Visitors

free counters

7.16.2019

Devotions for Men on the Go


Greetings All,

     Today I found a book I had laid on my desk weeks ago. It was "Devotions for Men on the Go," by Stephen Arterburn.  I opened it and it randomly fell open to this devotion. It struck me as worthy of sharing. I hope it moves and challenges you as well. Enjoy.


"Even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering 
to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service 
(that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, 
and I want to share my joy with all of you." 
(Philippians 2:17)

A Matter of Honor
     "About an hour into United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco on September 11, 2001, terrorists commandeered the cockpit, herded the passengers to the back of the plane, and turned it back toward a target in Washington, D.C.  Among those passengers were four remarkable men who didn't much like being herded around. 
     One was 31 year old publicist Mark Bingham, who had helped the University of California win the 1991 and 1993 national collegiate rugby championships. He was six foot five, rowdy and fearless.  One was 38 year-old medical research company executive Tom Burnett, who told his wife over the phone, "I know we are going to die. Some of us are going to do something about it."  One was 31 year old businessman Jeremy Glick. He called his wife, Lyz, at her parents home in Windham, New York, to say good-bye to her and their twelve-week-old daughter, Emmy.  The other was 32 year-old sales account manager Todd Beamer, who had played third base and shortstop over three seasons for Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
     These four brave men apparently came up with a plan to storm the cock-pit and attempt to wrest control of the aircraft from the terrorists.  Flight 93 never made it to Washington. Instead, it crashed into a field eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. All passengers and crew perished.  Nobody on the ground was killed. 

     What will you do when it is your turn to be poured out for the sake of others?

     Dear God, may I value honor more than survival." 
     Jesus said, "Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).  I wonder if it might not be just as hard (if not harder) to lay down your life for strangers you would never meet -- like these men who's heroic act saved the lives of countless many in whatever the target was to be in Washington, D.C.  All  on board did die, but if the terrorists were allowed to continue on unchallenged, it would have been all on board plus many more in D.C.
     Self-sacrifice is never easy. It goes against our survival instinct, and with few exceptions goes against the sway of our self-focused society.  Whether it be offering one's life up to death for others, or dying to self daily, by, "considering others better than yourself" (Phil. 2:3) it does not come easy.  Yet, it is an expression of imitating Christ in His condescension, sacrificial love, and self-emptying humility (Phil. 2:5-11).
     We admire such things in Jesus, but sometimes forget that, "our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death -even death on a cross" (Phil 2:5-8).  Such humble and sacrificial love is part of following His command to, "love one another as He has loved us." 
     So, maybe I could put Mr. Arterburn's last prayer this way: "Dear God, may we value the opportunity to imitate Christ in His humility more than self-interest, self-protection and survival." 

Only as we lean on Him, Pastor Jeff

7.09.2019

You Can't Take It With You

Greetings All,

     Today's "thought" is at the same time interesting, intriguing and convicting. It is a critique on our culture, and upon us at the same time.  It is worth reading simply because it's true, and the truth of it should make us do some inner reflection. It may even cause us to make some healthy changes or do some cleaning out. Above all it should make us consider what's important, reevaluate our priorities, and consider how we could better use our resources in a world with much so much need.
     It comes from John Ortberg's book (written with a somewhat satirical flair) "When The Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box."   It is available in shortened form in, "You Can't Take It With You."  Enjoy.


