Have You Noticed 02/01/23
Have you noticed all the ads that tell us about the products that work “instantly”? One said, “Get the gym body without going to the gym.” Sounds good to me. But I’m thinking about getting the Flex Belt that promises I can get great abs in only a few weeks, just by putting on this special belt and going my merry way of pizza & chocolate! A Medifast commercial said that anyone could lose 20 pounds in 30 days. The ad said, “Forget counting calories or carbs, Medifast does it for you.”
Most American people expect everything fast, easy and cheap. And we often treat the Christian life like that. We want it to be like a McDonald’s drive through — drive up to the window, get instantly & effortlessly changed and drive off into the sunset.
But on the contrary, 1 Timothy 4:10 tells us to “labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior”
Likewise, in 2 Peter 3:13-14, we see ...in keeping with his promise (salvation) we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
“Every effort”, this says. Because the Christian life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. It is not a dash, it is a distance race. You can’t run a race unless you have trained for the race over a long period of time. It means running every day — when you feel like it and when you don’t. Likewise, you can’t pass a final exam if you attend class only occasionally, hardly read the text and try to cram the night before. In the Christian context, this means that if we're unprepared, we simply are extremely unlikely to give/do what we can with the gifts God gives us for the Kingdom of God. Under-achieving for the Lord should make the Christian MORE than sad—it should grieve us.
The Apostle Paul frequently used the word we translate as “discipline”. This comes from the Greek "gumnazo„" from which comes our words for "gymnasium" and "gymnastics." It means to train or to exercise. Regularly. Not just when we feel like it. This word conveys the idea of rigorous, strenuous, self-sacrificing training an athlete undergoes. Just so, the Christian life.
In Paul’s day, physical fitness was the rage like it is today. No matter what Greek city you went to you would find a gymnasium. There was great emphasis in the Greek culture on physical training and in gaining glory from the winning of athletic events. I know something about this. I know it's hard to believe, but I've been doing some weight training with Isaac for a year & a half. For a couple of human sticks, we've made great strides. But that's because we participate whether we want to, or have time to—or not. In fact, your pastor now holds a New Jersey record for bench press in my age (approaching “duffer”) and weight (stick). Don't be impressed, it wasn't that much weight, but the principle is important.
Christians get to train by doing the Lord's work at the prompting & with the added power of the Holy Spirit. Daily, if not more often. Clearly, God gets the glory, not our “athletics”, though they seem to play a part to turn us into the men & women God created us to be. Bodily disciplne certainly has its merit and is one way to be stewards of the body God gives each of us. Personally, I find it a way to encourage spiritual disciplines in the gymnasium of the Christian life! Still, the physical effort can only go so far and for so long. As John MacArthur wrote—"... godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Isn't it a blessing that we get to work out for the Lord any time, regardless of our physical condition? Pastor Geoff All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11
He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. Proverbs 15:32
Easter Sermon April 2020
Ever notice in families that 2 siblings often turn out so very differently? Read many stories of families that suffered tragedy in which 1 sibling spent a lifetime troubled by bad choices/ actions /relationships, while the other sibling was diligent, dedicated & joyful. Even in ordinary families, it's easy to find siblings-or even twins--who deal with life in almost polar ways & attitudes. Maybe you're one of those!
From the viewpoint of a news article, we don't know very much of the 2 thieves. No name, no age, no hometown, not even the particulars of thier crimes. These wer no thieves of a loaf of bread, though. They were found to be criminals of significant danger to society. Likely the predators who disrupted the safe travel & trade on the roadways, who'd attack travelers, beat them up, rob them & leave them for dead--like the intro to Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. What we DO know of these 2 men is, however, enough.
They were 2 men who encountered hardship and took polar-opposite roads in response.
>>Notice first how similar they are. Both are suffering the pain of crucifixion. Both are guilty of crime ("We are receiving the due reward of our deeds," v. 41). Both see Jesus, with the sign over his head saying he is King of the Jews(v. 38). Both hear the strange words asking the Father to forgive his killers (v. 34). And both of these thieves want to be saved from death.
>> The first thief says, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" What a picture of a unspiritual worldly man. He doesn't care that he deserves punishment. Right and wrong? No interest, he only wants to save his earthly skin. As a matter of convenience, he might even believe Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Whatever, if he can get him off the cross. Just another patsy to serve his own worldly purposes.
We've all met people with this outlook: "I'll believe in you God, if you get me out of this mess." Bargaining with our Creator as though we in some position to put God in a headlock and he OWES us. Never thinking to ask the question that if God was so puny that I can overcome him, though I'm powerless to help myself, then how can he be powerful enough to help me? A silly idea if you say it out loud, isn't it?
John Piper calls this the the old car-jack theology. "A car-jack is a dirty, useless thing to be kept out of sight in the trunk until you have a flat tire (anything unhappy). Then you get it out, let it do the dirty work, and put it away again. "If you're such a good jack, jack me down off this cross, Jesus." "If you're such a good jack, jack me up out of this sickness, out of this financial mess, out of this lousy job "
Indeed, others are taunting Jesus as many taunt God today, "Why is this terrible thing happening to me?" Thinking that there should be no outcomes for choices we make unless we like them. Or that this should be heaven & I should have what I want because I'm so fantastic. Though this world gives us images of Heaven, it is NOT Heaven, and it seems designed to encourage us to want the real Heaven.
But the repentant thief was not sucked in by the other thief's railing. And if we are to follow his example, we will have to stand our ground and not be sucked in by the people around us who say, "If your God is so great and loving, why this virus?" or whatever the challenge of the day.
First, see that repentant thief "rebuked him saying, 'Do you not fear God?"' This penitent thief feared God. He perceived some reality in God. He had some sense that a pot can't take up arms against the potter and come away victorious. It is appropriate that creatures bow before their creator and submit every aspect of life to His wisdom. How much more should the sinful creatures bow before God in holy fear
Note that the repentant thief admitted that he had done wrong: "We are receiving the due reward of our deeds" He was humble enough to admit his guilt.
Note too that the thief acknowledged Jesus' righteousness: "This man had done nothing wrong." We must say with the thief that Jesus only does what is good. This man only speaks the truth. This man is worthy of our faith and allegiance and imitation.
Last, the thief goes a step further and acknowledges that Jesus is king AND asks him for help. "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Even in suffering, Jesus had the mark of a king. He is not only good, he is powerful, and one day every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord—to the glory of God, the Father.
And Jesus is not silent, even in his agony. He promises this humble, repentant man of faith a future in Paradise. And yes, Paradise IS the same as Heaven.
Of the thief who wanted Jesus only as a lucky "get out of jail free" card. Who refused humility even at death. Who wanted Jesus on his own, convenient terms for his own selfish purposes--we chillingly hear no more.
