flooding my soul. I felt excited, even energetic, as worship seemed to flow easily from me. It was a wonderful time.
I watched in Africa as believers were worshiping and enjoying God with enthusiasm. I couldn't help but ponder, "Why all the energy and expression?" Is this excitement and emotion a new thing or is this cultural? It this in response to truth and growth or is this just feeling good and having a good time? Do I need to bottle this and bring it home with me? I have tons of questions!
My response to all of this personally is: I cannot go back and have a 'new convert' experience every time I worship! So how do I proceed?
I have come to the conclusion that I must work for it! Not a salvation by works, but there are things I must do in my relationship with Jesus to keep it fresh and real. When He shows me something that I need to get rid of in my life, I must partner with Him in the process and be obedient. Plus there are a number of other things I can do to enhance our relationship - prayer, Bible study, fasting, etc. Those help foster growth in me. I have found that this is all by grace and I must proceed to do these in response to my relationship with Him.
This is not new convert territory but adult territory. God wants me to grow and enjoy Him wherever I am in the growth process. My obedience is also where joy and passion comes from!
What a wonderful plan. His goal is to grow us up! The process is filled with embracing Him and trusting Him, no matter where we are in the growing process.
See you Sunday,
The Beauty of Christ 06/26/14
Why do we worship? Or perhaps better to ask whom do we worship?
I have so enjoyed myself here in Malawi and it has pulled me in many directions. I have attended many services since I have arrived and every Bible session begins with singing and praising God. I have asked "How many songs does each congregation sing?" They all seem to know them and sing with such energy and passion. One answer was about twenty to thirty songs. Of course almost anyone can get up and lead since they get such support from everyone in the congregation.
Malawians seem to be natural singers. They really need no instrumentation since they naturally harmonize and project strongly with their voices. They also dance and stomp and have many 'moves' in the course of a service. During the five hour pastoral installation service I attended in Blantyre part of the service was similar to a dance party.
This of course got me thinking about worship and the music and of course style. What are we doing as we sing praises to God? Are we just trying to get to a 'feel good' place? Or is Jesus the focus? Jesus said that worship was to be done "in spirit and in truth."
So there must be content! This is the way it is with meditation also. We want to fill the mind with truth! Truth is a must in praising the name of Jesus. And if that warms the heart and delights the soul, so be it!
After the last session we finished with the book of Revelation. This book delights my heart because about four or five years ago God used it to help me through a very difficult time. I summarized the book in forty-five minutes. In response we had a spontaneous time of worship that was precious.
We worshiped in response to the truth that we will all stand around one person in heaven. With the marks of slaughter still on Him all peoples, tribes and tongues will be present because of one person - Him! His life, His death and His resurrection will have brought us to this place of ultimate worship.
Amen! Pastor Don
From Ntcheu, Malawi
"The Warm Heart of Africa" 06/21/14
In Malawi and having a wonderful time.
Today is Friday and the first week of school has been completed. I taught two classes - Romans in the morning and New Testament Survey in the afternoon. There were approximately 50 students and most of them were from the village. We spent 10 joyful hours in each class. They were so hungry for God's Word they pulled it out of me. I left each day tired but very excited to return.
They asked very meaningful questions that made me squirm a little but we enjoyed a very profitable time together. We covered a number of subjects that developed into lengthy discussions. What do we do with wine, or worship on Saturday, or meat that has been offered idols? How do I love a weaker brother? When I grow and realize that my tradition has been wrong, can I do the things that I grew up not doing? How should I treat and love my wife? It was so insightful, so wonderful, to have a clear Word from God on a number of these issues.
Then of course there were subjects that God left silent. Now what do I do? How has God developed our heart and wisdom to make decisions that glorify Him? As you can see there was not a need to simplify the presenting of Scripture like I thought there might be. We dug deeply into the Word, enjoying it and each other.
I felt God expanding my heart. Worship has been wonderful. The Word is loved and honored. I have gained some wonderful friends and brothers, many of them pastors. I certainly want to come back. I can see that the slogan of this county is correct - "The warm heart of Africa."
I have another week of teaching beginning on Monday morning. Another sixty pastors are expected. Help me pray for a profitable week.
Love you much,
When we delivered the solar powered devices with the Bible on them (Chechewa language) the two leaders thanked us with tears in their eyes. They said, "You could not have brought us a gift more precious." They are right, the Scriptures are absolutely precious.
Long ago David said, "The law of the Lord is…" perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true and righteous. "They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." The Blind School teachers echoed David's words in Psalm 19.
What happens to a culture or a person where the Word is not treasured and savored? What is left is nothingness. Directionless and lost are a people without the Word.
My question is, "What is 'having' the Word?" Just because I have a copy, or even read it on occasion, does it really have me? Has it captured me to the point that I obey? Am I scrutinizing it or is it in the lead - directing my path?
David stated about the blessed man in Psalms 1, "…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night."
I know our culture says things like, "Been there done that." Or, "We have tried the Scriptures and they are restrictive and outdated. Give us something new and fresh and short!"
