Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joy to the World!

It is finally Christmas!  I’ll bet the children in your life are bustling with excitement as they wait to see what kind of presents lie beneath the Christmas tree.  Perhaps you are preparing to either travel or receive visitors?  This really is a beautiful time of year.  This is a time where the beauty of decorations, of relationships, gift-giving music, and joy all meet- and appropriately so, for this is the time when we remember the coming of God’s great gift to humanity- His son, Jesus.

I love singing at Christmas time.  There is just something so sweet and pure about hearing my wife and kids picking parts and joining in on a carol or Christmas hymn and the whole family sings together.  Out of all the tunes we love the best, there is one popular song that is commonly sung at Christmas time, that you may be surprised to know actually has nothing to do with Christmas.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy

These verses are not actually speaking of the first appearance of the Son of God on earth, but rather, the second.  It speaks of the return of Jesus at the end of time as the King of all mankind.  The first time Jesus came, He did so as a servant to show His love for mankind, and to provide a means for mankind to be brought near to God though we are lost in sin.  The second time He will appear, not as a suffering servant, but as a glorious, conquering king!  In the second verse we are instructed to sing songs of worship to the mighty King, and as we do, all of creation itself will join in glad adoration of Creator God!  This is the natural response we have to seeing the great power and grace of God.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love

The words of these verses announce the great news that when Jesus returns, He will defeat Satan and his allies, He will set things aright, and He will even break the curse of sin and destruction that is on the earth.  Jesus will one day rule upon the earth, and all that has gone wrong with corrupt governments, sickness, pain, disease, destruction, abuse, chaos, murder, hunger, and more will be brought to an end and the world will experience the reality of the presence of God, and He will wipe every tear away from our eyes, and there will be no more curse!

This Christmas, as you have an opportunity to share good times with your family, friends, and church, I pray you will remember not only the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, but that same Jesus, who will one day return with the power and splendor of a glorious King!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God is Not Dead...

I’ll be honest…there is a Christmas hymn that I remember hearing when I was younger, that I never really cared for.  I’m sure that it had nothing to do with the words of the song, it was probably something about the music itself that just wasn’t interesting to me.  The song to which I am referring is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, and the lyrics to the song were written by none other than famed American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 2008, a musical group called Casting Crowns did a cover of that song in a contemporary style.  I LOVED IT!  What a powerful sound from the band, mixed with the pure and gentle voices of a children’s choir.  For some reason, hearing the song in a different setting allowed me to take notice of the words a little more closely.  The third verse is especially poignant as it says, “…and in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”  How odd to hear such sad words in a classic Christmas song.  Why would the author  write such a line?

According to Robert Morgan in his book, “Then Sings My Soul”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these lyrics during the civil war, having lost his wife to a tragic accident, and having nursed his war-injured son back to health from a near fatal gun shot wound.  As his inner turmoil finally began to take form in poetry, Longfellow wrote out the song that expressed not only his grief and fear over a war-torn nation, but also all of the personal trial and difficulty he and his family had endured.  This third verse is a candid confession of the reality of Longfellow’s frustration at the lack of peace and reassurance in his life, and his fears for the safety and preservation of this great nation.  But the next verse is the brilliant reply that God seems to have given him in the sound of a church bell.

Longfellow writes, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”  This is the great promise of the ages- God is not dead, nor does He sleep!  When life’s difficulties seem too powerful to overcome, when the security of the nation’s people and economy seem to hang by a thread, when we suffer sickness and loss, God has not stepped off of His throne.  He is not wandering about the universe with His eye on something else.  God’s ways, though unknown to us, are still in play, and He will do that which works to His glory and our good.

Perhaps you are among the many who are looking at Christmas with eyes that are still wet with tears, with a heart that is reeling with confusion or loss, or with the weight of the world with its many fears bearing down upon you.  Can I just encourage you with the words of this song?  God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  He sees you and He knows you better than you know yourself.  He is not out of control, rather He sits as a compassionate king over all that He has made.  He is good and His loving kindness endures to all generations.  Take time this season to remember all that God has done for you.  Give Him thanks and rest in His care for you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Blessing to the Nations

Matthew 12:18-21
Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.

At Christmas time, we remember the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God.  We celebrate the greatest gift known to mankind; God the creator gave himself to us.  This passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah tells us, from the perspective of history, what Jesus’ ministry would be to the people of the earth.  Observe these three elements of the passage:

First, Jesus was a servant.  Phillipians 2:5-11 describes Jesus as a willing servant who emptied Himself in order to be born into humanity and carry out His mission in life- that is to provide salvation to those who are in desperate need of forgiveness.  It is hard for us to comprehend how significant this is because we are on the low end of this exchange.  Author, C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity puts it this way, "The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”  What a colorful metaphor- that we should become a slug or a crab.  Jesus gave up much to come and be one of us, because of the love of God the Father!

