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2.20.2018

Joyful Blessings Journal

Greetings All!
    
     I came back from my trip to India only to move into a new office down the hall.  As a result over a hundred boxes of books needed to be transported and re-shelved in the new office!  And in that process I came across things that I had not seen for many years! One in particular was a journal I picked up somewhere along the line because of the quotes on each page. That's what I will share today - twenty various quotes from the "Joyful Blessings Journal" that were gathered or selected by Marla Tipton.  I trust that some of them might offer helpful insights and encourage your heart.  Enjoy



"It is pleasing to God whenever you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart."
Martin Luther

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain
"Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere."
Unknown
"You pay God a compliment every time you ask great things of Him." 
Teresa of Avila 
"The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved -- loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves."
Victor Hugo
"Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every budding leaf in springtime."
Martin Luther

"Our life if full of brokenness -- broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful, except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives."
Henri Nouwen

"God often comforts us, not by changing the circumstances of our lives, but by changing our attitude toward them."
S. H. B. Masterman
"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear.  His eye is upon us, His arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer. His grace is sufficient and His promise unchangeable."
John Newton

"A true friend (shares) freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably." 
William Penn

"Every now and then it is delightful to have the kind of laugh that makes your stomach jiggle... that sends tears down your face and causes your eyes to squint so it's impossible to see!"
Unknown
"When I think upon my God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen."
Composer Joseph Haydn

"value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar; but I cherish the friend who for me does not even consult his calendar."
Robert Brault

"The thought of You stirs us so deeply that we cannot be content unless we praise You, because You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You."
St. Augustine

"Consider the postage stamp; its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there." 
Josh Billings
"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life which we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy, because we will always want to have something else or something more."
Brother David Steindl-Rast

"God cannot give us happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there, There is no such thing."
C. S. Lewis

"How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource!  We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go.  And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven."
George MacDonald
"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."
Jerry Bridges

"Happy is the one who has learned to hold the things of this world with a loose grip. Of all classes and descriptions of people on this earth, they are the happiest of whom it may be said that the things most hoped for by them are the things not seen."
Mennonite Writings

With Prayers for the Abundance of God's Grace to You, Pastor Jeff

2.13.2018

Streams in the Desert

Greetings All!

     After three fruitful weeks of doing ministry with my wife Nancy in India, I am finally back!  Therefore I'd like to get back on schedule and pass on what I found to be an encouraging thought for your spiritual edification. It is taken from the devotional classic, "Streams in the Desert," by L. B. Cowman.  It struck me as a story (or analogy) containing much truth in regard to those difficult times in life when we cry out to God from the depth of our being and he seemingly remains silent, distant, or fails to respond to our cries.  May her words offer encouragement to your soul.  Enjoy.


"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Jesus crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!  My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word." Matthew 15:23