My context has radically changed. In Malawi I have asked myself, "What is the absolute best thing I can give them?" Material things would need maintenance and soon be outdated. But the Word brings them exactly what they need. It brings them face-to-face with the Living God. A God who gives salvation, direction, meaning and a hope… and, yes, they are eager to obey! The simple question, "Jesus, what would you have me do?" seems to be a common response.
The mission's ministry that we are working with is called Action International. Their motto is: "Know God, take action." Take action by being obedient - first by being and then by doing.
Gary and the Gospel 06/12/14
Gary is my friend of 40 years. I have come to Africa to visit and minister with him - and just have fun together! He is a serious student of God's Word - a no-nonsense, dry sense of humor type of guy. He has a wide and varied background - Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary, pastor's kid and former pastor in San Diego and Santa Barbara. He just finished "Give Me that Book" a major undertaking for him. Our men's study will begin this book in a couple of Fridays.
He now lives in Malawi, and he is lonely. Yes, his wife Barb is here but he misses a number of things from home.
So the first night together over a cup of coffee He shares deeply. He usually does. This time he shared about his brokenness and the struggles of his heart. He is honest about his personal wrestlings, which then gave way to God's glorious grace. Here is a man that is facilitating amazing things. Everywhere I look, lives are being changed. Many needs are being taken care of with grace and dignity. It is simply beautiful. He is called Papa and Barb has had babies named after!
His final comment that night was that he is praying for his heart to change so this will become home! "When I go to the states, I want to feel like I need to come back!" His heart is in transitional transformation.
It is amazing what God can do. I never thought Gary would live here in Africa. But God takes brokenness and struggles then adds grace and mercy to cause profound things to take place. Gary had preached a sermon that night, one that God wants to reproduce in all of us. From brokenness and grace came "Lord, what will you have me do?" What transformation is my heart going through to become more like Jesus?
What an adventure: Life with God!
He Loves You! 06/05/14
Here is a verse to meditate on! Isaiah 43:25: "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins."
He loves us so much that Isaiah says God wipes away our transgressions, our sins, for His own sake. You may be like me and think He did the work of salvation for me. That is true, but when you consider the Scriptures they also say that we were made righteous for Him.
I know that our Father is not some emotionally dependent, weak person, but you certainly get the feeling that He does love His children and longs to embrace us.
When I read 'for My own sake' I know I must be careful. He is not selfish, but one of His names is Jealous! So, when I think about all that He had to accomplish to save us, fill us, embrace us, rescue us, and the end result is living with Him forever in a new body, well that is a lot to take in. But it is all true.
Think about it! He did this for us and He also did it for himself. A marriage celebration awaits us the likes of which the world has never seen! All longings fulfilled, pain all gone, released from the sin nature and an eternity with the lover of our souls!
No wonder the old song writer wrote, "Oh for a Love that will not let me go."
How blessed to have a redeemer like Him.
Dwelling Richly 05/29/14
On Tuesday I was challenged by a line out of Colossians 3:16. It reads in part, "Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you."
It is really easy for me to say, "Do everything for the glory of God" and then not think too deeply about it. But exactly how richly does the Word dwell in me?
That is a great question since however richly it dwells, it no doubt is controlling my actions, my dreams, my meditations, my hopes and my fears. Is it the Word moving deep within that is shaping me in my soul?
Another way to put it is, "What makes me tick? What drives me and what do I delight in?'
I could list a number of things that distract me. Yes, I believe today is one of the most difficult times in my life to stay disciplined and keep focused. There are many great things I can do with my time, yet when I do get some 'extra time' it seems easy to spend it on unimportant matters.
So back to my verse. Is His Word dwelling in me richly? Is it driving me, motivating me? Do I mediate on it as David did? Do I soak in it? Is it coming out in my life and not just in sermons?
Here is what David had to say…
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Amazing Grace 05/22/2014
There is something deep in the human soul that has a hard time accepting such a pure gift as salvation. I for one have worked and performed to be 'worthy' enough to accept it. I have to keep telling myself that "I have been justified by faith, therefore I have peace with God." Period.
There have been times when things have looked like they were going well - discipline was on target, the blessings of God were apparent - and then a thought crossed my mind, "I must be doing something right. I have this wired." But then I ran aground on the word "works"! Paul said this salvation is not your doing. This work is His.
Salvation is the exquisite work of God. We all marvel at the arts. It could be beautiful music, a painting, mechanical precision, writing, sunsets or a delectable menu. But nothing matches His work of Salvation.
God took on a project. One so broken, so lost and far beyond the ability to fix myself, He rescued me. He saved me not only from original sin but also from my personal sins. After all, the Law demanded an entirely perfect life! Since I fell far short of that, He supplied the perfectly sinless life and then through faith credited His record to me! Oh happy day. Grace!
He continues to save me and shepherd me. Grace is not only past tense but present as well. Thank God for His embrace and the longing to serve without the labor and work of trying to measure up. He has already qualified for me!