How appropriate that we celebrate Easter as we are in a time of national fear and isolation. Satan loves to make people feel isolated, alone & gypped. The better to separate us from our Savior, he thinks. Right now, many are now stuck with thoughts of "Why?" or taunting God with how unfair this all is. Maybe turning to government to "fix" it. But why is this happening?
Remember, God can use anything when we humbly & honestly turn to him & ask. Truth is, no matter what our circumstances, without taking hold of Easter we are already prisoners in lives with no eternal hope. Taking hold in repentance, acknowledging Jesus and asking for his help.
So here we are, up close & personal with the things we have actually decided to be important, not just what we say we love. Government can't "fix" any of this!
So now, without the usual flurry of distractions, may we take a special joy in the presence of the living Christ. In taking time in the Word of God and working to be more like Him. In thinking about Easter being for each of us and for the frightened folks we all know. May we take after the repentant thief and may we be moved by Jesus' Easter love & tell the people around us in need of eternal reality and health.
“Real Wilderness Is Still Out There” March 2020
Wilderness adventure travel is big. In 2015, the adventure tourism industry generated revenue of $7.88 trillion. This means that the tanning, beach side vacations are losing out to activities involving high perceived risk. This adventure tourism market is predicted to grow more than 46% by 2020.
When I read that, I think of being dropped by parachute into some wilderness inhabited by alligators, leeches, giant bugs and maybe, if you're lucky, people who make their own clothes by chewing animal skins and who might--just maybe--offer you large bugs for lunch. But apparently my business model would not compete well. The real adventure travel industry seems to include cruise ships, air-conditioning, laser tag, snorkeling w/o barracuda, safe skydiving strapped into zip lines, surfing, rock-climbing and at least 3 meals /day.---No bugs on the menu, no pit latrine, no 102 degree day in the jungle, no shaking the scorpions out of your boots before putting them on. But real wilderness is still out there. The definition of wilderness is "a tract or region uninhabited , an empty or pathless area or region." A place apparently w/o the necessities of life; endless; w/o beauty; easy to be lost; with dangerous animals; deadly, if one doesn't keep his wits about himself. It can also be-a bewildering situation. Think deer in the road. But astonishingly, people can learn to survive in the wilderness. Usually, wilderness is much closer than we think—or like. Each of us endures Wilderness as a part of our lives. We cannot live and love and “do” life in meaningful ways without sometimes ending up in a wilderness--Those times when we are tested to our limits. We often describe those times in wilderness-trekking terms: dry, desolate, alone, afraid, lost, confused, painful, injured, agonizing. We speak of hunger, thirst, fear, uncertainty and longing in the wilderness. Usually these times are initiated by loss: of job, loved ones, opportunity, youth, or meaning in life. But we know from the Bible that God didn't leave Elijah, or Moses or the Israelites in the wilderness unattended. Jesus had the Words of Scripture to encourage him. As we read in Exodus 16, God led the Israelites from Egypt through the desert wilderness. And they were fearful and complained. But God showed himself to be real. They had a chance to see who God is and to be fed & sustained by him. To learn to trust God. And we see throughout Scripture that wilderness time is an opportunity for learning. Yes, one of those “school of hard knocks” times of learning, but powerful and life-changing--if we learn the lesson to trust God in Christ. Experience is a great trainer. It's well-known that kids can also learn best by experience. I've seen lessons some kids wrote out, such as: “You can’t trust dogs to watch your food for you.” and “No matter how hard you try, you cannot baptize a cat.” One of the great lessons of wilderness is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot handle it yourself. Leaning on self becomes impossible in wilderness. Some rely on luck or on personal strength—and often end up being dry, lonely bones in the desert. No, we have no place to go in the wilderness times of life except only to God himself.
As painful as wilderness experiences are, they usually yield more spiritual growth than the good times—when we can give ourselves credit. In wilderness, we can learn about ourselves-& especially about God. We can learn about what is most important, and about where God wants our lives to be going. Without that time of stocktaking and learning, life can just go along without much thought. Wilderness offers an opportunity then. Here are some good wilderness questions: How is God sustaining me? Am I seeing them? Am I grateful for what He does in my life? What things does the Lord want of me that I've been avoiding? What is His purpose with my life and those resources He's given me? How do I take God for granted? Do I lean on faith in myself in tough times? Faith in others? Wilderness asks--”Who is God to you? Do events of the world numb your faith in God's wisdom & mercy?
Life with Christ—that's adventure. And just as the wilderness travel business assures the traveler's safety, we know God offers us what we need in the wilderness & gets us home, if we take Him up on it.. Pastor Geoff 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 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
“FEARLESS LOVE” Feb..2020
'Tis February, and time for retail to turn to thoughts of love. Well, Valentine's Day, anyhow. But love was the intended basis of the occasion. The question is just what kind of love? Seems the day just focuses our attention on the societal confusion about the word. Is love deeper than mere emotion? More durable than just physical attraction? There's such confusion that some have a fear of having meaningful male/female relationships. Or even good friends Seems as though fear and love should be as far away from each other as anything could possibly be.
Since "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son", Christians should know something of what love is.
So what in the world is the most loving thing a Christian can do? What can that be? Some would argue that it would be to feed the hungry, clothe those in need, etc.. Indeed, those would be loving, biblical acts. And if not done to make us "feel good", but to be obedient to God, they would be truly loving--giving an illustration of how much God loves people. Certainly He gives us many chances to express His love. In Mark 14:6 even Jesus said we'd always have the poor with us to do good for. He's letting us know the sad truth that we can do much but some in this world will still be poor. This stuff is all so temporary....Isn't there something more? More long-term? Well, turns out that God thought of that. It's called Eternity. And hopefully, you already know enough about it to know "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." So how did you find out? Odds are extremely high that first, someone told you, then the Holy Spirit went with that spark & brought you to the cross. And so here you are--saved from sin and hungry to know more about how to live a meaningful Christian life and thank God for His love.
The intersection of love and Eternity bring us to that word that strikes fear into the hearts of many Christians--Witnessing. Satan uses the world to reinforce that fear. The world says “Shouldn’t we just let people believe what they want to believe?” Or, put another way, “Isn’t witnessing unloving because you are trying to get people to leave their beliefs behind and accept yours?” In this age of “tolerance,” as it is called, there is a growing notion that people ought to be able to believe whatever they want and further, that all beliefs are created equal. In this flawed (even hypocritical) thinking, to tell someone that what he believes is wrong, is your mere opinion, is un-accepting, un-loving and, well, just plain wrong!
But tolerance is not the idea that everyone’s beliefs and ideas are equally true, valid & harmless. We only show tolerance when we disagree but allow people to continue in their beliefs without using pressure tactics or threats of harm to coerce them to change their stated view (unless harmful to others or society, but that's for another time). It may be tolerant to let people go on with incomplete lives in very real danger of Hell--but it is NOT loving. It may be tolerant to let someone walk along, distracted by texting (or whatever) in the path of an oncoming train. But do you tap him on the shoulder & point at the train? Or just say: "Oh, he believes he's fine, we're all entitled to our opinion." Who's the loving friend?