Stuff, Stuff and More Stuff

     "We all have stuff. We see it, want it, buy it, display it, insure it, and compare it with other people's stuff.  We talk about whether or not they have too much stuff; we envy or pass judgment on other people's collections of stuff.  We collect our own little pile of stuff.  We imagine that if that pile got big enough, we would feel successful or secure. That's how you keep score in Monopoly, and that's how our culture generally keeps score as well. You get a large house, then you have to get stuff to put in it...
     There are now more than 30,000 self-storage facilities in the country offering over a billion square feet  for people to store their stuff. [That was in 2009 when the book was written. Today in 2019 it is estimated there are 52,000 and close to 2 billion square feet and growing!]  In the 1960's this industry did not exist. We now spend $12 billion a year [in 2018 it was $38 billion a year] just to pay someone to store our extra stuff!  It's larger than the music industry.  Psychologist Paul Pearsall comments on people finding it difficult to give their stuff away: "Many people can't bring themselves to get rid of any of their stuff. You may require a 'closet exorcist.'  A trusted friend can help prevent the 're-stuffing phenomena.'  Re-stuffing happens when, in the process of cleaning out closets and drawers, we are somehow stimulated to acquire new stuff..." 
     Some people have a gift for acquiring stuff. Not long ago I took my daughter to a place called Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst was a "stuffaholic."  He had 3,500-year-old Egyptian statues, medieval Flemish tapestries, and centuries-old hand-carved ceilings, and some of the greatest work of art of all time. Hearst built a house of 72,000 square feet to put his stuff in.  He acquired property for his house -- 265,000 acres. He originally owned 50 miles of California coastline.  He collected stuff for eighty-five years. Then you know what he did?  He died.  Now people go through Hearst's house by the thousands. They all say the same thing: "Wow, he sure had a lot of stuff."  People go through life, get stuff, and then they die -- leaving all their stuff behind.  What happens to it?  The kids argue over it. The kids -- who haven't died yet, who are really just pre-dead people -- go over to their parents house. They pick through their parents old stuff like vultures, deciding which stuff they want to take to their houses. They say to themselves, "Now this is my stuff."  Then they die and some new vultures come for it.
     People come and go. Nations go to war over stuff, families are split apart because of stuff.  Husbands and wives argue about stuff more than any other single issue. Prisons are full of street thugs and CEO's who committed crimes to acquire stuff.  [Some people will even kill others for their stuff.]  Why?  It's only stuff.  Houses and hotels are the crowning jewels in Monopoly. But the moment the game ends they go back in the box. So it is with all our stuff.  Christ said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20).... 
     So Jesus says it is wise to store up treasure in what's eternal -- God and people.  To an adult, it's ironic when a two-year-old says, "Mine."  Adults know that two-year-olds don't earn any of their stuff.  It is all provided for them.  It is a gift from someone much larger and wiser than they.  They don't even generally take very good care of it.  Nevertheless, two-year-olds get extremely attached to their stuff.  If someone tries to take something, that item suddenly becomes their favorite stuff.  Two-year-olds can be so deluded, can't they?" 

     As Christians we need to pause every so often and consider where our values and priorities come from.  Do they come from Christ, or do we get them from our culture?  And if (or when) they are in conflict with each other, which takes precedence in dictating our actions and habits?  Do we heed the voice of culture over Christ, or the voice of Christ over culture?   Which do you personally follow and obey? 
     It is worth considering what Jesus would have to say about the thousands upon thousands of storage facilities in our country, and the billions upon billions of dollars spent just to store the excess stuff we don't use or have room for in our houses.  What might he say about that $38 billion spent each year simply storing excess stuff (an average of $88.00 per month per unit)?  Actually, Jesus already spoke quite clearly on that subject in Matthew 6:20.  So, we don't need to ask his opinion, we already know what that is.  So what we do need to ask him is what we should do about all our stuff in light of what he says. How should we respond?  Do we really need all the stuff we have?  How could the money spent storing it be better spent on "storing up treasures in heaven"? How could it be better used in the service of God's kingdom or relieving the plight of people who have so little?  In light of the Jesus we know from Scripture, it is at least worth asking.
     And I know that by now someone is probably thinking, "Don't get legalistic on us, Pastor Jeff."   I find that's a common response whenever what we believe or practice appears to be in conflict with what Jesus taught.  We pull out the"legalistic" card to try and shut down such questions or suggestions. Yet, isn't the goal of our lives to follow the teachings of Jesus more closely.  The Jesus who often turns the values of the world upside down.  And in this case, the Jesus who, if He did have stuff, had very little, since Scripture tells us he had no house (or storage unit) to store it in (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58).
     It is true that Scripture does not forbid us from owning things, and there is the ever-present need for housing and shelter and some of the things that make life in it functional. But it is at least worth asking, "At what point we violate Jesus' clear instruction not to 'store up for ourselves treasures on earth'"?
     Is it time to take a trip to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop? 
     Is there someone in real need who could use something we simply have stuffed away in our closet, attic, cellar, garage or storage unit?
     How can we turn an unused "earthly treasure" into a "treasure in heaven"?  Can we break free from it's hold on us and get rid of some stuff without re-stuffing? 
     