Charles Wesley put it well in the hymn "And Can It Be". The line goes, "Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"
No wonder we still sing, Amazing Grace!
All-church gathering! 05/15/14
All-church gathering! Sunday morning, June 8, 2014. Paso Robles City Park at 10:30.
Dismissing a Sunday morning worship service!
Churches do not dismiss their Sunday morning services for anything! It is a deep tradition. Churches meet for worship no matter what. Even Hebrews 10 says, "…not forsaking our own assembling together." It is both a joy and a discipline.
So why are we dismissing a Sunday morning service on this date? The idea started with our city's 125th Anniversary. Pastors asked in our meetings, "Is there a way to merge a city's anniversary with the birthday of the church?" The answer was yes!
The reason that most pastors opted for this can be summoned up in one word - unity.
Jesus' prayer in John 17 shows the heart of our Heavenly Father. He wants us not only to display unity, but also to be unified. This has been the fervent prayer of Paso Robles pastors for years!
I personally have never seen churches dismiss their Sunday morning services to come and celebrate together. I realize this is just one step, but it is a great step. It expresses the intent our Father.
What will bring us to the park on Pentecost Sunday for a combined worship service with a vast array of believers and traditions? Again one word - love.
Those are the words: unity and love. They are a powerful witness that displays our Father's heart in these broken days. When we pursue Him and display these truths, good and positive things happen. What an opportunity we have to come and express our hearts and worship Him together!
All to His glory,
The Truth of Scripture summarized. 05/08/14
I recently came across this brilliant summary by Kevin Wax on Gospel Coalition's web site. He tried to limit it to 300 words! Enjoy.
"In the beginning, the all-powerful, personal God created the universe. This God created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence, in humble submission to His gracious authority. But all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, must suffer the punishment of our rebellion: physical death and the wrath of God.
Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, which began with His choosing the nation of Israel to display His glory in a fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel's behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But God's people - like all of us - failed to rightly reflect the glory of God.
Then, in the fullness of time, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God Himself came to renew the world and restore His people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the law given to Israel. Though innocent, He suffered the consequences of human rebellion by His death on a cross. But three days later, God raised Him from the dead.
Now the church of Jesus Christ has been commissioned by God to take the news of Christ's work to the world. Empowered by God's Spirit, the church calls all people everywhere to repent of sin and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. Repentance and faith restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.
The Bible promises that Jesus Christ will return to this earth as the conquering King. Only those who live in repentant faith in Christ will escape God's judgment and live joyfully in God's presence for all eternity. God's message is the same to all of us: repent and believe, before it is too late. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved."
"It's Me, Oh Lord, 04/30/14
Standing in the Need of Prayer"
Thursday is the National Day of Prayer. You can attend (Paso Robles City Park from 9am till 7pm) and pray with others or simply go by yourself and spend some quiet time with God, praying for our nation. We all know this is a time when prayer is needed for a number of things in our country, and perhaps for ourselves personally.
Is this really helpful? Will it make a difference? Prayer is always effective, James says, so…yes, it is important. But we can pray at home, so what should we do?
I know for me, I want to be able to be counted on. I want to be faithful. No, this is not about making everyone reading this email feel guilty. But why do I have this tendency to look to others to get the job done, to let others do the heavy lifting? I want to be able to continue enjoying this freedom and I want to 'vote' for continuing to pray in my city park!
As we have been emphasizing at CLC for quite a while "God, what would you have me do?" I believe, in the final analysis, it is us people who need the prayer. We know a church is not a building, but people. A nation is exactly the same. We can say, "Let the government do it." But we are the government. Our country's founding documents say "We the people..."
So my prayer tomorrow will go something like this. After praying for my country, my leaders, and ministries like Tree of Life and Loaves & Fishes that have been on my heart today, I will pray…
"God, help me to glorify you with my life.
God, help me to share the gospel with my friends and neighbors.
God, help me to recognize your leading and help me to exercise faith in you so that your kingdom is enlarging in my city!
God, help me to do your work in this city!"
Prayer is a great place to start.
What's the next step? 4/24/14
I heard this question this past week from a man in our church. What a great question. It sounds to me like sanctification is the answer. Sanctification can be defined simply as 'set apart to God' and essentially means to grow and develop in holiness. God has a unique way of moving us along and helping us to grow. I have found He knows best.
But the question was not about personal growth and sanctification, but about CLC and the 'lift' in particular. What is the next step for us as a church to provide a means of entering our building both upstairs and downstairs for some of our precious people?
We do not want to place pressure on anyone. It was been clear to me that God is leading us to provide this necessary service. So how do we go about it? The next step is to hear from God! Accept what He is telling you to do and nothing more.
Let me share a personal story. When I got the invitation to go to Africa and read how I could help, my heart leaped. I believe God placed something in my heart. Yes, it was a bit of a stretch, but He then provided miraculously in a few different ways that let me know that this was His doing and I was partnering with Him. This motivation changed everything. I am now on a mission! I am very humbled that I could be used in this way. It is exciting to see Him open doors and do things beyond my capabilities. I am so excited!
I want the same motivation for any endeavor I do for God. I want to live every day in this manner. "God, what would you have me do? What is my role?" I want to be in partnership with Him.
God has told me what to give toward the lift. I simply want to be part. And I feel a personal motivation from Him to do so. I want it to be part of my sanctification and growth so that He can be honored in everything, even in giving toward a lift! I am excited about this also!
All this for me? 04/17/14
When the movie the "Passion of the Christ" came out in 2004, I remember all the accusations against the Jewish community for having killed Jesus. So I sat down and went through all the persons and groups responsible for the death of Jesus. Guess what I found?
The Romans were responsible. It was the Roman soldiers that actually carried out the brutal, elongated death of crucifixion - and they were Gentiles!
Yes, the Jewish leaders were responsible also. They convicted Jesus with six 'kangaroo' trials that were illegal by their own standards and thus they too were responsible for the death of the true Messiah.
They could not carry out the death penalty since they were under Roman rule, so they had Rome do their dirty work!
The Jewish people were guilty as well! Remember the phrase they yelled out at Pilate, "…let His blood be on us and our children." So not only were the Jewish leaders guilty but so were the Jewish people in general.
But what about me? In essence, my sin drove Him to the cross. Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We needed a way! And He provided it by going to His cross.
This is all points to exactly what Paul summed up in Romans 3, 'all are guilty.' There is not even one person free from sin and guilt!
But this does not tell the whole story. Isaiah stated in his 53rd chapter that it pleased the Lord to bruise Him. That is the real reason. The Father knew all along that we are all guilty that we all fall far short of His glory. And yet God sent His son to die, so that Jesus could qualify for us and that we could have and experience a soul-satisfying salvation.
This Sunday we get to celebrate the proof of this - His resurrection!
Can God trust me? 04/10/14
I have been so blessed by God over the years and He often gives more than I really need. What do I do with the over-abundance?
Do I 'pull down my barns and build bigger barns' as one man did in one of Jesus' stories? Or do I pass along the extras and be a conduit - not a large holding tank? If there is one thing I have learned about the flesh, it is this: it always wants more! In fact the flesh is very creative in this 'more' venture.
So, how much do I keep for myself? The Scriptures tell us that everything we have is His! So how do I proceed with my life? I don't have all the answers but I have found in my walk with Him that He knows how to prompt me or nudge me to help me respond to Him. No doubt you are learning that as well.
When I walked my dog Missy, she didn't need a leash. She stayed very close and was extremely obedient. I now have a puppy, and Sydney needs a leash! I recently thought about this verse on one our walks.
Psalm 32:8-9 "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check..."
The cry of the writer's heart is to hear from God and obey! Not needing a bit and bridle takes a very sensitive animal.
It takes trust - believing in the one who loves us. I want Him to be able to trust me! It is called faithfulness and I need the Holy Spirit to accomplish it!
Giving reflects the heart! The possibilities are endless as to what we can give to. There are many great opportunities even within our own fellowship. So what to do? Of course we want to glorify God with our giving. But what does that look like? In short, this calls for discipline.
The reason for the discipline is that James in chapter 5 says roughly that money can rot your soul if not handled properly. We can be selfish and spend all of our resources selfishly and that causes damage to us. But we want to be motivated positively, to honor Him with everything that we are and everything that we have. Giving starts at a heart level of deep love for Him and His kingdom. Motivation is key.
You may hear about many things that we would like to see accomplished as a church. Of course there are regular expenses of our fellowship, like salaries and day-to-day operation costs. These are like a family's ongoing costs of living. Early in life I was encouraged, as a Biblical principle, to 'tithe' ten percent of my income. Many have disagreed over the tithe, but I would encourage everyone to give on a regular basis and ask God what He wants us to give. Tithing is a good starting point.
This "regular support" is not as glamorous as giving to a project. Whether it's a mission trip, the new 'lift' at CLC, Christmas projects, etc., whatever your commitment to the ongoing ministry of CLC is, this regular giving is vital. It takes $15,000 plus per month to cover our expenses.
I love all the projects! We pray as a Board, seeking to know if we are presenting too many things, or not enough!
My prayer is that we would all be disciplined in our lives as believers. And the prayer for each of us is, "Lord, what would you have me to do? I know that giving needs to be regular, and at times sacrificial, to my fellowship. Then what projects are you calling me to participate in?"
Giving is a matter of the heart! "Help me, Jesus, give from my heart to a Savior that I owe everything to."
I think all of us spend a lot of time thinking about finances. Of course that's true in the life of a church as well. This week I'd like to introduce a guest who will share his thoughts on giving to God. Before David shares, I'd like to set the stage. In 1 Chronicles 28 King David called an assembly of local, state and federal officials, along with the military and David's household staff. He was introducing Solomon as the next King of Israel and presenting to Solomon the detailed plans for God's temple as well as all the materials David had been gathering, much of it from his own personal wealth. He then invited those assembled to give to the house of God. I Chronicles 29:6 - 9 describes their amazing freewill offering. So now we read King David's response…
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
"Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
"But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O Lord, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.