     
     "Are you reading these verses as a child of God who is experiencing a crushing sorrow; a bitter disappointment, or a heartbreaking blow from a totally unexpected place? Are you longing to hear your Master's voice calling you, saying, "Take courage!  It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27)?  Yet only silence, the unknown, and misery confront you -- "Jesus did not answer a word."
     God's tender heart must often ache listening to our sad, complaining cries. Our weak and often impatient hearts cry out because we fail to see through our tear-blinded eyes that it is for our sake that He does not answer at all, or that He answers in a way we believe is less than the best.   In fact, the silences of Jesus are as eloquent as His words and may be a sign, not of His disapproval, but of His approval and His way of providing a deeper blessing for you...
     Let me relate a beautiful old story of how one Christian dreamed she saw three other women in prayer. When they knelt the Master drew near to them. As He approached the first of the three, He bent over her with tenderness and grace. He smiled with radiant love and spoke to her in tones of pure, sweet music.  Upon leaving her, He came to the next, but only placed His hand upon her bowed head and gave her one look of loving approval. He passed the third woman almost abruptly, without stopping for a word or a glance. The woman having the dream said to herself, "How greatly He must love the first woman. The second gained His approval but did not experience the special demonstrations of love He gave the first. But the third woman must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all, not even a passing look."
     She wondered what the third woman must have done to have been treated so differently. As she tried to account for the actions of her Lord, He Himself came and stood beside her. He said to her, "O Woman!  How wrongly you have interpreted my actions!  The first kneeling woman needs the full measure of my tenderness and care to keep her feet on My narrow way.  She is weak and needs My love, thoughts, and help every moment of the day, for without them she would stumble into failure. The second woman has stronger faith and deeper love than the first, and I can count on her to trust Me no matter how things may go or whatever people may do. Yet the third woman, whom I seemed not to notice, and even to neglect, has faith and love of the purest quality.  I am training her through quick and drastic ways for the highest and holiest service. She knows me so intimately, and trusts me so completely, that she no longer depends on my voice, loving glances, or other outward signs to know of my approval. She is not dismayed or discouraged by any circumstances I arrange for her to encounter. She trusts me when common sense, reason, and even every subtle instinct of the natural heart would rebel, knowing that I am preparing her for eternity, and realizing that the understanding of what I do will come later."
     "My love is silent because I love beyond the power of words to express it and beyond the understanding of the human heart. Also, it is silent for your sake -- that you may learn to love and trust me with pure, Spirit-taught, spontaneous responses.  I desire for your response to my love to be without prompting of anything external."  Learn, then, the mystery of His silence and praise Him every time He withdraws His gifts from you. Through this you will better know and love and trust the Giver."

     I must confess I have seen something of this truth actively played out in my life.  I am not by any means a giant in the faith, and have a long way to go (as those closest to me will affirm).  But I have often wondered why it is that when I first came to Christ I had far more intense, tangible, faith-building spiritual experiences where I tangibly sensed God's presence, witnessed startling answers to prayer, and received what could only be called profoundly clear guidance attested to by others and confirmed by God's grace in providentially bringing certain things to pass.
     Yet, as I grew in the Lord I noticed the number of them diminish significantly.  Initially (for the most part) God seemed to answer my cries more quickly, and in ways that seemed more tangible and dramatic, even stunning this newly born-again child on many occasions. But as I continued to walk with the Lord I found He was slower to "rescue" me from trials.  Rather, He started to let me weather them. Instead of the former hand of help offered quickly to usher me out of hardships, He left me to endure hardships, go through heartbreak, and walk through dark nights of the soul where my path led through valleys so deep it seemed to my impatient soul the darkness would never be dispelled by the light!
     And though at first it was very unsettling and sometimes frightful (feeling God had abandoned me), I soon realized that the spiritual life is in many ways like a parent teaching it's new child to walk.  At first you are there with arms outstretched ready to grab the wobbly-legged 9 or 10 month old at the slightest sign of them going down, often keeping a grip on their arm or shirt, or grabbing them before their diaper-lined rear end ever hits the ground!
     But at some point (out of love and a desire for them to learn and grow) you must let go of the shirt, pull back, and refrain from helping them.  As they grow you must let them learn to stand (and even fall) so as to realize the consequences of their actions and the need for wise choices and good decision-making. God does the same with us. As infant Christians he responds more quickly, and in more tangible ways, realizing how frail we are in the faith and how much help we need initially in order to make it past those first hurdles in our new life.  But imagine how absurd it would be to see a parent cautiously hovering over their six or eight year old in the same way, holding on to their shirt and ready to grab them before they ever fall.
     No, as a child grows into an adolescent and then into adulthood, the parent steps back further and further and gives more space, freedom, and responsibility.  Why would God, as the perfect parent, do any differently with us as we grow spiritually? 

In the Bonds of Christian Charity, Pastor Jeff

1.09.2018

Sanctification

Greetings All!

     Not too long ago I was speaking with a group of college-age Christians when I brought up the topic of sanctification. There was dead silence.  “What’s sanctification?” one boy asked.  “It’s being set apart for God, or as belonging to God,” I said. “It means growing in holiness.”   Since they still looked a bit confused and didn’t totally understand the term holiness, I said: “You know, like growing to be more godly or coming to reject sin more and more. Seeking to do what Christ wants and resisting the things of the world.” 
     Yet, try as I might to explain it, it was a topic they found hard to grasp.  And these weren’t unbelievers or non-churched people, they were churched people, one young man being a pastor’s kid.  So, I figured that if they struggled with the concept of sanctification, maybe others do as well.  And if so, to help remedy that lack of understanding, I offer these quotes on sanctification from well-known Christians.  I trust they will help!  Enjoy!