Jesus told disciples to go into world & make disciples. Command, yes, but it's also a God-given privilege! Since we know His love, we want everybody to know it. Sharing a good deal or a good meal with a friend are a tiny bit like it--but without the eternal consequences! We should take comfort in the fact that we can’t make a convert to Christ—only God can, by His Spirit. What we have to do is tell others what happened to us the best we can with the Spirit's help.. The Apostle Paul wasn’t eloquent, but God used him because he depended on the Holy Spirit to guide him (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). God guided many others in the Bible who were prayerful and willing to obediently step bravely & lovingly forward in faith—just like he'll guide us as we do.
Remember that God does not call the equipped; He equips the called—and as Christians, we are all called to be loving--to share what Christ has done. Pastor Geoff
"Make the Most of Every Opportunity"
Every year millions of these things are made. If they were diligently used, the world would undeniably be a better place. But sadly, only about 8% of them are used. The human brain? Bibles? Well certainly the world would be better & people more joyful if more Bibles were read, but that's not what the statistic refers to. Being the beginning of another year, and even another decade, this refers to that old custom--the New Year resolution. That’s right, no more than 8% see fruit. The vast majority don’t even see the end of January. But it seems like we've only just finished with Christmas--in fact as I write this, I haven't even received my 10 lords a'leaping. But when we think about it, it is appropriate that a New Year follows Christmas. First we celebrate the most significant event in human history —the birth of the one who’d take away our punishment & truly change our lives for the better. Then we have a new year to look forward to--just as we have a new life to look forward to. Even the secular, pagan world that tries to live life according to its own puny values without God’s direction & help, sees that people need to change. A desire to improve, to stop harming themselves & others and stop wasting time. This is the background for most New Year’s resolutions. Awareness of the pass of time & lost opportunities. Most are wired with a consequent desire to do something more. To leave some lasting mark. To be significant. Though just being a Christian is the ultimate significance because of a restored relationship with our Creator. So if you think about it, Christmas should change the way we see & use time. After all, it celebrates the birth of the one who’d offer us new life now, as new creations, who gives us new abilities (gifts), and who gives us a new focus for life (Eternity). At a year’s beginning people tend to look back to assess what was done & think about what’s ahead. That's a good idea generally--and particularly for the Christian. God gives each of His own children jobs to do and gifts with which to do them--but it's easy to get off-track. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (5:15-17) "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is." It doesn't appear to imply that the God-given time is evil, rather that there are evil influences at work in this world. If we’re not careful we can be turned aside from our true purpose of doing God's will, telling others about Him and giving credit to Him. It's easy to get caught up in the temptations or even good activities here & now and be derailed from the eternal. So it certainly isn't wrong to make resolutions for the New Year to prevent derailment. But what kind? Most of the failed resolutions attempt to make too many changes at once or they're too significant leading the resolver to become overwhelmed. Or the resolver simply lacks commitment. I have always wondered 2 things about New Year resolutions: 1) Why resolutions are only made at the beginning of a year. What are we to do, save up bad habits to be dealt with only once per year? Or only become introspective at the end of a year? Can I start one in March? and 2) Since the Holy Spirit is who prompts Christians to alter behavior, does he only do so at the end of December? Seems to me that to "make the most of every opportunity" we should prayerfully consult God continually. And we can respond to the direction by faithfully acting while calling for and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not on our own. Relying on God's direction, timing, power and encouragement--along with our obedient action delivers vastly better than an 8% success rate! Pastor Geoff Paul the Apostle said: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Philippians 3:12-15
"Advent" (noun) The coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note. The Latin conveys the idea of 'coming toward.' Since Advent starts on December 1, the greater part of December this year IS Advent, the time that Christians get ready to celebrate Christmas. If you were to ask Walmart, Advent should start in early October. I expect Walmart begins preparing for Christmas (a.k.a. "the Holidays") in the preceding Spring! Christmas does require preparation, even for the secular “celebration”. Many people prepare by decorating their homes with lights, etc. and by baking. Who doesn't love Christmas decorations (besides the Grinch)? I certainly look forward to Christmas cookies, fruit-cake & stollen! Though the trimmings can be a part of celebration--and even set it apart from the "usual"-- they are not sufficient--despite what retailers say in an offensive effort to be inoffensive. In fact, stopping with only the trappings--even adding some selfless gift-giving--will gyp us of a REAL Christmas. Reminds me of John Adams' remark that "The appearance of religion only on Sunday proves that it is only an appearance." So, if even something as terrific as baked goods isn't the essence of Advent, what is? For this, we can look to John the Baptist, a man whose mission it was to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of their savior. Luke 3:4 tells us that Isaiah declared that a man like John the Baptist would come one day as “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'...." How? With a straight forward message to the children of Abraham not to trust in their pedigree, but to REPENT!! Rely on the free mercy of God!! Not merely with a childish, phony "sorry", expecting to willfully return to do as they please while counting on God's forgiveness. John's way to prepare people for the Important Arrival (Jesus) was to explain sin and tell people to turn away from it & Change their lives! To “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…." (Luke 3:8) What fruit? From Luke 3: 10-20: Be honest, give what you can to the needy and especially--preach the Good News. What good news? That everyone acts in ways thoroughly UN-pleasing to God, but that by having life-changing relationship with Jesus we can be forgiven of those things by God and begin to live a rewarding life more pleasing to Him. And yes, pointing out the existence of sin is, in fact, compassionate. On the order of informing someone that the building she's in is on fire, but you can show the way out. So yes, Advent is a time to prepare to recall the arrival of Jesus and the world-changing, life-changing message he brings still. It also presents opportunities to tell other people about that message so they can also be prepared for Jesus' arrival in their lives--and to truly celebrate it. And frankly, I hope to it with the same planning, focus & shameless energy as Walmart! Pastor Geoff “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" Micah 5:2
Love Packages “The Impact of Donated Bibles Today”
Seems that suddenly the corn and soybeans are looking brown and dry very fast! I didn't know plants were so attuned to reading the calendar, but they didn't look that way at all before the first day of Autumn. And now here it is, almost harvest time. In God's eyes, I think it always looks like harvet time. In Luke 10: 2, Jesus tells his Disciples “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Referring, of course to those who tell others of the truth of forgiveness & new life in Jesus. Hopefully, we all have and take opportunities to do this with those we encounter. As a congregation, we also encourage those around the globe who work toward this harvest.
Thought I'd give you some communications from recipients of used Bibles, tracts and devotionals connected with Love Packages-- a group to whom we've sent several boxes of our unused stuff. This is a very small sample of what's on their website, www.lovepackages.org UGANDA---Rejoice with me! The literature has arrived and all was intact. I can’t thank you enough. It will last a long time because when we are finished with it in our Kampala Sunday school, it will go to one of our branch S.S., and then to another. We are blessed and all of you are loved! (An average of 20 people read each item we send!)
FIJI---We have started distributing the materials (to many ministries.)....(One ministry) is active in 54 high schools and 15 primary schools.... The Christians in the schools will then share it out to their mates. We are also working closely with another ministry (whose) target groups are the students in our tertiary institutions (i.e., colleges & tech schools.)
GHANA---Two police officers (Muslims) walked into our warehouse and said, “We want to read for ourselves what is in your Bible, can you quickly get us one each?” .... So one of the warehouse keepers picked for me two pocket New Testaments. Last week, one of them came and demanded five bibles for his wife and children. So I asked him why the demand for Bibles for his family? He told me “I think my family and I are committing the sin that would make us go to hell. But I thank you for your free gift of the Bible, now my family and I are already attending a good church” So I quickly asked him, “what sin were they committing?” He said, “by saying NO to Jesus in their lives.” He explained to me of how his whole family is now saved. Thank God. Then this past Monday, the second police officer (Muslim) also came telling me of how his two daughters and his wife and mother have also accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and needed Bibles to read and so I gave them. Wonderfully, yesterday five more police officers (4 ladies and one man) came for Bibles to read and I gave to them. Wow! What a wonderful SAVIOUR. Thank God for salvation in Christ Jesus. And thank you for the Bibles. INDIA-- We thank God for his grace upon our ministry that we are able to take the gospel to people who never ever heard about Christ. We are so glad to go to unreached villages ....
Our evangelical team traveled 60 miles by hiring van with lots of new testaments and literature (which we distributed) to 7 thousand people, then...we had meetings. ...more than 1500 people packed the ground and God’s power moved mightily among people....We will be giving baptism for 160 people. At the end of the meetings ...a radical group came and broke our equipment...and they beat all of us,... the anti Christian radical groups warned us seriously that we should not come again and do the conversion, but we will. GUATEMALA--there is very little material here. Nearly every church I talked with said they have no Sunday School material or books.(and little else)....I brought material to a meeting of about 40 people who work with gangs, prostitutes and in the prisons. (They) receive no pay for what they do. Some (are) receiving death threats-which in Guatemala City is extremely serious.... One lady ... called (your material), “Gold on paper.” If you aren't sure where these places are, here's a chance to look them up and pray for them. In 1Cor. 3:6, Paul refers to people who plant and water for God's harvest Thanks for helping water some seed planted by other faithful Christians in places you may not get to go! Pastor Geoff
I'm sure you've seen the bumper sticker: "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work." Some tasks let that seem so true, certainly it's clever. But is it true? Is it intended to be true?
September starts with Labor Day, but practically nobody actually labors on Labor Day. Ironically, Labor Day is a day off for most, making the day less a celebration of work than a day of relief from it. And why not? Labor does not always give a pleasant mind’s-eye picture. Basically, the word "labor" makes people think of the t.v. show Dirty Jobs. You know, where Mike Rowe gets to do things like cleaning tons of fish innards out of a trawler, or get in a giant cement mixer with an air hammer and chiseling out the old, hard concrete. To most, Labor is hot, sweaty, loud and hazardous, like mining or digging the Panama Canal!
To others, labor is related to giving birth. Something so pleasant many women hope they won’t swear at their husbands in the process. This view of employment is far different from the one taught in Scripture. God created the universe. He worked for 6 days & then rested. God is our example. If God worked, work is not a bad thing. When God created Adam, God gave Adam work to do. The same is true of each of us--we ALL have work to do. it is NOT a punishment! We are created in the image of God--with characteristics like Him. God created us to work for & with Him in the world. God planted a garden and put Adam in it to cultivate and maintain it. Adam and Eve were to have dominion over the earth.
What does this original work mandate mean? To foster growth and to improve. To preserve from failure or decline. To subdue means to exercise control and discipline. Rule over means to administer, take responsibility for, and make decisions. This mandate applies to all vocations.
So then, “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working” is not biblical. It's not supposed to be true! The truth is that a bad attitude toward work is missing--stealing, really-- the blessing God has for us in our labors. And missing the opportunity to bless God in our work attitudes.
The reality is that we’re hard-wired to work. Labor is so vital to our identity that we usually ask new acquaintances what they do for a living within the first conversation. Yes, work can become an idol, but even this distortion of our vocation shows how labor defines our sense of worth. Even psychology agrees: "Self-esteem and self-worth are closely aligned with working, Employment provides a sense of purpose," says psychotherapist Charles Allen.
After the Fall of humanity, God cursed the ground—not work. Work became difficult. (I guess that before the Fall, the first attempt to fix a car would be enough?) The Bible uses the word toil, implying challenge & difficulty. Work itself was still good, but man must expect that it will be accomplished by “the sweat of his brow.” Work itself is not the punishment for sin. It is a source of blessed purpose in our lives. The 15th-century Reformation leaders saw any occupation as a ministry before God. Jobs should be acknowledged as ministries, and workplaces should be considered as mission fields. So celebrate Labor Day as a day to HONOR work & God's place in it--not just a day off! Pastor Geoff Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters Colossians 3:23
“Me Monsters” August 2019
“Me Monsters” There's a comic who talks about being where he meets new people. He says it seems that every party has one guy who just can't stop talking about himself, his superior stuff and how wonderful, powerful & amazing he is. The comic calls them "Me Monsters". Truth is, it's human nature and many folks just get good at doing it subtly.
In the Bible--Mark 9, between verses 33 & 35 where we see the same tendency in Jesus' own disciples. That's right, the men who lived & walked with God argued about which of them was #1! Two brothers even had their Mom go to Jesus to ask him to seat them at his right & left hands in Heaven!
Jesus’ answer in Mark was: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” An ice cube down the back to remind them--& us of a significant part of the walk with God.
In the world, if you can get people to serve you—you’ve arrived. At the 4 Seasons resort in Bora Bora (an 11 Sq. mi. island in French Polynesia) your every desire is met by a number of servants---for only $1623/ night. !!!! As some would say, it’s only money. Personally, I've bought cars that ran for less.
Jesus’ answer is so contrary to the world’s idea of greatness that we have a hard time understanding it, much less practicing it. Ecclesiastes says there's "nothing new under the sun" & 2000 years ago the disciples argued about who’s #1. We’re still at it.
Even in church it's easy to get self-focused. We often say things like: The music was good for me - gave me a boost. The people were nice to me. The bulletin was easy for me to follow. Good service.
Don't get me wrong, the Word and some inspired, Bible-centered preaching should touch us, but how & why? Certainly I'm not suggesting that you should not find joy in the church experience or that you should look to complain! But how does worship challenge you to grow in Christ even when you don't "enjoy" it?
Jesus tells us that our relationship with God (not mere religion)--is not all about us. Jesus turns the Me Monster away from self, and points to service, where it's harder to be self-focused.
It's not about me, it's about magnifying God, it's not about having lackeys, it's about making disciples. We should be asking what we did for the worship. What we do for the Kingdom of God. It is a natural outcome of loving God to the point of serving with a clear focus on Him.
It's interesting, many books have been written on leadership, but few on servanthood. Apparently, most of us would rather be generals than privates.
Oh, and in case it isn't obvious, being a humble servant in order to be #1 is definitely not humble nor is it serving for the right reason. Jesus' answer to his disciples is about having and maintaining real humility, not pretending. So I offer encouragement to those who fight, and even defeat the Me Monster. Don't give up--the more we try, the more likely is success. Have at it! Pastor Geoff " This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches. " Jeremiah 9:23
“ House on the Rock” July 2019
Most people in church have heard of Jesus' parable of the wise & foolish builders from Matthew 4: 24-27. It reads: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
As we celebrate July 4th this month, it is wise to remember that this has more to do with our personal lives and government than with our houses.
It has become popular for those to write history to judge the beginnings of this country through the lens of the present as far as motives and choices. I guess it makes people today feel as though they’re better people than they actually are, making smarter choices than they actually do. Many alterations of history come from this, such as the idea that the American Revolution was NOT all that revolutionary. That it was just a revolt motivated by money and the self-will of agnostics & deists, definitely not Christians. One must have an unusual pair of lenses to draw such a conclusion.
In the 1600s, Wm Penn said: “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” The idea that God gives us the “inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence--- came from 100s of sermons preached long before 1776.
What a heritage the present-day patriot has.
From the beginning, our nation had a solid foundation. Individuals like George Washington and John Adams honored God and revered Biblical principles. Many of the founding fathers were Christians--- in fact, of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, nearly half held seminary or Bible school degrees. They were unapologetic about their faith in Jesus and it provided our country with firm foundations.
George Washington said, “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
Atheism believes there is nothing but the material. It says it denies any faith--Yet they have enormous faith in their own wisdom to conclude such a thing. A matter-based philosophy is fundamentally self-centered; therefore, though it may mouth patriotism, it is only patriotic when serving the self. “What’s in it for me?” “I’m on board as long as I get what I want out of it.” This necessitates elevating self—me—at the expense of God. Government gives me my needs and rights, so I can fabricate whatever “right” I want. In this mindset, The Constitution is out-dated, because it does not serve me first. These be dangerous waters.
The revolutionary part of the founding of these United States is the idea that God has given us "inalienable rights" and that "We the people" allow our Republic some, limited, authority.
I submit that True patriotism in the American Context, is not and cannot be based on atheism-or the "goodies" some politician promises to give you. They're usually at the expense of the real freedoms of the Republic.
You’ll be happy to know that I’m not the first to think this. George Washington agreed in his Farewell Address, “Do not let anyone claim tribute of American patriotism if they even attempt to remove religion from politics.”
And Patrick Henry said “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” Pastor Geoff
"There's Something about That Name!" June 2019
Nothing like a good, short vacation. I've seen studies that indicate a short "get-away" of a couple of days is more relaxing, refreshing & recharging than a week or so. A month ago my family and found that to be true. We went out to see the event at Sight and Sound Theater in Pennsylvania. The name of what we saw was Jesus, and I have to admit that the thought occurred to me that "I know how this comes out"! Not really in the jaded sense, just that for the time & money , I was hoping for a renewing perspective on some fine points of biblical truth. And frankly, I wanted to be-"wowed".
Well, I was.
That "wow" was helped by the fact that somehow they managed to get 3 fishing boats on stage, bouncing in waves. And that they managed an underwater scene complete with fish. And the rather convincing life-threatening storm-tossed boat. Certainly, for those mechanically inclined, the staging and movement of massive 20-30 foot-high sets was fascinating and perfectly-timed. Technically amazing.
I'm happier to note that there was much more to it than snazzy tech & a "wow" factor. It brought a reminder that the people involved in what we know as the Gospels, were real people. Some smelled of seawater--and fish! Some were funny & some serious. After three days, Lazarus' tomb smelled--which was powerful reinforcement of the miraculous nature of the event. Jesus used real spit & mud on the blind man. All had personalities. Not that this made the events of the Bible merely average or human. Quite the contrary, there was a reality in it that reminds us that Jesus was and is very real, both God and human. That what we believe is true, & trustworthy. That when we call on the name of Jesus, we call on a reality.
So when you think of the name "Jesus", what do you think of? Miracles? Peace? Transformation? Salvation? Meaning to life? Hope? Power? Love? Now that you see them, you probably think all of these! And hopefully many more. At different times, with different needs we certainly can and should think of things Jesus does--that Jesus is! This is vastly more than wishful, feel-good thinking precisely because He was and is real. Certainly the fact that He lives today gives us perspective, hope and peace. As Isaiah wrote, "Of the increase of his government or peace there will be no end." (9:7)
Sure, life brings aggravation, outright sorrow, health problems, money problems, people problems, etc.. But Jesus has come for such times --see the very partial list above. We must let ourselves have confidence in the reality of Jesus and find refuge and relief in Him. We are not to worry, we are to call on Jesus & ask Him to deal with our troubles and trust the reality of His loving interest and His real power. As the old hymn says, "There's something about that name!" Pastor Geoff "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:10,11
“Days-Gone-By” May 2019
My family and I just returned from a short trip to the Strasburg, PA area. Our main purpose was to see the Sight & Sound presentation of Jesus, which was decidedly, unapologetically scriptural. It was also quite simply, spectacular--to the point of action which included 3 ships, a camel, the Temple & towns! Not at the same time, of course.
Of course, that was only about three hours of our trip. The rest of our time was puttering around the surrounding Amish Area, enjoying the scenery--the all-you-can-eat buffets, the sounds of horses. Those men and women driving a 1 horsepower buggy at the side of the road busy with giant semi trucks and zooming tourists are indeed fearless. Living the "old" mere inches away from the hazards of the high-power "new" has a variety of dangers, but coming in from the "new" and being a serious student of things historical, the old has its attractions. Apparently crowds of people, using many various languages, share the attraction. Some are content to just look at real people living the old, take photos, send them half-way around the world and then be on their way--thankful for what they have Others pay to live with the Amish and experience a bit of the old basics firsthand.
Whatever their level of experience, I think anyone who bothers to go see Amish-Land has some yearning for the days gone by--to get back to the basics. There are many things we were all reminded of about the days-gone-by. For those who think that the world will be more pure without cars, let me assure them---Amish country smelled much more of what the horses left behind than it smelled of the lilacs I left behind at home! Interestingly, according to a 2006 UN study, livestock "generate more greenhouse gas emissions...than transport." The old ways were never all "tea & scones" as Mom used to say.
The basics are, well, basic. It's easy to think how swell & quiet it would be while we look at our computers. Meanwhile Amish guys are brushing down their teams of horses after following them around a field for 8 or 10 hours. Amish wives have finished half the day doing the wash and are praying that it dries on the line in the 45 degree weather before the rain--with dinners cooking and keeping tabs on the kids.
Simpler times--weren't! If only living without the cares of the world was possible. Amazingly, it is possible.
The Bible was written in a time when a really bad growing year in your area could cause the loss of more than your farm. You could lose your life and even that of your family. Some of the world still lives in much the same "simpler" time, but people are still the same. In time of plenty or little, it has always been easy to ignore or doubt God, or even think we or our stuff are the Most Important. Clearly, the same words of Scripture that changed such a "simple"-but-sinful world as that of Jesus' time have relevance even in our own complex-but-sinful one. Even something as ordinary as driving shows that the basics for some folks is simply "me first".
Living with the basics allows focus on the most important things. As a Christian, they are important to review and ponder to make sure we're on the right track in pursuing the various directions required in life. What are basics for the Christian? The Apostle's Creed has summed them up for centuries. The basics are: Monotheism; the Holy Trinity; that sin is real; the deity of Jesus Christ which is how salvation comes through him alone; salvation by God’s grace and not by works; the Resurrection of Christ; the Gospel and sharing it. The more we consider these basics with faith and humility, the more they move from our heads to our hearts and hands and the more fearlessly we meet the dangers of this life as they whiz by.
Questions about living out the basics? I expect so, which is why we seek out Bible-based preaching, prayer and people Pastor Geoff "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." Colossians 3:12-14
"Silence is Golden"
"Silence is golden." A phrase dating from at least the 1300s, meaning that sometimes it's actually better not to say anything. I've heard it used as a command around rambunctious kids, and it often is the best response in a charged marital moment. Seems to be a concept which appears meaningless in this day of the firehose of information and constant commentary on the internet, the radio and t.v.. Oh, that it was the motto of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Snapchat! The lives that would be calmed, enriched-or even lengthened by being spared the nosy busybodies or outright malice. I, for one honestly don't care that someone's cousin's niece bought a pair of shoes just like one of the Kardashians wore. I don't really know what a Kardashian is anyhow, or from what planet it came.
It becomes necessary to break silence when faced with sin. To speak clearly and lovingly. Honestly, is it kind and loving to stick our heads in the sand when people do something that can hurt them--or others? Of course not. Likewise, when people do things clearly contrary to godly principles, and therefore harmful to their lives here and with Christ, silence is definitely not golden.
Americans spend $21 billion a year on supplements to live longer, but assign a very different value to the lives of others. For instance, the New Jersey Legislature very recently passed a bill to make the state the 8th to allow physician-assisted suicide. The Governor is "looking forward to signing this...into law". In an Orwellian turn of phrase, he equates death with "dignity". A neighboring state passed a law with much celebration which allows abortions up to the very moment of birth, at which time she used to be called a baby. The Governor of Virginia floated the idea of after-birth abortions, which only a few short minutes ago was called murder. A professor at Princeton has written that babies until age 5 could, in good conscience be aborted. But wait, there's more-- he's a professor of ethics. I wish I was kidding.
Frankly, all this makes me a bit queasy. The remedy is easy to find in the Bible. For example, Psalm 139: 14 says: I praise you (God) because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. God has a different view of us. We are not a blot trashing the earth-god. Not some accidental sponge that's disposable when inconvenient.
Actually, in all the world, since the beginning of Creation, there has never been a person just like you. No one has your handwriting. There has never been another person with exactly your eyes, nose, hair or voice. Nobody ever had the exact same tastes in food, cars, art, music or activities. You're the only one in all of Creation with your set of abilities. You're not just special, you are, in the precise meaning of the word--unique. But you're not perfect, either.
And Easter says that we are valuable enough for God to come to earth and die so we can have the chance to have life. We get to live a forgiven life with meaning here in "the land of the shadow of death"--and live forever in the perfect World in the presence of God.
So don't spend too much of your time dwelling on the need & cause for Easter--sin, evil & death. But do speak up for Truth! One of the reasons to celebrate Easter is to remind us to think & talk about Easter and the life-giving, death-defying gift it is. Sharing the new life of Easter--is golden. Pastor Geoff For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6: 23 “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4: 16
March 2019 “In Like a Lamb AND a Lion!”
When I was a grade-school kid growing up in Michigan, March would come along and my teachers often said: "If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb." They were trying to give us hope of warmth and an end of shoveling. By 5th grade, I wasn't buying it, because in Michigan, March usually came in like a lion--and went out like a lion. Sometimes it seemed more like tigers were involved. Old grade-school art even at Easter usually displayed snow.
It's much more mild here, and a bit of sweep-able or ski-able snow is lovely. Still, one of the ways I find a temporary joy in the winter, even this rather pleasant and mild one, is with a website going in the background on my computer. It's a Spring count-down clock showing a patch of tulips swaying in a gentle breeze while birds sing. It's a lovely and hopeful reminder that even in a mild winter (so far!) with the sun feeling warmer each week, Winter isn't forever and Spring's a-comin'!
March is also the month Lent begins, this year on the 10th, six weeks before Easter / Resurrection Sunday. I'm reminded that throughout the Bible (yes, the OT too), Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God. Why? Because God allowed himself to come as a man and then be the once-for-all sacrifice so those who accept him & believe can be forgiven for thier wrongs and be at peace with God. Our new life begins because of the Lamb of God.
This new life brings an end to the winter of sin. That cold, lonely, selfish, willfulness where love and real joy don't grow and look dead--are dead. The cold heart toward God that can't even imagine the warmth and Eternity God offers to all in Jesus and delivers to all who accept him on faith and follow him.
Jesus is also referred to as the Lion of Judah. Why? Because he is the King of Creation and Ruler of the life of the Christian. He raises the bar of behavior so our fresh, new lives grow and point to the astonishing magnificence of God. As we mature as Christians, we realize that life is better & more meaningful when we really act like Jesus is our Lord, our ultimate, all-powerful boss.
Why both? If the average person has many sides--husband, dad, friend, boss, employee, mechanic, chef--what kind of Creator or Savior--God would not be far more multi-faceted? It's a significant mistake to think of Jesus in one-dimensional, simplistic, human terms.
So Jesus comes in like a Lamb AND a Lion! The humble Sacrifice for all people who admit that he is who he says he is. And the King of Creation deserving and expecting our joyful, willing obedience. And. The only one who offers the eternal perfect warmth of his presence. Even better than a field of tulips!
