Thank you! 02/16/17
This will be my last family email and I want to say thanks to all of you. The first email was way back in March 2013 and there have been over 200 of them. And again, thanks to you it has been a valuable learning process for me.
The first few were too long so we tried to come up with a format that was enjoyable and easy to read. I eventually called it "my three hundred words."
I didn't want to get into current events or church announcements but address what was developing in my soul. What principles and thoughts brewing down in my soul was I meditating on? Not the wind in the sails but the deep currents of the sea.
It was a little daunting to look at a blank screen and then just begin writing, exposing my thoughts. I look back at which subjects are missing as well as which ones have been duplicated. It's a revealing exercise! But the discipline of writing has been great for me, and hopefully for you the reader. I continue to read and study so that a well rounded soul will be presented to God. That is all I have to give!
One recurring subject is the Gospel. It has captured my soul. It is the "power of God unto salvation" as Paul writes in Romans 1. It is the way God guides and shepherds our hearts. It is the subject that needs to be addressed in every sermon, lesson, etc, because it, and only it, changes hearts!
So again thanks! These paragraphs have forced me to think through big subjects, expressing those thoughts in a limited space, and because of it I have been blessed!
One defining characteristic that Christianity is known for throughout the world is forgiveness. At times we may take the subject of forgiveness too lightly, but it is very important. Forgiveness is essential for the cleansing of our souls if we are to be at rest before a holy God. Forgiveness is also necessary to maintain healthy relationships with those around us. Forgiveness is vital! It is like air to the physical body. It is a precious gift from our God.
Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian, had this to say, "To forgive sins is divine not only in the sense that no one is able to do it except God, but also because no one can do it without God."
Forgiveness is costly. It cost the life of His son for God to deliver that precious truth to us. We have a God who loves us and has provided the means for us to be at peace with Him.
Even when we sin and damage our communication with God, He continues to provide a means, a path, to restore our fellowship with Him. In his first letter the apostle John promises, "…if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." One pastor called this affectionately a spiritual 'bar of soap.'
God has paid for and delivered forgiveness to us. He doesn't stop there but also maintains the path for us to continue to come to Him. He has not overlooked the smallest detail in providing the means for us to have what Paul called 'peace with God.'
God miraculously led Israel out of Egypt. It was a stunning feat. But not many days later they found themselves camped by the Red Sea in a vulnerable and puzzling position. God has purposefully instructed Moses to lead Israel there because he had determined to humiliate Pharaoh and the Egyptians one last dramatic time.
But who enjoys being vulnerable? Who likes being in a position where weakness is plain to see? Of course God had a plan — a plan that worked to Israel's benefit so they could see real power was not vested in man but in God.
God stated His purpose. "Thus I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord. (Exodus 14:4)
God wants us to understand that He is the strong one and we understand that best when we are in vulnerable places. And God does take us through some tough places!
Israel didn't understand God's purposes. So they murmured, wondering why in the world they were camped at what looked like a dead end. This worrying grew to fever-pitched panic when Pharaoh's army showed up and pinned the Israelites against the sea. It was a worst-case scenario — death by sword or death by drowning.
They were trapped in a weak place — a place designed for them by God.
Safe on the other side of the Red Sea, after God had shown them His incredible power, note how Israel worshiped…
"The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him." (Exodus 15:2)
In Ephesians Paul is emphatic, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might."
"A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. All is grace." (Elisabeth Eliot)
We struggle. We reach. We stretch out as far as we can to get this inner equilibrium, this inner calm. We need it just so we can face our bills, our boss, our overfilled (or empty) calendar. These can be difficult, even crushing, to face.
There are many places to try to find contentment for the longing heart.
There are sources - stores and online - for almost anything. The lady at WalMart Pharmacy told me, "We have a pill for everything." John Ortberg in his book Soul Keeping, says "…it is the nature of the soul to need." Yes, we are needy, but where do we go to obtain rest and contentment for our souls?
Ortberg continues, "We are limited in virtually every way: in our intelligence, our strength, our energy, our morality. There is only one area where human beings are unlimited." He then quotes Kent Dunnington, a professor of philosophy at Biola University, who names that one area. "We are limited in every way but one: we have unlimited desire."
Does the Bible command contentment? Contemplate the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet." Coveting is an inner grasping that believes, "I have to have these things or I'm empty." "Thou shalt not covet" means we shall love God enough to be content in all circumstances.
Paul 'learned' the antidote to unlimited desire. In Philippians 4:11 he says, "…I have learned the secret of being content..."
This secret is not available only to the Apostle Paul or Elisabeth Eliot. Yes, we all harbor vast inner desires but we can learn this 'secret' of being strengthened by the God who knows how to feed our hungry souls.
Allow me to give you a few quotes from Tim Keller's book on Psalms.
The Psalms help us see God-God not as we wish or hope him to be but as he actually reveals himself. The descriptions of God in the Psalter are rich beyond human invention. He is more holy, more wise, more fearsome, more tender and loving than we would ever imagine him to be.
Left to ourselves, we pray to some God who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything that he speaks to us… What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God.
Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus's songbook. The hymn that Jesus sang at the Passover meal (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113-118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that Jesus would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they are also about him…
The psalms are, then, indeed the songs of Jesus.
Open to Psalm 1 and meditate on it. Watch the progression. Chew on the words. You will find nourishment for your soul.
I recently had a number of physical examinations - eyes, ears, throat, heart, etc. They can be daunting! But there is another type of exam that is a little scarier to me. It is an examination of my soul! My soul is much deeper and darker and more problematic than I want to hear about or deal with!
But God has provided or scheduled tests, trials and even prosperity to give us a good picture and analysis of our souls. In his first chapter James warns us about seeing ourselves in a mirror and then not remembering what we looked like! He would say 'take notice.'
Life often takes us to places where our souls are exposed and we are able to get a really good look inside. It could happen with a simple phone call or a difficult decision. Or we may get our proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. As these situations unfold we, along with those around us, will be able to see what is going on in the deep recesses of our beings! That is the scary part!
Is God playing "gotcha"? Is this one big game for Him? No! He is developing character. He is our best friend and is ultimately doing these exams to develop us. But His tool bag contains many interesting devices to get this character job accomplished. His goal is to shape us and grow us!
When God was looking for the next king of Israel He sent the prophet Samuel on a search. He told Samuel, "… for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
What a great God! He is more interested in our overall development than our comfort. He has big things planned for us, one of which is for us to have healthy souls!
"The busy soul gets attached to the wrong things, because the soul is sticky. The Velcro of the soul is what Jesus calls 'desire'." So says John Ortberg in his book Soul Keeping.
Google says, "Velcro was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral. The idea came to him after he took a close look at the burrs which kept sticking to his clothes as he walked through the Alps." He took advantage of the situation and Velcro became a useful tool for the entire world.
So the big question is, "What is sticking to our souls?" Solomon said, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23)
We can detach things from our souls! Paul encourages "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" which is a great way to guard our souls. We can pull away from things that are hurtful that want to attach themselves to us. The Spirit helps us in the process of keeping our minds focused on good things, wholesome thoughts and wise pursuits rather than destructive ones. Our enemy longs to embed evil and hurtful ways into our lives. May we stay diligent!
Or we can add things and attach them to our souls that have been proven helpful! Again Solomon helps us. "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will find good." (Proverbs 19:8)
What do we really want? What do we really desire?
May this new year find us being discerning and attaching great things to our sticky souls! Things like the Gospel, scripture, prayer and wisdom. Life, beauty and wholesomeness will follow as we ultimately follow Jesus.
John Piper wrote this more than ten years ago. To this day I can remember when I first read it and on what side of the book it was on. Here is the quote.
"…If you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell-if you could have all that (even without God)-you would be satisfied." Or to change the end a bit, would you be satisfied?
Is the church pushing ease and comfort and the American dream or are we teaching about the one who said He is the way, the truth and the life!
Here is what He says that his followers must do. (Luke 9:23) "And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
It seems counterintuitive! Go for it and peruse the American dream. It sounds so good so right, but it all ends in a 'wasted life' which is part of the title of John Piper's book this quote is from.
On the other hand, worshiping Jesus, following Him, loving Him and enjoying Him leads to a fulfilled life that has great rewards.
So as we begin this year, how great to remember we are justified by faith therefore we have peace with God. And also we walk by this same faith and not by works.
Our faith is in Him and Him alone not ourselves, not works, not a system of disciplines, but Him alone!
Silent Night 12/23/16
I am going to miss hearing Anna Weber singing Silent Night this year.
Anna grew up near castles in Germany. Her father Fredrick was a groundskeeper. When Anna was fourteen her mother died, thrusting Anna into the role of caretaker for two younger siblings. Three years later Fredrick committed suicide. Only seventeen, Anna was worked long hours to pay off her father's drinking debts. Life for that precious young woman had a difficult start, which was compounded by the rise of Hitler to power in Germany. As a result, Anna, along with many Germans of the time, had difficult decisions to make.
At the age of twenty-six she emigrated to Canada, working off her passage as a nanny for a judge's children. Within two weeks of meeting her husband Dick, they were married. Dick and Anna left Canada for California where they put down roots in Camarillo. Twenty-five years later they moved to Paso Robles to be near family.
Anna developed a friendship with Ruth Klassen and soon John and Ruth were bringing her here to church as well as the home group meeting at my house. It was there we heard her singing Silent Night with strength and passion. It stirred our hearts to hear this carol being sung in its original German language!
Recently Anna spent a number of years in an assisted living facility, dealing graciously with sometime feisty roommates. Last week Anna moved for the last time - to her heavenly home. It was a real privilege for me to speak at her memorial service.
Anna was a joyous lady. She was easy to visit and easy to love. In spite of difficulties throughout her life she had a deep joy and an infectious smile. Once I asked her how she handled all the adversity. She replied, "Jesus said He would help me, and He does."
So how does one get from Danish Care Center to heaven? In one word - Jesus!
If you did not get to meet her here, make it a point to look up Anna in heaven. Jesus makes this possible!
Thanks to Anna, and especially Jesus, Silent Night will be extra special this year.
In the Bible the word darkness refers to both evil and ignorance. Take a look around. It is easy to see how dark things really are. And because of this darkness we look for solutions to things like homelessness, violence and injustice. Most folks are looking for answers from a strictly human perspective though.
It was no different in Old Testament times. Even His own people were continually turning away from God and looking for answers in strange places. They went to mystics, scholars and magicians for answers. Now we're told technology and science will provide solutions.
The Christmas message is one of light. John's gospel proclaims Jesus is that Light! This was prophesied by Isaiah, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them." (Isaiah 9:2) Jesus is the solution to darkness whether it is produced by evil or ignorance.
No wonder we celebrate with lights at Christmas! We decorate trees and hang lights on our homes, but the true Light is within us when Jesus dwells there. This is what Isaiah was speaking of. This is a reason to celebrate! His light shines in us!
My favorite C. S. Lewis quote nails it. "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
Where do we go? 12/08/16
Athletic teams usually have a go-to player. At crunch time those players are called on to pull out a win under intense pressure. Do we have a go-to person, or place, to run to during our personal crunch times?
Where do we go when we're stressed and need a time to rest and reflect? Maybe it's a go-to restaurant, a favorite vacation destination or a long walk. A stroll on the beach can certainly be therapeutic. But when the stress is turned up a notch or two, and the noise and busy-ness seem overwhelming, where do we go?
I go to Psalms for word-pictures describing a place of "quiet rest." Here's one.
I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!' He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (Psalm 91:2, 4)
How blessed we are to have a person to go to that provides this rest for our souls. Two of my favorite verses are found in Psalm 27.
One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. (vv. 4, 5)
An old song writer put it this way, "There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God." May we know and experience Him to our joy and for His glory.
Jesus Came 12/01/16
Most everyone knows that Jesus came, but do they know why? The world is full of things to put us in the Christmas spirit - songs, Santa's and a multitude of activities. But what is the real reason He came? Let's go to the Scriptures for answers.
John gives us this reason, "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8) That precious promise was provided at the cross. We look ahead to the day that sentence is carried out!
Another important reason Jesus came was in regard to 'truth'. John mentions 'truth' twenty-six times in his gospel.
Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth…" (John 18:37)
If we want to know 'truth' Jesus is the place - the only place - to go! He came for that very purpose.
But there is another reason that is perhaps the most important of all! "Jesus said to him [Philip], 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me…'" (John 14:9) Jesus came so that we might know Him, not just facts, dates, attributes and doctrine. These are important, but He came so that we can actually know Him.
Yes, putting an end to the deeds of the devil is significant. Knowing the real truth is powerful. But even more wonderful is His coming means we can have an intimate relationship with our God and Savior!
This is a great time to focus on His first coming and celebrate His coming to us, each of us.
The past 11/25/16
How wonderful to have a memory! It really is a gift.
Our minds are amazing, beautifully recalling minute details of important events and milestones. During reflection the mind often goes into slow motion and meticulously plays back episodes of our past.
Sights, sounds, smell, along with the time of day and the season of the year have been vividly catalogued. It is amazing how quickly this happens and how flawlessly it works. This is definitely one of God's creative miracles, displaying His genius.
But what happens when an event is not something we want to remember? We acted, made a choice, took a path, and wish it had never happened. But since our memories are so vivid, we are reminded of these events as well. In fact at times, our wrongheaded decisions take center stage in the cineplex of our minds.
Memory is definitely a gift but when it seems to be working against us, what to do?
Another gift from Jesus is His forgiveness. He doesn't take away the memories of our mistakes or sins. If He did, it would leave gaps in our memory. No, He cleanses and forgives. If fact, He is so creative He may redirect and even use sinful actions, bad decisions and wrong paths in ways we never thought possible.
He never excuses our sins, but He does know how to deal with them. He gave His life so that we might have life: a life free from condemnation. Because of forgiveness we can live and remember our past and not be bound by it!
Today is Veteran's Day when we should remember how much we have to thankful for. Small flags are placed all over the cemetery in honor of those faithful men and women, prompting us to deep and meaningful thoughts, to be sure.
What does God want us to remember?
The past is rightly expected to shape our present. The Scripture suggests little about how our human memory works. But it says a lot about what is to be remembered. Israel was told repeatedly to remember the Lord and His commandments. There were times He told them to set up memorials so they could remember important days or events and pass along this history to the next generation.
In Psalm 1 we are told to meditate on His word. This was more than advice from David; this was life and death for him and us.
In the New Testament Jesus said, "…do this in remembrance of me…" speaking of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Table is a memorial, inviting us to identify ourselves with Jesus' crucifixion. It is celebrated regularly to help us to stay focused on His death and His return. Pause to meditate on that.
His death was more than just a symbol. By His Cross He drove a stake deep in human history. It will stand for all time showing our Lord, in the person of Jesus Christ, Himself took care of our greatest loss - separation from a holy God.
The cross is to be remembered and honored as the curse He bore so we could be completely free from condemnation, justified on the basis of His perfect sacrifice. How could we not remember - and celebrate - His great accomplishment?
I am thankful for my freedoms here in America. I know these precious freedoms cost many lives. I'm even more thankful for Jesus, who opened the way for me to be with Him forever! This precious gift was purchased at great cost, but produced a priceless result!
What do we want to hear? 11/03/16
"True truth" is a phrase coined by the late Francis Schaeffer. He meant, I think, that truth is not what we want to hear, or what we want it to be, but what it actually is. People were confused about 'truth' due to relativism. Truth was at stake. Schaeffer added 'true' to truth to explain this important concept.
But true is what it is. Lie about it, confuse it with other ideas or try to change it, truth is true. Truth will win out.
How did truth become relative? Here is what Paul told Timothy in the first century…
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NLT)
So what do we want to hear? Who do we listen to? What is on our computers or Facebook feeds? Who or what has the power to influence and to direct our lives? Have we gathered voices that just satisfy itching ears? Remember, this has been happening for centuries.
Have we set up parameters that truth is not acceptable unless it is delivered in a certain way? Have we cut ourselves off from precious, liberating truth? Many of the latter New Testament books warn us of false teachers. So we must be diligent.
So, what are we to do? Stay in the Scriptures. Meditate on His Word. Begin every thought with Him and end all thoughts with Him. He did say "I am the alpha and the omega." He is the first and the last. He is the place to start and also the place to finish.
Jesus referred to himself as "the Truth." This is a foundational landmark that never changes - a rock to build our lives on!
I know fog. I remember getting three days off school because the fog was so dense! Once I was cited for driving too fast in it. I have even literally gotten out of the car to find my way. Yes, I know fog. It made me long for some light on the path to find my way home. It was intense.
I have a vivid memory of gripping of the steering wheel, hyper-alert to my surroundings, then turning off everything including the heater, just to hear. One becomes totally focused on that one thing - finding a clear path.
At times we all find ourselves collectively, or individually, in a fog. We remind ourselves 'God is in charge. He is sovereign.' He tells us not to "shrink back" (Hebrews 10:38), but to proceed in faith. Does He leave us? Of course He doesn't, so the answer is to continue to pray and walk with Him. He is not only the light of the world, He is our light.
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105) How good for the Psalmist to personalize this truth. The Word points to the One who said He was the way.
Now, let us walk in Him!
What a simple word. How refreshing to get clean after a warm shower or bath. It really feels terrific. But what about clean inside? Is there such a thing?