Second, Jesus was filled with the third member of the Trinity- the Holy Spirit.  He was filled to carry out the specific task of bringing justice to the nations.  He showed us the justice of God against sin on the cross as He absorbed the wrath of God against wickedness.  God’s spirit was with Him and continues to be with us as a gift to teach us what pleases God, and give us the ability to please God.  

Third, Jesus brings us hope and a sense of God’s care for us in the following phrase, “…a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…”  God knows that we are imperfect and that we struggle to do the right thing.  To those whose hearts desire to do right before God, He extends a gracious hand to uplift and encourage.  To those who feel that they are running on fumes, God’s word says He will not quench you.  Rather, God extends His strength and passion through His Son, Jesus.  

Perhaps you are among those that find the holiday season difficult to get through because of stress, loneliness, bills, or other difficult circumstances.  Jesus, God’s gift to us, offers us the incredible gift of His love and power.  He does this to bless us, and so that we might glorify God who has given us this gift.  Be encouraged by the message of Christmas- God has not abandoned us to a low existence without Him.  He has given us His very presence to lift us up and give us an undeniable HOPE!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Quiet Moment...

At one point or another, it comes down to simply saying, “Yes, Lord.”  As we are entering the Christmas season, we are preparing ourselves, our families and our churches to recall the story of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Great humanity of the story, I believe, begins in the lives of Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph.

Mary, a young peasant girl living and working with her family, had no expectations any higher than the life she grew up with.  Joseph, an average citizen of his little town and a carpenter by trade,  sought only to marry the girl he loved and begin a normal family life.  Neither one of them could have known the amazing part they would play in the presentation of the Messiah to the world, until God Himself spoke to them in gracious but final tones.

Musician, Bob Kauflin wrote a song about this incredible moment in the lives of Mary and Joseph.  He says it this way in the lyrics to “One Quite Moment”:

One quiet moment, on a star-clustered night,
Two weary travelers knew an end was in sight;
So the soon-to-be mother, grasped her husband’s strong hand,
And paused to remember where the journey began.
Nine months of yearning filled with joy and with pain;
He almost had left her, but then chose to remain
Close by the woman he had not even kissed,
Who would bear him a son that would never be his.
And in one quiet moment, a woman and man
Accepted the part they would have in God’s plan;
To give up His glory, and be born as a man.
In one quiet moment.

The lyrics of this song begin as Mary and Joseph have completed a nine-month journey through pregnancy, public scorn, commitment and endurance of all the challenges they must have faced.  They are just about to see the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecies and expectations in the birth of the child that was supernaturally growing within Mary’s womb.  But this moment in history might never have happened had they not said, “Yes, Lord”.

Mary was told by an angel that she would bear a son, mysteriously given by God, and that her son would be the promised Messiah.  But even while she expressed bewilderment at how this thing might be, she trusted that God knew what He was doing, and that she would avail herself to him no matter what.  Instead of saying, “this could never be!”, she simply said, “May it be as the Lord has said.”

Joseph did everything right according to traditions.  He found a girl, asked her to marry him, made the proper arrangements with her family and announced the good news.  Now she came to him with the news that she was pregnant despite the fact that they had not yet been together as husband and wife.  Joseph was understandably upset, but as the word of the Lord came to him in a dream telling him not to abandon Mary, but to be her husband and the earthly father of God’s Son, he awoke to say, “Yes, Lord”.

Because of the willingness and obedience of Mary and Joseph, the promised Messiah was given to save a lost and dying world.  In one quiet moment their personal wills, plans, and goals came under submission to the will of God.  As a result, the world was saved.

At one point or another for you and I, it will come down to saying, “Yes, Lord”.  We will experience His forgiveness, His mercy, His call, His Life, when we submit our wills and plans to the will of God.  Who knows what blessings await when we follow in obedience to Him?  This Christmas season, as life lays out moments of decision for you, say “Yes” to God.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Through Fiercest Drought and Storm

(an article originally written for our local newspaper, The Gleaner)

We have come to a significant anniversary in Northwood.  Seven years ago, on the 26th of August, a tornado that changed lives forever brought its devastation to the town.  Today our town stands as a model of resiliency, determination, cooperation, and neighborly care as we have recovered from that storm.  Northwood is stronger as a community having experienced the bond of shared adversity.  