1 Chronicles 29:10-18 (NIV)
So you and I are left to contemplate our own priorities of heart and checkbook.
All-around Health 03/20/14
This past week I've been getting check-ups! There was teeth cleaning plus x-rays - another filling is just ahead. Next was a regular eye exam with a first-time retina test and then next week is a physical with blood work. Hearing also has not been overlooked. These are certainly not my favorite things to do but I do want to remain healthy. I have also been going to the gym and watching my weight as well as checking my blood pressure regularly.
Is there a check-list for all this stuff? Who says I have to do them? I can think of a number of reasons not to do these tests, but I do them anyway because I want good health and don't like consequences of not taking care of business.
Is there a check-list for keeping an all-around healthy spiritual life? Do we need goals to keep us on track?
When I lived in Whittier and worked in a very large church we (seven pastors) developed a checklist to develop healthy believers. Those do's included participating in a congregational worship service, a learning time, an outreach, a relational home group and daily devotions. We even came up with a point system so that no one would be overworked and end up neglecting family.
How important is 'doing'? I would say it's very important, but I don't want to live just by a list! In these emails I have often quoted a verse that is very important to me. Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
Loving Him with delight is my priority. After that, I do want to be diligent to fulfill what He wants me to do. Yes, there are things in Scripture that He commands. Adherence to the Word is necessary, freeing and healthy.
Want to be spiritually healthy? Living His Word is loving Him!
Cherry Picking 03/13/14
We used to have a cherry tree in the backyard, so I know about literal cherry picking. We purposely left a low hanging branch so that our three-old son Eric could help himself.
I recently went to my favorite devotional site and noticed that they had left off the last few verses of Psalms 95. I looked it up and guess what? They left off the 'bad' verses or the 'hard' verses. I know you cannot always include all the verses but this omission changed the context. And it got me thinking. Do I always want it easy? Do I really want the truth? Can I handle the truth? Or do I just cherry pick verses.
Who is the boss: me or the Scriptures?
Here is the power of the Scriptures and what makes them so incredible. Hebrews 4:12 says they are "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
God knows us! He knows our thoughts and intentions, which means He knows us better than we know ourselves. How special that God who created us, continues the relationship throughout eternity.
Here is the rest of the great thought! Verse 13 continues, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (NIV)
We will eventually have to deal with God and nothing will be hidden from Him. So it seems reasonable to deal with Him now! The One who loves us and knows us also provides a salvation that does not merely 'get us to heaven' but also prepares each of us as we journey to Him.
May we have a 'well-rounded diet' of the entire Word of God!
Oh blessed, magnificent Scriptures!
What am I chasing? 03/06/14
What really is the goal?
During this week I have been challenged about my goals and what am I chasing? First I received an email from Tony Ritter. He was challenged and passed it along, thanks Tony! Then my son, Eric shared via YouTube Matthew McConaughey's speech at the Oscars. I took away from the speech, "what am I chasing?" Thanks Eric.
And then my friend Gary Rieben wrote from Africa this morning. He has memorized all 176 verses of Psalms 119. So he chose one verse then commented.
"My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times." (Psalm 119:20) There are there three questions that will help to reveal our maturity as believers:
1) What do we long for, what is our controlling affection, our deepest
2) How intense is this affection; is it much more than a wish; does it
control our lives, our decisions and our plans?
3) Does it remain intense at all times and in all circumstances, or is it
stifled by pain or muted by pleasure?
So I have looked long and hard at my heart and also at a few verses and meditated on Gary's questions. Why am I on the planet? What really brings meaning, fulfillment and direction throughout an entire lifetime?
Syncing with our creator-savior, listening, worshiping, obeying is always a great thing, it was why we were created! Matter of fact it is the only thing that will last!
God's Control 02/27/14
Is God really in control? Or do we just sing about His sovereignty and talk about Him being King of kings and Lord of lords when it is convenient? I for one bristle at the thought of being a robot. On the other hand, left to my own devices and being all on my own is a bit daunting as well. I fully understand that I cannot save myself and that I need more than just occasional help.
This perhaps sounds like double-talk but God is in control and yes, our decisions do matter. Paul can say, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God."
I have come to believe this tension is vital to my everyday walk with God. Often we use 'God is in charge' as a reason not to be responsible. Note this tension in Peter's sermon. "…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." Acts 2:23
The leaders will be held accountable even though it was a predetermined plan of God. So… I conclude that our decisions are important, that we are not robots and yes, we are free to choose Him as our way, our truth and our life.
He is intricately involved in our lives. He is not a bully that makes us do things we don't want to do and yes, He has ways of nudging us, guiding us, teaching us His way, which are not manipulation.
I am amazed at His leading, His care and His concern. Only an all-knowing, all powerful God could have thought up this beautiful way of knowing us completely and leading us so carefully.
To Him be the glory.
Staying with it! 02/20/14
How do you keep your direction and focus, with all the distractions? How do you keep your perspective amid the many voices competing for your attention?
The story of Moses is helpful. He made a difficult decision and continued to make good choices. Here is how the writer of Hebrews puts it, "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin…"
He had a spiritual global positioning system that helped him make critical choices. He flatly refused things that appeared very enticing and chose things that caused him ill-treatment. Over the span of his life we can see those choices serving him well, even though they appeared counter-intuitive at the time. How did he sort through the maze?
After he considered and pondered, he came to his conclusion. He saw something! Even better, he saw Someone! That was what gave him strength to endure, leave Egypt and not fear the most powerful man on the planet. He saw Him who is unseen as seen.
Seeing Him as Moses did makes all the difference in the world. At every juncture in life, distractions will be there. Voices may be getting louder, yet He is the constant. When we see Him and follow Him, things clear up.
After all, He said about Himself, "I am the way..." He also said, "Come to me…" Moses saw Him and so can we. And oh, what a difference He makes!
John Lennon's song Imagine was the subject of conversation this morning at coffee. It is one thing to have a 'Light Theology' study in my home but quite another 'doing theology' in a public forum. I absolutely love them both!
The song, though pleasant sounding, has some troubling lyrics! Here is the first verse:
"Imagine there's no heaven.
It's easy if you try.
No hell below us.
Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people
Living for today..."
The song caught our attention and then the discussion followed. Lennon wanted everyone to coexist peacefully. Who doesn't want peace? It seems he thought that religion caused problems rather than solving them. How do we achieve real peace? That's the question.
Sonia Sotomayor, associate Justice of the Supreme Court, stated on 60 Minutes that she left her position as Assistant District Attorney in New York because she came to believe that some people are evil. It was affecting her so she pursued a slightly different career path.
So which is it? What's the truth? Are most people good and only a few are bad? There are many theories! Which one is right? Which one do I stake my life on?
The truth is we are all broken and sinful. Experience tells us that, but Scripture is absolutely clear on it as well. We need a savior, not a theory or a nice sounding song. The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote:
"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1 (NASV)
I respect John Lennon's hunger. I don't question Sonia Sotomayor's motives. But the truth is found in Scripture and will serve me well throughout my life, especially when I draw my last breath! Yes, Scripture tells me the truth about me - scary, but oh so helpful and freeing!
What are we really striving for? What are the goals for our lives? It is easy to just say "Jesus" and not think it completely through. I stumbled onto a fascinating article on Facebook by a theologian from Yale, born in old Yugoslavia. His name is Miroslav Volf and he really gets below the surface, which makes me do some pondering.
He makes two observations about our culture.
1. "The prevalent way in which we think of well-being is fulfillment of desires. This is how scholars who study the importance of money, power, and sex in human life understand well-being."
2. "Addiction is rampant and is arguably the most serious epidemic our societies are facing. By addictions I don't mean addiction to alcohol and illegal drugs; I mean, above all, addiction to food and sex (porn), to power and money (both the money itself and the things money can buy)."
Volf summarizes, "We think of well-being as fulfillment of desires but the way we seek to fulfill desires is often the very thing that destroys us! Our striving is self-contradictory…"
Of course the questions come. Are my strivings, my energy and my passions self-contradictory? Am I just using God to get what I want? Am I really trying to turn the tables on God?
This is where the Holy Spirit's ministry is vital. It is not following my desires or my longings, but following Him. He must be first or the contradictions come.
Watching my heart over the years has been a convicting process. Do I willingly do things that might be considered against the grain of my heart - like giving, serving, fasting, suffering and forgiving - with joy?
Again the Holy Spirit is my helper, the one who convicts and also transforms my heart. May I listen and follow obediently so that there is a singleness - and not a contradiction - between my spirit and my walk, with the result being a soul-satisfying relationship with Jesus.
I want to be faithful, but not rigid. I want joy, not legalism. I want freedom, not a list of rules. But I do want to follow His Word. I want a relationship with the living God that is honest and real, not plastic and phony. I want to know where I am going and how to get there!
What is the solution? The answer for everyone is the Gospel! First, we must know and understand who we are without the grace of God. Second, we must grasp the message of the cross that we are totally and completely loved.
The Gospel must stay front and center. One phrase I love is the 'quest for the radical middle'! We all tend to lean toward legalism on the one hand or license on the other. Either can destroy our faith. Legalism leads to a rigidness that puts rules above God, even above human need! This approach resulted in a joyless group called Pharisees.
License, on the other hand, produced a group called Sadducees. They didn't believe in the power of God and basically did their own thing! They were smug, thinking they had all the answers, and felt they were above the law. Not much has changed since Jesus' day.
This quest, this Gospel, is the power of God unto salvation! Whether you lean toward legalism or license, if you want to soar with God, the Gospel is the path to His heart!
That path certainly is not found in a rule book or in making up your own way. The Gospel is His way! And what a quest it is!
"Timeless Truths" 01/23/14
We are being inundated with much information and it literally comes from everywhere. We must be discerning and increasingly wise. How do we do that? How do we sort out the tons of information streaming to us every day? Do we ignore it or do we learn to categorize and deal with it in a godly way?