Pastor Geoff and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome Revelation 5:5
Pastor Geoff's Perspective “I Pledge Allegiance” Feb.2019
My son and I were out and about and while he was off roller skating, I chatted with other parents. One of the many things that came up was the assertion one made that the only other country that has its school children recite a pledge of allegiance is North Korea. The implication being that the unique goals the U.S. has of rule by law and freedoms with responsibility, are somehow identical to the fear-filled worship of a capricious man of dubious stability simply because children in both nations begin their days reciting a pledge to honor their respective country. Aside from being a preposterous non-sequitur and attempt to shame Americans into having no positive national self-image, it is also not fact. Merely cursory research shows quite a few other nations which have a pledge of allegiance--and North Korea was not even mentioned in what I saw. The idea gives me a few thoughts, though. First, just because one shuns a statement of national allegiance, it doesn't mean he has no allegiance to anything! The most hard-hearted, anti-American who's ashamed of her country has allegiance to something. It may be inconsistent, foolish, against the nation one calls home or even self-destructive, but there's something.
Since the allegiance means (per free dictionary online) "devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause", it stands to reason that we should be selective to what or whom we have allegiance. Few "persons, groups or causes" have your best interests at heart. Many people choose these that give temporary results: everything from escape, to other people, to some "save the____". Christians commit to follow Jesus understanding that there are changes now and the reality of Eternity with God which he delivers.
The Christian must not give up allegiance--even when what we want is not delivered. Being Christian doesn't mean we have a new talisman to rub and get what we demand. That's not faith. It means we have a new way to live life for someone and something not merely bigger than ourselves, but a life to follow what our Creator created us for--new life in Christ. This is something worth our allegiance, even--no, especially--when times are tough. Of course, many take the credit when things are just swell and need to be reminded of allegiance to God. Personally, I need the reminder of where my allegiance needs to be. Yes, I pledge to my flag and my country. But first and foremost every Christian I've ever met benefits from being reminded of his or her pledge to God. And this renewal, refreshment, encouragement is strongest in a Bible-preaching church, with others. Pastor Geoff
Pastor Geoff's Perspective “Happy New Year” Jan. 2019
It's that time of year when some people look back to review the events of the past 12 months and look forward to a fresh start. Somehow a new calendar can give us a new set of hopes for the new year. I convinced myself that my 2018 calendar with the large, full-color pictures of tropical beaches and palm trees made the Year of Rain more tolerable and somehow warmer.
Certainly, learning lessons from the past year and planning to apply them to the upcoming year is a worthy endeavor. What to learn this year? What to accomplish? How to do it?
But very often looking at the past can make me yearn for the future to be unchanged. ---At least the things I like! Oooh, if my property taxes of 2019 would be identical to 1998!! Sometimes "new" is NOT "improved". This is why efficiency experts talk about the fact that when starting anything new, managers must deal with "resistance to change". It's human nature. When things change, anything at all, most are quick to let you know that they don’t like it.
The more challenging changes and circumstances we encounter, and the more disappointment we see in people, the more we may begin to wonder--Is there anywhere we can find some reliable stability?
The truth is, there is only one thing that never changes, the one that stays the same: the Lord God. In the Bible, Malachi 3: 6 tells us God's words: "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed " There is no transition, inconsistency, or change in this God. The same God who created this unique blue planet. The one who gives us the ultimate peace offering in Jesus so we can live life confident of a life of meaning here and life in His amazing presence after. Anything I can imagine about Heaven can only be a speck of the reality.
The idea of God being changeless is no mere phychological fuzzy blanket. No, His stability is reality and essential to any unflawed idea of God. If God changes, it means any or all of the following: 1. That He is or has been incomplete; 2. That He forgot something; 3. That he is a slave of time; 4. There's something He didn't know and needs to address; or 5. He's a victim of circumstances & events. All of which are preposterous for any worthy of worship. (Does this mean God is stiff, unfeeling or distant? Watch this newsletter!)
God does not change in His nature, His character or His purpose. The unchanging nature of God and His unchangeable Word are real things on which we can stake our lives. So even though the calendar changes, God does not. This means that as we look at the new year, let's plan with God's stability and purposes primary in our hearts and minds. Pastor Geoff
Pastor Geoff's Perspective “Merry Christmas” December 2018
People say that as we advance in years, time seems to go faster. I do notice it and hope it doesn't advance to the point that I wake up this morning and it's already tomorrow. With that in mind, if you haven't been in a store since October, you may not know the Christmas season is upon us! Advent begins the first Sunday in December and is a good time to start thinking about the purpose of Advent--preparation for the coming of the Christ.
One of the things that this time always brings is that "Happy Holidays" problem. You know, the question of what we say to people in stores who say the lawyer-approved, ACLU-proof, let's-not-offend-the-media greeting of "Happy Holidays". To people who are Christmas shopping, at Christmas sales, for Christmas presents in an effort to celebrate Christmas. Hmm. If all this decoration and hubbub have nothing to do with Christmas and only some vague holiday, then where are the July 15th St. Swithin's Day sales? Where, I ask, are the giant inflatable candy bars in celebration of National Chocolate Day (Oct. 28)? Christmas has meaning.
Personally, I resist the urge to reply with "And a Happy Excess Commercialism Day to you!" No, I see this as an opportunity to simply say something like "I celebrate the birth of Jesus, feel free to wish me a Merry Christmas. Will you be celebrating Jesus' birth?" The people to whom I've said this (or something like it) have universally looked relieved and said "Merry Christmas." Simple, gentle & provokes thought about Jesus.
The fact that I feel the need to address this says that Satan is scared. He is working hard to shove the real significance and opportunity of Christmas aside and replace it with a commercial day of gifts, family & food. Not that gifts, family & food are intrinsically bad, but they are shallow substitutes for a Savior who offers us eternity, forgiveness and the conquest of sin. Ah, sweet distractions. If we can be distracted from preparing and discussing Eternity and the return of Christ--so much the better, thinks the Enemy. Beth Moore wrote: "If destruction fails to entangle us, distraction will do its best."
Be encouraged then, Advent and Christmas are preparation and celebration of God's love for us seen in God coming to earth as Jesus to conquer sin and eternal death. And such a celebration can't come too soon! Pastor Geoff Stanley
Pastors Perspective Oct 2018
If you get to know me for any length of time, you'll soon discover that I'm no particular fan of cold weather. I try to make the most of the brief daylight hours by baking, having hot coco and cross-country skiing if there's actually snow and not just frozen tundra. But it often comes to mean cold feet & cold hands—even in the house! You might think I'd be nostalgic and fond of the cold since I spent a bit more than my first couple of decades in a town in Michigan that promises an overnight low of 37 degrees this early October. My son thinks that I just didn't know any better as a kid.
This all gets me thinking about these changes of seasons & smells, when flowers and leaves turn cold & dead-looking, which then become warm & full of hope & life. Through these changes we still know that Spring eventually becomes Winter (for those of you who actually miss the life-sucking cold weather)—or that Winter eventually becomes Summer . These are predictable changes in which we can still see the hand of God--- His sustenance, His promise of new life.
The Bible often uses the word “seasons” to mean changes or times of life people pass through. It's easy to miss God's presence in these. But He is present. And each event, situation, joy or difficulty gives us a choice. Take the opportunity to rely more on Christ, to see and know that his presence and sustenance are real.
Just as the attentive—and safer—driver looks well beyond the bumper ahead, Christians are to look beyond the present season. Prepare for the cold, but count on God's real presence. Be confident that what we see is minuscule compared to what God offer through Christ. If you're not sure what this means, I hope you'll ask me. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Yes, what we see changes, but God is still most important. His promise of forgiveness in Christ and eternal life with God may not always be seen now, but we can live life in joyful confidence that they will be as obvious as the changing seasons. Pastor Geoff Stanley
Pastor Geoff FEB.2018
It doesn't take long to realize that some drivers are convinced that they’re the center of the universe—that everything actually does revolve around their importance. Okay, maybe it's a lot more than just some drivers. I’m convinced that they’re wrong, if they were any kind of driver, they’d be where they belong—behind me!
A “lifeboat ethic” says “I’ll behave in a civilized manner until it no longer serves my purpose. I’ll use sweet, selfless phrasing, but make no mistake—it’s really about ME.”
Having confidence in what one can do is not a bad thing—until it becomes too confident. Then we start dancing with being self-absorbed and arrogant, even irrational in belittling the significance of anything other than our own self.
Of course, self-confidence can run the gamut all the way down to being fearful and feeling useless, insignificant or lacking in talents. Back in the old days when there were book stores, one of the largest sections sold “self-help”. Still true wherever one gets reading material now.
But God has given us significance. We are created with talents. And Christians have things called gifts. These are things we can do not because of some natural ability, but something God allows us to do out of our comfort zone so we have to have faith in His power, not our own. Real power is not some force from within us, but is given—loaned--to us.
A New York Times article stated that merely thinking about God causes people to make bolder choices. A Stanford study showed that reading about God before making choices involving risk caused people to more often choose the riskier option with the greater payoff. Interesting.
Imagine going a step beyond merely thinking about God, but having confidence in God rather than ourselves! What results could be if we plan with God's direction and then act knowing that he is real and in charge? We would make bold choices. Not only brave in the face of physical danger (and that is enormous), but brave in the face of some other fear-inspiring event. Brave in parenting, in work or family trouble, in a medical condition that doesn't just go away, or after the death of a beloved person.
People thinking about God and more—Accepting our need of Jesus the Christ as the one who saves us from our wrongs and offers us Eternity. Then taking the remarkable step of having a relationship with him through prayer, reading what God has to say (the Bible) and developing along with other people in a local group of God's people. That last is more usually called a church. One where the Bible is faithfully preached and where people work to be more like Christ, not just be part of what people say is important.
Wow! That's living! To be selfless yet fulfilled, to stand firm in trouble, to prioritize doing what is right and best by God's standards. Working for the Creator and real center of the universe, not trying to be that center.
The Beginning of a Year is A Good Time for A Christian
The beginning of a year is a good time for a Christian to review how to keep strong as a follower of Jesus. How to be a strong disciple.
In biblical Greek, mathetes ( μαθητής) is what is translated into the English word disciple. Mathetes comes from the root word math-, meaning the "mental effort needed to think something through". Properly, then, it means a learner; a disciple, a follower of Christ who learns the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require; someone given proper instruction along with its necessary life-applications so the disciple can now apply this training.
The word was used of a more committed person, an “adherent.” It's interesting that the Pharisees had their own disciples. The Pharisees claimed to be disciples of Moses (John 9:28-9). Of course, John the Baptist had disciples who lived with and followed him and probably ate bugs as did he, much like some people today think we should all do(, though not for any reason related to God or His purposes).
As we review being disciples, we should also remember what a disciple IS NOT: We are not without weakness or flaw. Easy to remember when we're reminded of Peter denying Jesus 3 times in one short conversation. Peter, one of the guys who walked & lived with Jesus. The one with faith that was the Rock of Jesus' church. Or think of the Disciples arguing about which of them was best. Spend enough time with me & you'll see that. Note that the Spirit strengthened them later.
Also, disciples are not ONLY a Learner.-Yes, I just noted that learner was one of the Greek meanings, but there's more to it. If I like learning about cars I'll never decide to own (think the James Bond car), or I learn about someone's sports stats—neither one affects me. I know perfectly well I'll never use that information short of appering on Jeopardy! The Bible refers to people who are "Hearers, only..." (James 1: 22) Some would call them the perennial sponges-- always soaking in but never using the knowledge to clean their world in a practical sense. Disciples learn—and then USE what they learn.
So a disciple is not a mere "adherent", like a fan. (Isn't that short for the less attractive word “fanatic”?) One who knows about, really likes, is the first to go to all the movies, shows up, dresses up and goes to fan conventions. As a Christian, he's the one who talks the talk without the walk. Who does the learning without ever making the actual commitment to call Jesus LORD = the most important, real God and Savior. I've met a lot of these, and you likely have too. I am sad for them.
What, then is a disciple? We go back to James 1 = be DOERS of the word. How do you “do”? It involves dedicated discipline and pursuit of the purposes of our Heavenly Father. We are to take up our crosses. Does this mean we die at the hands of persecutors? Not for most of us. In the Bible, we see people challenged with different things. Our cross would be the challenges, pains & hardships we each have—through which we are to look for God's presence, purpose and help.
We are to be changed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) Not be conformed to this world—but be transformed by God. Disciples are to worship God in all we do. Everywhere. All the time. (Romans 12:1, etc.)
God the Father is seeking true worshipers — not faux worshipers, this is the fundamental perspective of a disciple. I know, I know, nothing will irritate our pluralistic society more than being an exclusive worshiper of Jesus. Lots of people are fine with Jesus the Moral Teacher, the Nice Guy, the Judge-Not-Lest-You-Be-Judged Motivational Speaker — that Jesus is everybody’s homeboy. But that is not the real Jesus. That’s a man made figure — a far cry from the portrait Jesus gives of himself. Jesus wasn't crucified because he said worship whatever you want, because he knew that leads the poor, gullible chumps to Hell.
To follow Jesus, to be his disciple, doesn’t mean community involvement and giving a pass to sin because it's “nice”. It means, mainly to worship him. Then to stand for Him and the fact that all are sinners in need. And about making more disciples! Pass it on. Pastor Geoff “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. “ Romans 12:1-2 “Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3: 15