This month I have been presenting articles speaking about faith through the lens of music.  I have referenced Ephesians 5:19, where the apostle Paul tells us to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and to make melody to the Lord with our hearts.  There is so much power in the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual impact of music, it seems to be the very language of our souls.  When faced with great difficulty, what powerful words might we sing to remind us of the victory we have in Christ Jesus, and the power to overcome overwhelming circumstances?

I think of a song that is familiar to many, “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. This song is a modern “spiritual song” written in the style of a traditional hymn.  In the words of one of the composers, it was intended to “tell the story of the whole gospel” in one song.  Here are the powerful opening lines of this great song of triumph:

“In Christ alone my hope is found;  He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all- here in the love of Christ I stand.”

The clear message of this soul-reaching song is that Jesus is the reason we have hope to make it through even the most difficult and trying times.  Whether those times be challenging emotionally, intellectually, spiritually or physically, our hope and trust to survive the “fiercest drought and storm” is found in faith in Jesus Christ.

How did Jesus provide us this hope?  The rest of this song explains that Jesus was God in the flesh, and He came as a gift of love to the ones He created.  In spite of the fact that we rejected Him when He was on this earth, He finished the work that He came to do.  He himself said that He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).  He did this by absorbing the wrath of God against sinful mankind as He paid the penalty for our sin on the Cross.

When it seemed as though death had its victory over the very son of God, Jesus rose from the dead as a declaration of His authority over death and the grave, and as a statement that His sacrifice was sufficient.  No more did God’s creation need to live in fear of death (2 Timothy 1:9-10)!

And now the song states the case for our victory:

“No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me…
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand
’Til He returns or calls me home.  Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” 

Whether your storm is a tornado, family strain, financial difficulty, spiritual darkness, or any other challenge, your victory may be found in Jesus Christ.  Turn to Him, and find your hope in Him who has loved you and offers you forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Music in the Heart of the Believer pt. 3

The choir files in and takes their place on the risers.  A flutter of anticipation works its way through the audience as the conductor takes his place at the front of the ensemble.  They begin, and musical strains float through the air and into the hearts of audience members and performers alike.  Once again the near magic of musical expression invokes an emotional and even spiritual response.

It is my belief that God demonstrates throughout scripture that He desires to reveal Himself to humanity in the way He works and in the creation He has made.  Romans 1:19-20 echoes this idea:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made….”

When I see a choir performance and the audience’s response, I am reminded of the relationship between creator God and His people.  The basses rumble out the low foundation of the chord the way that God has set the background of salvation’s story against the power and creative majesty of the Genesis of life, the clamorous fall of Man in sin, and the rumblings of the Law on mount Sinai.  The altos and tenors fill in the colors of the chord, giving it character and definition just as the story of salvation develops over thousands of years of Israel’s history with its intrigues, captivity and miraculous deliverance.  

Finally the sopranos, with their soaring melodies, convey the appearance of the very object of our faith and affection, Jesus the Messiah!  The purpose of the song begins and ends with its principal melody just as the story of the Bible begins and ends with Jesus, His nature, mission, sacrifice, resurrection, and one day return!  As the song of His story plays out over the ages, the audience listens and stirs in response.

Some respond with indifference, recognizing the effort of the musician, yet not truly listening or being moved by the Music.  Others find themselves swept away in the beauty of the Song, held by its lyric, elated by its textures and chords, moved by its rhythms and responding with thunderous applause at its conclusion.  

What about you, audience member?  You have heard the song, its melody sounds familiar.  Are your toes tapping, your heart rising to meet the arc of the melody?  Will you sing along?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Music in the Heart of the Believer pt. 2

In Ephesians 5:19, the apostle Paul instructs his readers to “address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs…”.  What does it mean to address someone in “hymns”?  I would like to suggest that hymns are different in the nature of their construction  than any other type of song, and therein lies the understanding we need to encourage and spur each other on in Christian faith. 

While some songs have a tendency to concentrate on one particular aspect of the faith, a typical hymn takes the time, throughout its many verses, to paint a much more detailed picture of its subject.  Take for example this hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” 

Listen to the melodic strains in your mind as you read these timeless lyrics:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; 
our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.  
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; 
his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, 
on earth is not his equal.

As the eye passes over the text, a flood of memories accompanies its lines.  You can no doubt hear the organ or piano of a church chording along with the congregation as they recite the familiar and comforting words of this great hymn of the faith.  You may even feel a sense of the space in which you sang this song in church when you were a child.  Familiar songs have a way of taking us back in the theater of our minds to significant times in our lives when we sang or played them.  They also carry with them a profound weight of meaning in their text.  

While this verse is most memorable as the opening stanza of the song, it leaves the singer in the precarious position of seeing our great enemy, Satan, as a cruel and powerful threat to our very existence.  It is in the second verse that our helplessness is further detailed, and our victorious King Jesus is brought in to ‘save the day’:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, 
were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is he; 
Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, 
and he must win the battle.

The third verse gives us reassurance that even when the whole world seems to be set against us, and the powers of darkness bare their vicious teeth to tear our lives apart, we have cause to remain unafraid.  We know that in Christ we will see the ultimate victory.  What does one say, then, to the Christian who lives under religious or governmental persecution?  The answer follows in verse four.
...Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; 
the body they may kill; God's truth abideth still; 
his kingdom is forever.

Here we are encouraged to hold on to our possessions and even our relationships with others with an open hand.  Even if we endure persecution to the point of death, that is the limit of what Satan can do to us.  God’s word, His truth, and His power will remain long after we are gone.  Even though the enemy may rage and strive against us, his power is limited.  This world is not our eternal home, and we will one day find our final satisfaction and safety in heaven with our Lord.  

To speak to one another in hymns is to encourage and instruct one another with the weighty truth of God’s sovereignty and power.  It is to lay a historical foundation for believing the way we ought, and it is to rejoice in our recognition of all that God has done for us and still continues to do today. Thank God for the rich heritage of song that we have from great hymn writers, both past and present.

Music in the Heart of the Believer pt. 1

I love music.  I have enjoyed many different kinds of music throughout my whole life.  I grew up in a musical family, and I enjoy carrying on the tradition with my wife and our children.  There is just something about music that communicates in ways that neither the written word nor the spoken word are able.  An unknown author once wrote, “For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech”, and Johann Sebastian Bach took it a step further by saying, "The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”  Music combines both the intellect and the soul, the seat of our emotions, into a singular expression of things that are much higher and greater than the sum of the parts of our existence.  

It is perhaps for this reason that the apostle Paul encourages the church in Ephesus to speak to one another in musical language.  In 
Ephesians 5:19 he urges them to “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”.  Paul instructs his fellow believers to communicate with each other in ways that not only address the intellect, but reach down deep into the soul of man and connect with his very essence.  In this months series of articles for the Pastor’s Forum, I would like to share about the topic of addressing one another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.

First, we are encouraged to address one another in Psalms.  The Bible book of Psalms is a rich treasure of song lyrics written by Israel’s second king, David, and others.  In it, we see the praises of God, the recognition of His handiwork in creation and in life.  We see the outcry for vindication and protection of His followers; we see the humble brokenness of the repentant heart.  Sharing the word of God with one another is a life-giving and life-affirming way of echoing the heart of God for His people.  It looks like a friend stepping in with a word of encouragement during a time of great struggle or loss.  It looks like a beautiful card given in gratitude or celebration to a friend at one of the peak moments of their life.  And sometimes it looks like tough love as one reminds the other of all that God has done on their behalf, and that He calls upon them for the surrender of their affections toward Him.  

However, I don’t believe that the apostle Paul was only encouraging believers to quote scripture to each other, but rather that we might speak to each other daily the way that scripture speaks to us.  One example of this may be seen in the way a psalm is often put together.  Hebrew poetry often uses a technique called "parallelism”.  Parallelism uses groups of two or three statements that either work together or contrast with each other to convey an idea.  In other words, a psalmist not only writes of God’s strength, but also the frailty of the enemy.  A psalm not only recounts the history of God’s work on our behalf, but also looks forward to the fulfillment of His promises.

In the same way, our conversation with one another as believers can take on a more meaningful tone as we consider how God works and moves in our lives.  Beyond pithy one-liners and social media memes, we have the opportunity to share in significant ways about how God is working, and why He is worthy of great praise and worship.  We gain a sense of awe at His sovereignty when we consider the preservation of His people amidst great adversity.  We sing the glory of God with our lives when we recognized Him in every aspect of our experience, and share the impact of that realization with others.  Let yourself take part in the great song of the ages as heaven and earth proclaim the glory of God’s handiwork, and His people proclaim the greatness of His love and care for us.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Life Changer

Have you ever met someone who ended up changing your life? Perhaps this person was a childhood friend, a spouse or "significant other", or maybe even a complete stranger. Perhaps they were a celebrity or public figure. Television shows like Extreme Makover: Home Edition based their entire storyline on the way groups of people could band together to change the lives of an individual family. Some of my favorite YouTube clips involve people being given a surprise gift to bless their life. The impact that others have on our lives is significant and we all have a tremendous opportunity to affect each other for good or for bad. It is one of the special stewardships we have from God- how we use our lives to affect others.

In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul shares a prayer that he has on his heart for the church. Ephesus was a large town, an important stop along trade routes, and a cultural center featuring the very latest in philosophical and religious thought. The Ephesians were familiar with political, social, corporate and individual power, but for those who had turned to Christianity, the apostle Paul was intent that they become aware of a new power through spiritual strength. He desired that God would, "grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…" Paul writes about the impact that coming to know the Lord has on a person's life.

Then Paul follows with these words:
"that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." Eph. 3:17-19

When God steps in to change a person's life, He does so, in part, by showing us how much He loves us! He gives us a powerful strength to understand His love, and when we do, it changes us. He shows us how broad His love is to reach across the scope of all time. He shows us the lengths to which He is willing to go to save us in coming to earth to die for our sins. He shows us the depth of His love in the way that He continues to bless, refine, discipline, and lead us, and He shows us the unsearchable heights of His love as He reveals Himself to us.

Time spent in prayer, reading the Bible, and fellowshipping with other believers is time well spent getting to know God. Has your life been changed by God? In what ways has knowing God's love for you affected the way you relate to others? I join with the apostle Paul in praying that you would know the Lord by faith, and that we would be so changed by His presence that we would know the breadth, length, height and depth of His love for us.

Friday, July 18, 2014

It's "Who" You Know

In the gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus is teaching His disciples during what we call the “Last Supper”. He gives them some encouraging words about the hard times they are all about to go through and He says these words, “...if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, questions Him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” The disciples were fixated on following Jesus, as they had been doing for the previous three years. It was important to them to know their master's plans so they could follow Him, but Jesus had just told them He was going to prepare a place for them in heaven so they could be with Him. Thomas' question really expresses the thought that is on many peoples' minds. What do we need to do, how do we get there, what is the proper procedure?

Jesus turns the tables and makes this statement, one of his most famous quotes in the Bible, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, according to Jesus it's not what you know, but Who you know that makes the ultimate difference. Thomas was looking for a process, Jesus told him to look for a person. And that person was Jesus himself.

The same principle is true for us today. We may find ourselves with our own checklist of all of the good things we believe we must do in order to gain salvation, or we may find ourselves honestly asking, 'How can I be right with God?' While it may be tempting in such a hard working culture as ours to rely upon our commitment to excellence to prove our worth to God, the answer is found in Jesus Christ who knew no sin, but instead became sin for us and died for us so that we could have a clean record with God the Father. Jesus saves, Jesus forgives, Jesus makes old things new. What about you, do you know Jesus?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jesus is the "Answer"?

I have heard a story of a Sunday school teacher who presented a series of pictures on giant flashcards to her class. The pictures depicted scenes from the Bible, as well as commonly found objects in the Bible stories. When she held up a picture of the head of a camel and asked, “...and what is this, class?”, her young students were at a loss. One young man finally spoke up excitedly and said, “It's Jesus!” Surprised by his answer, the teacher chuckled and asked why he thought it might be Jesus. He responded, “Well, in church they tell us that Jesus is always the answer!”

Many people are told, and rightly so, that the Bible has the answers to life's questions. And while there are many fascinating scientific, historical, philosophical and practical insights in the Bible, it would be a mistake to view the Bible simply as a “how-to” manual for life. Rather, it is a “WHO-to”. The Bible demonstrates that it is written by God through inspired men, and the entirety of the book points to one thing- Jesus.

In all of the pages of scripture, we see that God reveals Himself to the world. He first reveals Himself as the creator, as a God of justice, as a law-giver, as a healer, as a provider, as our victor, as our source of strength and help, and so on. But as the pages turn, God's plan comes more and more into focus until it all funnels down to one point in history- the appearance of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. The Bible reveals God's nature and character as we see the life of Jesus played out in the gospels and expounded upon by the remaining books of the new testament. It is a truly fascinating journey.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”- Hebrews 1:1-3.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bearing Fruit

I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

Jesus famous words to His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches” is a reference that is rich with meaning. Jesus presents Himself as the necessary source of our spiritual nourishment, strength, and vitality, while declaring our complete dependence on Him. What kind of fruit do you think God wants to see in our lives? While this may not be an exhaustive list, I see the following fruits in scripture as the kind of outcome God would like to see in our lives.

The Fruit of Repentance- Matthew 3:8. God loves us like a parent who loves their child enough to tell them not to touch the hot stove. God knows what kinds of behaviors lead to our destruction and so He tells us to turn away from sin. When we are headed in the wrong direction, God offers us the opportunity to turn from sin (repent) and come running back to Him.

The Fruit of Thankfulness- Colossians 3:16. We have a tendency to forget that God blesses us with innumerable gifts every day. As He works in our hearts, one of the results we see is a renewed sense of thankfulness.