     I don't know about you, but I do know I need to unstuff some of my stuff without re-stuffing -- and bless someone else in the process.  And not just once, but as an ongoing habit, lest that stuff comes to have too much of a hold on me, and dictate my attitudes and choices more than the words of the One I have come to call my Lord.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

7.02.2019

The Comforter

Greetings All!

This week's "thought" comes from someone we haven't heard from for quite a while - Charles H. Spurgeon.  He has been dubbed the "Prince of Preachers" and is considered by many to be the most gifted preacher ever.  This excerpt comes from a message he preached on October 6, 1872 entitled "The Comforter."   Spurgeon began his preaching career in 1850 at the age of 15. By the time he was 19 he had accepted a call to pastor one of the biggest Baptist churches in London.  Within a short time they had to build an addition onto the church to increase the seating capacity from 1200 to 5000 seats to accommodate the weekly crowds. He was an extraordinarily gifted man.
     To those who wrongly believe that Christianity was universally popular back in the mid-to-late-800's in England, this somewhat auto-biographical account should clear up that misunderstanding.  I've been reading this sermon in my devotional time and found it both interesting and true; that's why I wanted to pass it along to you.  Enjoy.


The Comforter

     “In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel we find the Savior describing His saints in the world as hated and persecuted for His sake, and He bids them expect this. But He consoles them in verses 26-27: “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me. And you also shall bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
     Now verses 18-27 mean just this—while Jesus Christ was here on earth, if anyone had anything to say against Him or His disciples, the Master came forward to the front, and He soon baffled His foes so that they confessed, “Never has anyone spoken like this man” (John 7:46). At this present time our Master and head is gone from us, so how are we to answer the attacks of the world?  The answer is we have another Counselor who comes to speak for us, and if we had but confidence in Him, beloved, He would have spoken for us much more loudly than He has sometimes done!
     Whenever we learn to leave the business in His hands, He will do two things for us:  FIRST - He will speak for us Himself, and SECOND - He will enable us also to bear witness.  At this present time many questions of doctrine are brought up for discussion, many objections to the truth of God are blocked, and there are many who would lay the axe at the very root of Christianity and cut it down as a rotten tree!  What is our answer?  I will tell you: Nearly all the books that have been written to answer modern philosophies are a waste of time and a waste of paper.  The only way in which the church can hold her own, and answer her detractors is by real power from God!

     Has she done anything for the world?

     Can she produce results?

     By her fruits shall she be proved to be a tree of life to the nations!
     Now the Spirit of God, if we would but trust Him, and give up all this idolatry of human learning, cleverness, genius, eloquence, rhetoric, and I know not what beside, would soon answer our adversaries!  He would silence some of them by converting them as He answered Saul of Tarsus by turning him from a persecutor to an apostle. He would silence others by confounding them and making them see their own children and relations brought to know the truth of God! If there is not a miraculous spiritual power in the Church of God at this day, she is an impostor!  At this moment the only vindication of our existence is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit among us.  Is He still working and witnessing for Christ? I fear He is not in some churches.
     Here in our fellowship we behold Him. Look at His workings in this place.  Nearly 20 years ago [back in August of 1854] our ministry began in this city under much opposition and hostile criticism. The preacher [that is, Spurgeon himself] being condemned on all hands as vulgar, unlearned, and, in fact, a “nine days’ wonder”!  Jesus Christ was preached by us in simpler language than men had been accustomed to hear, and every one of our sermons was full of the old-fashioned gospel. Many other pulpits were intellectual, but we held to the pure Scriptures.  Rhetorical essays were the wares retailed by most of the preachers, but we gave the people the gospel.  We brought out before the world the old Reformers’ doctrines, Calvinistic truth, Augustinian teaching, and Pauline dogma! We were not ashamed to be the, “Echo of a long-dead evangelism,” as some wiseacre called us.
     We preached Christ and Him crucified, and by the space of these 20 years have we ever lacked a congregation? When has not this vast hall been thronged? Have we ever lacked conversions? Has a Sunday passed over us without them? