It seems that everything in our world is known these days. We know where we are going before we go thanks to GPS and Google Street View. We know all about people before we meet them thanks to Social Media. We can see what the weather is going to be like before it happens thanks to Meteorologists. So many things that used to be mysteries are now understood, forecast and knowable. This information is at our fingertips at all times.
So when a situation comes up, like this pandemic, where there are unknowns, it can be unnerving. When will this end? Who will this affect? What will happen? All of these questions, and more, are unknown. We are being forced to live with unanswered questions and lots and lots of waiting.
But, and here is the good news, none of this is surprising, confusing or perplexing to God. God knows all, sees all and is not one bit worried about what will happen. And if we trust that God is good, and can use all things (even this) for our good...then we should learn to live with a sense of adventure. We should eagerly anticipate what God will do with this. How will He use this? What will the good be that comes from this?
In Habakkuk 1 it says "Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told."
I don't like this pandemic. I am not a big fan of wearing masks. I am not fond of social distancing...but I know that my God is bigger than any of this AND that He has a plan to do something amazing! I can't wait to see what it is.
In Exodus 3:8 God tells Moses that he is going to "come down to rescue" the people of Israel "from the hand of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
I've always heard that phrase, "milk and honey", and didn't think much about it...but it's a significant thing to note. In order to have milk you need to have cows (or milking animals like goats) and cows need large amounts of grass to eat; so in order to have milk you need fertile soil full of grass (that same land would also be good farmland to grow crops). In order to have honey you need to have bees and of course bees need pollen to make honey and so you need to have lots of flowers and flowering trees (which often are fruit trees).
You see a land flowing with milk and honey (not just dripping with it, but flowing) needs to be a healthy land with good soil. This was the kind of land that God gave to his people, a good land, a fertile land.
In the past weeks we have been looking at the parable of Jesus (in Matthew 13) often called the parable of the sower; but it could be called the parable of the soils. We see four kinds of soil (hard, rocky, thorny and good) and how only one of those soils produces a harvest.
And our question is, "what kind of soil are you?" Do you flow with milk and honey or are you dry and barren? Are you producing a harvest or has it been a while since you've seen any fruit? What evidence is there of your soil content? What results have you seen lately? God is looking for those who are ready to grow, ready to produce...for those who can take his word and help share it with others.
What kind of soil are you? As for me, I want to flow with milk and honey.
If you have lived in this area for a while you might remember "Thunder Island" the Water Park just off 31 in Westfield. As a kid I loved it and went often to ride the slides! I was sad when it closed and still wish we had something else like that in the area.
I didn't think much about "Thunder Island" for many years until recently when work started to tear out all remains of the old park. Apparently the "ruins" had become dangerous and prone to crime and vandalism. I am not sure what will happen to that area or how it might be developed in the future; but I do know that the old adage "out with the old and in with the new" is eventually true with all things.
We seem to live in a world that is amazed (for a short time anyway) with the new and shiny things. Commercials often brag that something is "new and improved" even if it's just a minor change to get our attention.
God is also in the business of making things new. He takes our old hearts and breaks them, shapes them and makes them new. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit.
In Revelation 21:5 it says "He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'"
Are you ready to be made new? Are you ready for your heart to be transformed so that God can change you into the new person He wants you to be?
Sadly, many of us are not ready for this kind of change. We are like the ruins of Thunder Island, sticking around because we are used to the way things are. But what if God could do something amazing with you, with your heart, with your life, with your story...
He can. He will. If you let Him.
In the past few days I have been honored to officiate a wedding of a friend and help lay to rest someone I had never had the chance to meet.
A wedding is a day of celebration, of love, of happiness and it is a high point in a person's life. A funeral is a day of mourning, of loss, of grief and can be a low point for many.
I was able to experience in both of these things only a few days apart and the juxtaposition was extreme. Highs and lows in the same week. Loss and life in the same week.
Jesus, of course, experienced both of these things too. He attended the wedding at Cana to celebrate love and he wept at the tomb with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died. These are human emotions. Love, loss, joy, grief. These are part of what make us human.
As we go through the ups and downs of life I am glad we do it together, in community. I saw at the funeral members of our church there to support the family and I know that kind of love is comforting during a loss.
Romans 8:39 in the Message says "high or low, thinkable or unthinkable-absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love."
May you remember that God is always with you; in the highs and the lows.
During my recent family vacation we spent a day hiking at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin and it was amazing. The park features a beautiful lake set between two huge hills. On the hills, leading up to some of the park's well known rock formations, there are massive granite boulders. Workers have laid a nice rock path with steps, but it's clear that before this path was installed you would have needed to climb and clamor over the boulders in order to have reached the top.
Oftentimes it feels as if there are big obstacles in our way in life. We may see or know what we want, but look ahead and see the boulders in our way. At this point some turn back. Some push on only to find that the obstacles are too much and some overcome those obstacles in order to reach their goals. The ability to overcome is sometimes called "grit" and I believe that while some are born with it, everyone can grow their capacity to be overcomers.
But the greatest help toward overcoming isn't in some self help book...it's the power of God. The God we serve is the same God who made the universe, the same God who split the seas, the same God who stopped the sun, the same God who calmed the storm and the same God who overcame death. Our God can do anything and with His help we are able to overcome.
Romans 8 says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
So don't be scared of those boulders up ahead, you have God with you! Take heart and push on.
Murphy’s Law is a theoretical idea that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Of course, it is not a universal constant like gravity or the Law of conservation of Mass, but it sure feels like it sometimes. Have you ever been in one of those situations where everything around you seems to be falling apart? I sure have! And it can be really tough to have a positive outlook on the world around you when nothing seems to be going your way.
When I was at the Follow Conference in Cincinnati this past December with the Six Points Youth Group, I was stressed beyond my limit. Murphy’s Law was in full effect. All of my meticulous planning had gone by the wayside as everything was falling apart. I didn’t even know if we were going to have rooms to stay in that night. I was terrified because I didn’t have the answer to the hundreds of questions I was being asked. I forgot that God DID have all the answers.
It’s easy to forget that God is always on the throne—no matter what. Sometimes, in the midst of stress and worry, the best thing we can do is rely on God. God IS a universal constant. His love for us never fails. And He is always seeking to secure us in His Will. When life is out of control, and nothing is going the way you had planned, remember that God is still on the throne. Follow in His example. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
I had an early teenage growth spurt which made me a tall 7th and 8th grader. This allowed me to play basketball as a forward (closer to the basket) and I was a pretty good player. I led my team in scoring and rebounding that season (later others would grow, but I pretty much stayed the same height, which explains why I am not a very tall man).
As that season went on, I struggled with my grades and was forced to sit out for a while. I remember telling my dad that my team wouldn't win a game without me; but he said that I was being prideful and to cheer on my team. Well it turned out they did well without me after all. Other players stepped up and took more shots and we won our share during my time away. In truth I was just one player on a team, not the whole team.
Sometimes we get too full of ourselves. We start to think that we are important or needed and a gift to the world...but in reality the world was spinning before we came and will keep spinning once we are gone.
The author of Romans says "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement" (vs. 12:3).
As I head off to vacation this week I sometimes get worried about what might go wrong at the church while I'm gone or who might need me; but then I remember that I am just one small piece of a larger body of Christ and that others are more than capable of doing what I do by loving others in my absence.
Let's stay humble, after all it's God who does the real work, we just get to be a part.
We tend to think that the early church was some utopian time when all the believers were happy all the time; but this is far from the truth. We see seeds of division from early on in the life of the church. In Acts we see some widows being overlooked by the leadership and a decision has to be made to make sure they are taken care of. We see arguments between leaders (like Apollos and Paul) and huge amounts of disagreement about how to handle new non-Jewish converts to the faith. To be sure, there were arguments and strong feelings about many issues during those days (dietary laws, circumcision, false teachings...and many more) and yet the church found ways to work through those issues while continuing to show love and respect to those with whom they disagree.
It seems to me that we are once again in a divisive time. Our issues of disagreement are currently about wearing masks, politics, race relations and more. I worry that we, as a church and as a society, aren't doing a good job of continuing to show love and respect to those with whom we disagree. Are we going to allow these issues to divide us? We are stronger together and yet we are allowing these things to pull us apart.
Romans 8:31 says "if God is for us, who can be against us" and I hope that we find these words to be true now as much as ever. God is on our side. God does love each of us (regardless of how we vote or if we believe in the need for masks). I hope our bond of Christian love is much stronger than any political or social divide.
I pray that we will, as modeled by the early church, learn to disagree with each other and yet love each other still.
I like to imagine that each person has a bucket full of sand. The limited amount of sand in your bucket represents how much of your time, energy, and love that you can give to others on a weekly basis. The idea is that you will take your bucket and dump sand into the buckets of others who are empty and need God’s love. But, if all you do is give, give, give, then eventually your bucket will be empty too, and you won’t be able to love others the way that God has called us to. (Mark 12:31)
The Sabbath is YOUR day. You are given the Biblical freedom to relax and enjoy time with God. To go back to my analogy, this time with God on the Sabbath is what refills your bucket of sand—so that at the end of the day, you are ready to got out and share some more love once again.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” -Mark 2:23-28
Jesus confirms for us what we already know. The Law given to Moses was given for the good of mankind—that we may live holy lives, set apart for the good of the Kingdom of Heaven.