The Fruit of the Spirit- Galatians 5:22. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness, and self-control.

The Fruit of Good Works- Ephesians 2:10 God has a design in mind for each of His children- a set of adventures and “good works” for us to enjoy and undertake. In essence they all involve a change in the “centered-ness” of our lives. Instead of being focused on ourselves, we become more focused on others, and ultimately more focused on Him.

The Fruit of Righteousness- Romans 3:21-25 Seeing the holiness of God in scripture changes our self-defined understanding of what is right and what is wrong. God sets the standard of righteousness, and if we are in Christ Jesus as the Bible says, He looks at us and sees the righteousness of His son instead of our sinful past.

Now for the big question, “Are you bearing fruit for God?”  

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Beloved Hymn in Times of Trouble

The hymn, “Be Still, My Soul” is a widely recognized and much loved hymn of comfort and assurance. It is sung in churches all over the world, and it brings a message of the sovereignty and care of Almighty God. It became a popular hymn in England during the dark days of World War II, as the future of the country, and that of the entire continent was in the balance. The lyrics to the song still bring comfort today, and I would like to invite you consider the truths they convey.

Be still my soul; the Lord is on thy side.” This line is a re-assurance that “if the Lord be on our side, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31). In context, this verse of scripture is speaking of those whom God has redeemed from the kingdom of darkness, and brought into His family. If God is on their side, there is no one who will be able to successfully come against them, because He is a victorious King!

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide.” In our broken world, we will no doubt encounter times of grief, loss, difficulty, stumbling, confusion, and brokenness. When life becomes difficult, resist the temptation to feel as if there is no hope. There is always hope in Jesus Christ, because He gives new life, even in places where there is only death or destruction. Wait upon Him, and in His perfect timing, He will show Himself as a great provider.

In every change, He faithful will remain.” We can take comfort in the fact that even when we are not faithful to God, in spite of our best intentions, He is faithful to us. “God demonstrated His love for us in that while yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:8). Jesus was faithful to His disciples to the very end. He served Peter, who denied Him; Judas, who betrayed Him; and the rest of the disciples, who ran away from Him in fear when the soldiers came to take Him away to be tried. The love of God never fails.

Be still my soul; Thy best, thy heavenly Friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.” It is oddly comforting to know that even when the way is thorny and troublesome, Jesus leads His dear children along. The final destination of that journey is a place of joy, a place of, comfort, a place of rest. It is the very presence of God.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Toy Boat....

A little boy and his father spent one day working on a special project together. They decided to build a toy boat that they could float in the stream that ran through their property. All day they worked to fashion a hull and masts, complete with sails and rigging. They painted it, gave it a name, and for good measure they attached a string that they could hold in order to keep it from slipping downstream. Finally, it was ready, and father and son walked down to the stream to have some fun.

All was well in those playful waters until the son accidentally let the string slip from his hand. Despite their best efforts, they were not able to snatch it from the stream before the swift current took it away. They boy cried, and the father comforted his sorrow. Some weeks went by and father and son happened into town. As they past by a general store, the boy cried out in amazement. There in the window display was his boat. Somehow, the store owner had discovered this beautiful toy boat and, not finding an owner, claimed it as his own to sell in his shop.

The little boy and his father walked in to the store excitedly and asked to have the boat back, but the new owner remained firm on his claim of ownership. "If you want to have the boat, you will have to pay the price," he said. The son looked up to ask his father, only to see him already retrieving his wallet to pay for the vessel. Boy and boat were soon reunited and the joyful duo left the store.

In Ephesians 1:7, the Bible tells us that we have "redemption (in Christ Jesus), through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace…". When the Bible uses the word redemption, it carries a meaning similar to the little parable above. Though we were lost in our sins, and under the dominion of the kingdom of darkness, God chose to redeem us. That means that He purchased us back from the dominion of sin, to be children in the kingdom of His light and holiness. When God looked at the price tag of our redemption, it was no less than the cost of His very life. And yet, "God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

In Christ, you and I have the opportunity and the power to walk away from all of those things in the kingdom of darkness that would enslave and destroy us, to walk in the strength and power that He gives us to be overcomers. In Christ, we have the unique privilege to be adopted into God's family: "…but to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…" (John 1:12). In Christ, we are REDEEMED!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

At Calvary

There is an old hymn that we used to sing in church when I was growing up. It was called "At Calvary". There is just something about that hymn that speaks to me and gives me a reminder of just how amazing God's love really is.

"Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified, knowing not it was for me He died at Calvary."