The only way to negotiate the maze is to have a good grasp of timeless truths. Those are historic biblical landmarks - truths that do not change no matter the influence of culture, nation, century or current trends! The last is the most difficult to resist.
Christians are being worn down by an avalanche of material. Truth helps us not to lose our equilibrium.
How do we make sense of the all cultural changes, whether they are marriage, homosexuality, abortion, politics, or ethical and moral standards? How do we make a decision today that will still be good a decade later and miss the trendy pitfalls?
Paul stated, "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist." God's Word is the only place where this truth and clarity are provided.
His Word is not only necessary to tell us about salvation, it was given to equip us to live a life that is pleasing to Him. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (The Message) says, "There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another - showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us."
Words written by Paul two thousand years ago and absolutely relevant for today!
Law vs. Grace 01/16/14
"If you want to make people mad, preach Law. If you want to make them really, really mad preach grace." so said Dr. Doug Kelly.
The Law offends us because it tells us what to do and for the most part we hate anyone telling us what to do. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there's nothing we can do. And if there's something we hate more than being told what to do, it's being told that we can't do anything.
We can't earn anything from God's standpoint. We're helpless, weak and needy. That is a bitter pill to swallow. The Law does promise us life, but only if our obedience is perfect. But the Law seems safe because it seems manageable. It reduces life to a formula and makes it predictable. The logic of Law makes sense. In the long haul, though, it will destroy us since we cannot meet its demands.
Grace is not rational. It does not make sense. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness. Michael Horton states it well, "Instead of calculating, mastering, and determining, we find ourselves completely helpless, left with no option but to fall into the everlasting arms of the God who could consume us in his wrath but instead embraces us in his Son."
Mankind has tried for centuries to work for salvation. Legalistic codes are endless as we try to earn our way to God. Grace does go against all our sensibilities. It is scandalous and scary, unnatural and undomesticated…but it's the only thing that can set us free and when we understand it even a little, it truly is amazing!
Salvation is from Him and to be received as a gift! It is not of works. It is amazing!
Striving for the prize 01/09/14
We can spend a lifetime working toward a goal - the right career, retirement, a certain comfort zone, accomplishments, a dream project, a degree. Of course the list is endless. But what happens when we meet the goal, when we have climbed the hill and we have it in our grasp? Was it worth it? Was the prize worthy of all our efforts?
Paul mentions a prize that is worthy of our total pursuit. "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." The 'call of God' - what a goal and what a prize! The thought of living for God, having a calling from Him, is invigorating. Paul had a focus and he pressed toward it. In fact he says, "…follow me as I follow Him."
It is easy to get off track and forget that the true prize is Jesus. I cannot think of a more worthy goal than Jesus himself. Yes, the call involves many things - salvation, service, discipleship, evangelism, giving, gifts etc. - but first and foremost the call is about Him. He is the prize - the goal of the upward call. Yes, there are many distractions that tug at us as the enemy devises weapons to deter us. And then there are the problems of difficulties and weariness, even in well doing.
Paul would say that all the work, all the pain, all the difficulty are more than worth it. God is worthy! Many have sacrificed much, even their lives, in honor and pursuit of Him. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
God knows how to lead us and at the same time how to nourish our souls and free our hearts in Him. What a high calling!
He has called us all, everyone.
My prayer, "Help us, Jesus, in our pursuit of you and what you have called us to do."
What do I really want? 01/02/14
The Apostle Paul tells us that life is a war. In Romans 7 he also says that what he wants to do he doesn't do, and worse, he ends up doing what he doesn't want to do!
Does that describe any of us? Do I personally have to wait and get old before I can be disciplined and accomplish goals set years ago? Why do I keep giving in? Why the struggle? And am I always taking the easy way out?
All my heroes have fought the good fight, pursued through difficulty and have been better for it. They didn't take the easy road nor did they piggy-back on someone else's experience. They didn't dodge responsibility and come up with a variety of excuses! They certainly didn't blame God.
What do I want? What am I choosing? Those are my questions for the New Year.
David had it right in Psalm 32:8-9 when he spoke for the Lord. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle…"
Am I sensitive enough to be led without a bit and bridle? Can I walk with God through hardship and not complain? Can I hear His voice and His direction and walk in His way and not mine? When I choose what He has directed, when I am in sync with Him - that is worship! David knew the only way to live properly was with His counsel and His eye upon him.
So be it with me!
Counting my blessings! 12/26/13
Thankful in December!
I am literally surrounded by gifts! I really understand that my salvation is a gift! And what a perfect gift it is! Plus I get to share about this gift almost every Sunday morning. Preaching is a great gift to me!
Kathleen is a wonderful gift. For over four decades I have enjoyed the treasure of being married to my best friend. Enjoyable! My son Eric, who is special beyond words, is a precious gift. He holds a special place in a father's heart. Priceless.