     "There are three things which the true Christian desires in respect to sin: Justification, that it may not condemn; Sanctification, that it may not rein; and Glorification, that it may cease to be."       Richard Cecil

     "I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: If I was saved by my good works – then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through.  I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God's infinite cost – then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."    Tim Keller
     "Associate with sanctified persons. They may by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you holy."    Thomas Watson

     "The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are co-workers with God. We have the promise of God's assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not annul our responsibility to work (Phil. 2:12-13).”    R. C. Sproul
     "Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart, this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness.”     Charles Spurgeon

     “Is my wife more like Christ because she is married to me? Or is she like Christ in spite of me? Has she shrunk from His likeness because of me? Do I sanctify her or hold her back? Is she a better woman because she is married to me?"    R. Kent Hughes
     "The one marvelous secret of a holy life lies not in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfections of Jesus manifest themselves in my mortal flesh. Sanctification is "Christ in you."... Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy; it is drawing from Jesus the holiness that was manifested in Him, and He manifests it in me."  Oswald Chambers

     "The sanctified body is one whose hands are clean. The stain of dishonesty is not on them, the withering blight of ill-gotten gain has not blistered them, the mark of violence is not found upon them. They have been separated from every occupation that could displease God or injure a fellow-man."    A. B. Simpson

     "Those who have been justified are now being sanctified; those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified."   F.F. Bruce
     One of God’s primary purposes in the life of everyone He saves is to restore His sin-damaged and sin-fractured image within us.
     This is one of the three primary aspects of “salvation” which includes: 1st) JUSTIFICATION or being saved from the wrath of God against our sin, and brought into a pardoned, reconciled, or right standing with God, by grace, through atonement and faith in Christ or His blood (Rom. 3:21-26).  2ndSANCTIFICATION or being saved from the power and personality-distorting effects of sin in two ways: In an immediate way at the time of our conversion (definitive sanctification), and then in a gradual way for the remainder of our lives (progressive life-long sanctification) where God conforms us more and more into the likeness of Jesus, who is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His being" (Heb. 1:3).  And 3rd) GLORIFICATION or being saved from the indwelling presence of sin within us all together at the time of our death and/or resurrection.
     So, "salvation" is to be saved from sin’s penalty (justification) and power (sanctification) and presence (glorification). It's one of the reasons you can't really speak about salvation from a biblical perspective without speaking of sin!  It also explains what Richard Cecil means in the first quote, and why F.F. Bruce can say what he says in the last quote. "God chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in Him"  (Eph. 1:4) and "predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).  That was His eternal purpose for us, and it always involves sanctification!

In the Bonds of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff 


1.02.2018

Simple Church

Greetings to All and Prayers for a Happy New Year!

     As we begin the new year, I thought I would start us off with a call to return to simple.  Simple and uncomplicated ministry.  Ministry as Jesus did it.  Ministry stripped off all the ways we try and make it more complex than it really is. Spirituality that's focused on the important.  Being the Church Jesus wants us to be.
 







This was driven home to me in a book recommended by a close friend: Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  It is a straightforward and down to earth appraisal of how ministry should look. How Jesus intended it to look. If you happen to be struggling with the church as it often is, and want to consider it from a refreshing perspective, I would encourage you to pick up this easy to read book. As you go through it I am sure you will likely find yourself saying on many occasions, "Yes, that IS how it should be."   I offer this excerpt as a mere taste of what is in the book. Enjoy.