This first verse relates how someone might know about God, the stories in the Bible, or even be active in their church, yet not value the sacrifice of Jesus for them individually. Jesus laid aside the full expression of His deity, lived a sinless life, and submitted Himself to the plan of salvation which ended in His eventual crucifixion. More than this, He did it all for you to show the glory of His love and forgiveness.

"By God's word, at lat, my sin I learned. Then I trembled at the Law I'd spurned, 'til my guilty soul, imploring, turned to Calvary. Mercy there was great and grace was free. Pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary."

An honest reading of God's word opens the eyes of the reader to the holiness of God's character. In light of that holiness, we see ourselves as falling far short of God's glory. Yet, at the cross God's mercy was plainly seen as the required payment for our sin was payed by God Himself. Forgiveness is offered as a free gift!

"Now I've given to Jesus everything. Now I gladly own Him as my king. Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary".

This verse speaks of a life that is totally surrendered to the Lord. Surrender like this is not a matter of begrudging submission, but rather a joyful handing over of the keys to your life to the God who created you and cares deeply for your very best.

"Oh the love that drew salvation's plan, oh the grace that brought it down to man. Oh the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary."

We find salvation, forgiveness, and God's grace at the foot of the cross.   

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lamp and Light

Psalm 119:105 "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."

The word of God, the Bible, is a precious gift. It is most likely that in your home, you have at least one copy of the Bible, perhaps even more than one. More than a collection of interesting stories and spiritual proverbs, the Bible is a beautiful telling of God's story working throughout history in the lives of individuals, families, and nations. It is filled with stories of intrigue, romance, vengeance, conquest, defeat, sorrow, joy, wisdom and ultimate victory.

This verse says that God's word is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path". I thought of this just the other night when I walked out of the house to go to the shop in total darkness. The clouds covered the sky, as wind and cold rain blew across the yard. With no light from moon or stars, and without a flashlight, I had to take my time to get there, being careful not to run into a tree or other obstacles. But on the way back to the house, with a little light in one of the windows, it seemed easier to navigate the darkness, because it provided me a clue as to where I should go. When I returned to the shop a little later on, I grabbed a flashlight to help light my way, and walked with ease.

God's word is like that when we are facing even daily decisions and looking for the direction we should go. We can find wisdom in the things God has said in His word. We can find hope, forgiveness, and a sense of mission as we get to know God through the pages of His word.

Nestled within the pages of scripture, , are these words from Psalm 103, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." What an incredible promise!

God, the creator of the universe, cares enough about humanity to bless us in very real and tangible ways. He forgives sin, offers healing, restores broken lives, and raises us to a place of honor, where He gives us a crown made of His love and mercy. Like a mother or father who feeds their children with good food that will help them become strong and healthy, God satisfies our spiritual need with Himself. As pastor and author John Piper has said, "God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him".

How is your relationship with God? Is it strong and healthy, struggling to grow, weak and failing? You will do yourself a great favor just by opening up His word to learn of Him, who loves you and desires His very best for you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring to Life

This is a beautiful time of year. In our corner of North Dakota, it has been a long and cold winter and I know that many of us are glad for the change in weather. Farmers and gardeners alike get visibly excited to finally be able to get into that field or garden, till up that dirt and start planting. Students in school start to come alive again with anticipation of summer and the completion of another school year. The streets get cleaned up, the grass turns green and soon leaves will begin to bud on the trees.

More than just a change in weather, the arrival of spring reminds us of a very real and very important truth. It signals to us the revival of LIFE! The world simply seems to be more alive and full of adventure and promise when we see it coming alive. Spring is the time to plant seeds, and we do so with the hope and expectation that those seeds will do as they ought. We plant with the expectation that we will one day reap a harvest.

In the same way, God tells us in His word that we can have a spiritual "spring time" within our hearts, and that He plants "seeds" within us in order to watch them grow in our lives. First, let me say something about new life. In 1 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." There is a time in a person's life where they may have opportunity to see the cold hard ground of their heart in the warm sunlight of God as He begins to work within them. The one who responds to God by calling out to Him, asking for forgiveness and putting their faith and trust in Jesus, is then brought into a time of spiritual Spring, where new life begins.

The verse above contains a precious promise that I think many readers will appreciate. It says that "the old has passed away". That means that former sins are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean, and a person is literally able to begin a new life- in Jesus Christ. So many people feel a sense of overwhelming guilt because they know that there are issues in their past that separate them from a clean relationship with God. When we call out to God for help and forgiveness, God promises in His word that He will forgive those sins, and "remove them as far as the east is from the west." (Ps. 103:12) You are offered a new life, where the old life is wiped away! And while a person may have to deal with earthly consequences, there is a real sense of hope that all may be made well.