A lot of my clothes are gifts! I love wearing big sweatshirts, which are mostly gifts from my sons. My education and great teachers I view as gifts. Presently, most of my stack of books to read are gifts. I went to the monastery twice this last year - precious gifts of renewal.
My mom has always been there praying for me - a great gift! Her father B. W. Freeman, the old circuit rider preacher - a gift! Last week Jenny, my goddaughter, looked me right in the eyes and said, "I love you, Uncle Don." What a gift.
A bunch of new friends at the coffee house have broadened me and made me think more diversely - more gifts!
My church family - the living, breathing body of Christ - exhibits His gifts every day. What a blessing. Countless times I am a recipient of the benefits of this great interactive body! Whether through shared Bible study, projects, food, prayer or fellowship, my life is enriched by the connectedness.
I could go on and on, but I have learned over the years that I always end up wanting more! And that is why I go back to Jesus. He really is the gift that keeps on giving! He knows my heart, my longings, my hurts, my boredoms, my fantasies. I simply need Him! And He is there!
What a gift!
The Gospel of Jesus Christ 12/19/13
Four years ago today I got the phone call that no parent wants to receive. No choice, no warning, just a subtle request from the nurse to report to a special office. As we headed to Twin Cities I looked at Kathleen and said, "Brace yourself." I knew we would be in for a long ordeal that continues to this day.
How do you brace yourself? There is only one way to do that! From one swing of the pendulum to the extreme of the other, the horrible lows to the incredible highs, we need something to steady us.
We need something and someone.
I am not setting myself up as the model - far from it. I am struggling more than ever. Self-doubt and uncertainty of proper responses has become familiar over these years. But I am sure and confident about one thing - Jesus draws close and becomes more precious. All those truths and verses I have learned over the years have become more alive and more real! Words completely fail me here to try to describe how vibrant He is.
I am also convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what is needed. This precious truth is able to hold you, guide you and be your center. Life is like a river flowing fresh and free but that river needs banks. One bank is that I am a worse sinner than I could ever realize. When I understand this, it makes me cling to Jesus. The other bank is that I am more loved than I could ever imagine.
This truth steadies you. No matter where the pendulum swings - whether the highest of the highs or the lowest of the lows or somewhere in between - Jesus, who is the Gospel, is the Answer.
No wonder Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…"
Amen, Paul! I am a believer!
I noticed a chair in my office this morning. It is a good chair but clearly mass produced. What I could have done is purchased a hand-made one-of-a-kind treasure that would probably have been out of my reach. Uniqueness is at a premium.
Uniqueness and one-of-a-kind got me thinking back to this past Sunday morning. I saw a lot of giftedness, even in the prayers. I heard prayers for Brad and Kelsie that reminded me of 'fruit of the Spirit' prayers. Love, joy, peace type of prayers and then a Word type of prayer. It was one-of-a-kind creative ministry! I also saw and felt at the end of the service a hugging of the entire congregation by Tony Gaspar. His love and compassion touched me. The gifts from the platform really helped me worship and glorify my God and, yes, He is still working on me!
I sensed a coming together not only of body but also of spirit that I am enjoying to this day. It nourishes my spirit when we meet to glorify our God's coming and incarnating Himself among us.
How deep that is in me! He not only came as a baby but He loves to be with us now, express Himself through us and incarnate Himself in us. Isaiah proclaimed He would be called Emmanuel, which means God with us! Amen!
This means much more than getting bodies into a room. It happens when His Spirit touches us at a level that includes our presence, our attitudes, our joy and laughter - all while enjoying Him!
We are not mass produced! Yes, together we are a body with Jesus as our head, but we are also one-of-a-kind blessed children coming together to honor our Father who lives in us and among us!
May we "Go, Tell It on the Mountain"! It is a message worthy to be shared!
Pursuing Christ is the greatest goal. So how am I doing? Since this is not an individual journey, have I surrounded myself with people "going for the gold?" Have I looked for 'coaches' to help me in this endeavor? The writer of the Hebrews says, "…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…"
Good coaches are hard to find. They really know you, can see qualities others cannot see and then have the ability to encourage and help develop something new and fresh. What a gift they are.
Perhaps it's difficult to admit at first. Maybe we don't even want to be open, or accept new directions and hard questions, but good mentors, teachers and counselors are invaluable to our growth.
Our tendency may be to take it easy or coast for a while. After all, growing takes thought, energy and planning. It is hard work! Physical therapists know how to challenge their patients much better than a family member would. Are we choosing friends that just coddle us and insulate us from the growth process?
How is God forming us and molding us? We know the goal - the pattern - for us all is the image of Jesus. It is a wonderful pursuit but how is it happening in each of us?
Of course God uses various methods in this process, but He certainly uses the people we associate with. Choose wisely! When you find that Godly role model invite them to coffee. Spend some valuable time with them. Develop a Life Transformation Group, Home Group or prayer gathering. Allow them the latitude to ask the hard questions, so that love and good deeds are the result! If this turns out to be a mutual mentoring, all the better!
Let's honor our God by great, stimulating fellowship.