     "Simple churches have chosen to align themselves with the way God works. They have chosen to partner with the discipleship process revealed in Scripture. They have chosen to structure their churches around a simple process...  We are not claiming a simple church design is easy. There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental. Easy is effortless...  Leading a local church is neither simple nor easy, but the church strategy does not need to be complicated. The ministry design can and should be simple.
     If anyone knows simple it is Jesus. If anyone is a revolutionary, it is Jesus. He is the simple revolutionary. He stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules.  He could not stand their hypocrisy.  He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners.  The religious leaders had developed a religious system with 613 laws. They chose that number because that was how many separate letters were in the text containing the 10 Commandments. Then they found 613 commandments in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). They divided the list into affirmative commands (do this) and negative commands (don't do this).  There were 248 affirmative commands, one for every part of the human body as they understood it. There were 365 negative commands, one for each day of the year. They further divided the list into binding commands and nonbinding commands. Then they spent their days debating whether the divisions were accurate and ranking the commands within each division.
     Enter Jesus. Jesus has the ability to take the complex and make it simple. The prime example is Matthew 22:37-40, where Jesus gives what has become known as the Great Commandment. Here is the scene. Jesus has just stumped the Sadducees. Literally. He silenced them by His wisdom (Matt. 22:34). Next up are the Pharisees. Maybe they can do a better job knocking this revolutionary down. The Pharisees gather for a meeting. They devise a debate strategy. The goal is to humiliate Jesus in front of the crowd. They choose their smartest guy, a lawyer, to take on Jesus. He asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the law. Of all the 613 commandments, he is asking Jesus for the greatest. Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend (are summed up in) these two commandments." Think about the significance of that moment. He said all the Law (and He added the Prophets) is summed up in this simple and perfect phrase. He was not lowering the standard of the Law.  He was not abolishing it.  He was capturing all its spirit, all of its essence, in one statement.  He said all of it hangs on this.  He summed up 613 commands in two.  Jesus took the complexity and the advancement of the Law and made it very simple.
     Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. In the Jewish culture, each rabbi had a "yoke" of teaching. His yoke was his instructions, his content and his message. Many rabbis put yokes of teaching on the people that were impossible and legalistic. These yokes pushed people away from the grace of God and not toward it.  These yokes burned people out and turned people off.  Jesus stepped onto the scene and said to the crowd one day: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Jesus said HIS yoke was easy. His teaching was in stark contrast to the religious rabbis of the day. He was not offering a complicated and long set of rules, rituals, and regulations. He was offering grace. He was offering a simple relationship with God. As a simple revolutionary, Jesus was bothered by meaningless and distracting clutter.
     On at least one occasion, Jesus cleansed the temple. Many biblical scholars believe he did this twice during His earthly ministry. Mark 11 gives the account of one of His cleaning projects.  Jesus was enraged by what he observed at the temple. The temple had the appearance of being a place where people would seek God, but this was not the reality. People had lost their focus. Mark describes three areas of clutter that infuriated Jesus.  FIRST, people are buying and selling in the temple... The leaders allowed vendors to set up shop in the temple.  Historians reveal vendors were typically set up outside the temple, but (in Jesus day) the makeshift marketplace is inside the temple. Jesus responded by driving out those who were selling doves.  SECOND, money changers were exchanging foreign currency for the Gentiles. The Gentiles needed Jewish money to buy sacrifices and they were being exploited with a fee for the exchange. Instead of the temple being a house of prayer for all nations (including Gentiles) it was cluttered with people robbing them financially. Jesus reacts by throwing over the tables of the money changers.  THIRD, the temple had become a shortcut for people to pass through the city...  Jesus stopped them.
     His behavior in the temple gives us amazing insight into the heart of God. Jesus is adamantly opposed to anything that gets in the way of people encountering Him. He quoted from Isaiah that day saying, "Is it not written. 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' But you have made it a den of thieves!"  (Mark 11:17).  Many of our churches have become cluttered. So cluttered that people have a difficult time encountering the simple and powerful message of Christ. So cluttered that many people are busy doing church instead of being the church. What about your church?"

     Just some food for thought as we enter the New Year and hopefully "clean out" and "simplify" our approach to God.  For Jesus wants us to know, "[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light."  He designed it that way.  He fought to keep it that way.  May He win the fight to do so in your life and in your church.
     With Prayers for a Year Where We Can Learn to Enjoy the Simplicity and Light Load of Being In Christ, Pastor Jeff