That verse also contains a second precious promise. Just like a farmer or gardener plants a seed in the ground with the hopeful expectation of a bountiful harvest, God has planned a lifetime of wonderful works to do in us and through us. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." God desires to reveal Himself to us, and one of the ways He does so is to lead us through many different experiences and opportunities for service. God has a plan of opportunity for you to take in life, and because He is with you, He will help you lay aside the things that slow you down and cause you to stumble. He will also give you the strength to do exactly what He wants you to do.

These are precious and hopeful promises from God. He truly cares for you and loves you deeply. He invites you to have a spiritual "spring time". Will you call out to Him?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Haiti- a Lesson in Missions

I recently had the privilege of participating in a missions trip to Haiti. Our church has been sending teams to Haiti in the last couple of years as we have had an opportunity to partner with Full Life Crusade, a ministry based in New York state. The overall goal of our mission has been to serve the people of Haiti, particularly in the city of Jeremie, by partnering with Full Life ministries in their activities and by developing our own areas of ministry in the area.

It is difficult to go to a third-world nation, see the difference in living conditions compared to home, and come away with your worldview intact. Seeing how others live in a poor nation, one that was very recently rocked by a massive earthquake, brings a sharp sense of contrast to the plentiful provisions and relative safety of home. This was most obvious to me as my family and I walked into a Wal-Mart in Fargo upon returning home from the trip. It was a little overwhelming to see that from one open spot on the sales floor, I could see the grocery department, clothing, pharmacy, auto parts and toys just by scanning across the store. Finding items such as these in Jeremie would have taken more than half of the day and a long walk around different parts of town. When we went to the cashier with our items, she asked, "Did you find everything today?" I simply looked her in the eye and choked out, "Yes, I found everything". We truly live in a country that has been blessed by God!

While in Haiti, we celebrated with a small church as they marked the first anniversary of their ministry in Jeremie. A year ago, we had taken the opportunity to help this church get started, and now we were able to see the results of a year of diligent hard work and reliance upon God for daily provision. In addition to weekly church services reaching people with the gospel, the church also hosts various "schools" to reach the people in the area with very practical, marketable and helpful skills. These skills include training in electrical, culinary, and interior design trades. Students come to receive training in the various skills, a certificate upon successful completion, and the empowerment to go out, start a business or get a job with a larger business. It is one of the most effective means of helping the people of Haiti, many of whom are facing a poverty that is difficult for many of us to imagine.

The lesson in missions that I think we take away every time we go to Haiti is this: God has blessed us tremendously so that we might be a blessing to others. It is not only a chance for us to share from the bounty we enjoy, but it is also an opportunity for our lives and priorities to be changed. Many of our team members have related the experience of having their eyes opened to the worth of family, home, health, safety and provision that we experience as a gift from God every day. It is a privilege to participate in what God is doing there, and He continues to call us to follow Him in reaching out to the world.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cold Stars

I have been hearing a familiar comment in the last couple of weeks. It seems that despite the bitter cold temperatures we have been having lately, many people have found beauty in the stars as they shine so bright on these cold nights. I can't blame them. One look at the North Dakota night sky is an impressive and beautiful display of stellar artwork.

This week I came across an old familiar psalm that speaks about the beauty of the night sky. In Psalm 19 we read:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”

It seems that the heavens are like a scroll that God lays out to read a great love story to the people of the earth. That story is etched in the stars as though written with light from the very Father of lights Himself. It is as though God had a message to communicate from the very beginning of time, and He took the time to display it in the sky we look at every day.

What is that message? The verses above state that the heavens “declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”. In the beauty of creation, we are able to see God's creativity, ingenuity, and personality. It's like taking a peek into the vast storehouse of the wonder of God's glory. As fascinating as that might seem, it is the following verses that are most amazing to me:

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

God's declaration of His own glory and His love for the human race is displayed in a “language” that everyone on the face of the planet is able to hear and understand. God knows what speaks to you and I, and He is able to communicate through that means. My wife once wrote a song that talks about the way God speaks to some through the beauty of creation, and for others He uses the blessing of friendship. Some would say that the first time God ever got through to them was through the melody and lyrics of a song, and for others it is the hands of a community that reaches out to help in a time of need. God speaks the very language that your heart hears.

What is God's message? As we have just celebrated in the Christmas season, God loved humanity enough to come down and be born amongst His creation to redeem it from the curse of sin. God demonstrated His love in this way- Jesus Christ died to save sinners and to deliver them from the dominion and power of sin. Since this is true, He invites us to turn from our sin, and follow after Him. He invites us to be a part of the incredible plan He has for this world, and to become more and more like Him every day. He invites us to see His glory, not just in the night sky, but in our hearts as well.