The concept of cleanness and uncleanness has roots in the ritual worship of Israel. Unclean individuals were not permitted to participate in Israel's worship. But they could be cleansed and again take part in the worship. How faithful and loving is God to provide what is needed for the soul - to actually be clean!
These concepts were used to make Israel aware of sin and atonement. It is the moral aspect that the prophets came to emphasize. They had to look to the future, putting their hope in God to act and bring supernatural healing to their souls. And act He did! God again goes deep to the real problem: the heart. The cross was the answer that we all needed.
Many in Jesus' day trusted in ritual. Pilate simply washed his hands as if that would work. The leaders of Israel loved the outward appearance of performing rituals but failed to examine their hearts.
When one reads the New Testament it is crystal clear that God looks at the heart. He cleanses from within.
His cross proves to us that He was serious about our need for purification. His declaration that we are righteous on the basis of His work is called justification by faith and is a hallmark truth of the church!
So Jesus died for us, declaring us righteous, which is a legal term. Then the Apostle John declares, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
Jesus took drastic measures for us to be clean. What a beautiful work He has accomplished for us!
Lately the word 'gospel' is a hot word in Christian circles. Why is that so? Will it go away as just another old, worn out word?
Gospel is the sum total of saving truth about Jesus as it is communicated to lost humanity. It is the good news about Jesus and of our salvation.
Through Jesus, the good news comes! It has been good news for centuries, continuing to this day. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving - every day and every moment of our lives. It is intensely personal to us and to those with whom we share this good news.
What other news lets us know we can be forgiven and have an ongoing relationship with this powerful and holy forgiver? This news is only possible because God had a great plan.
That plan was the shedding of His blood on the cross! That perfect sacrifice allows Him to forgive sinners of all their sins. In Jesus, the invitation is given to accept that forgiveness as a free gift and so to come into personal relationship with God. That is one-of-a-kind good news.
Yet when it is distorted by denial of who Jesus is or by rejection of the truth that everything God works in us is through grace appropriated by faith, the gospel becomes "…a different gospel which is no gospel at all…" (Galatians 1:7)
So the truth of the gospel is vital to our salvation experience! But it is just as vital to each and every day we live. God's grace is amazing and necessary for every relationship we have, for every trial we endure and for every step we take.
May our hearts grasp and better understand this wonderful gift!
I can remember as a small child missionaries coming to our church with very interesting artifacts and some 'crazy' stories. Of course those elements formed the basis of my opinions about those incredible folks. Pith helmets, jungles, incredible courage and the word 'overseas' were all part of my vision of a missionary.
Over the years I had to come to terms with the questions, "Who is a missionary?" "What do they look like?" and "What do they do?" The course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement emphasized that it was God who was the first missionary. Great point! Then in the Great Commission, Jesus' last words in Matthew's gospel, He stated "…as you are going, make disciples of all nations." (literal rendering)
So the Scriptures teach in essence we are all missionaries! We are all 'going.' Perhaps not 'overseas' but we are going. And as we go, we do His work. We all have neighborhoods, jobs, schools and places we visit, whether occasionally or frequently, that need a Christian voice! As we go we spread the message and the love of Jesus.
We do not all have mission board approval or wear a certain type of clothing, but make no mistake about it we are ambassadors of our missionary God. Here are the commissioning verses:
"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
Our missionary God loves using us, one and all, in the greatest of all ventures - people coming to God!
As Christians we live for the glory of God. We serve for His glory. This truth keeps many things in perspective for us and is very needful. The reformers taught that our souls are like boomerangs; they are curved in on themselves, which is why we tend to be selfish. So our living for His glory keeps everything in a wonderful balance.
But along with this truth, it is also true that we are incredibly blessed. Here are two verses that state the obvious.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits..." Psalm 103:2
"What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?" Psalm 116:12
Clearly we have been blessed. We are not lost! We have direction. He has added many important things to our lives. And yes there are 'benefits.'
Many of those rich benefits are visible most clearly in a local church setting. This Sunday will be an opportunity for us to experience many of these benefits. We will worship together! We will view baptisms - people declaring the death and resurrection experience of Jesus. Two young people are joining our local church! A precious family is dedicating their young child. The Word of God will be proclaimed. And then we will celebrate downstairs around tables eating together. Christians have been doing these very things for centuries!
What a benefit to be in a long tradition of belonging and giving. The church gives us a wonderful context to proclaim His glory and for us to receive His joy.
Sunday will be a great day to enjoy His 'benefits' and do it for His glory!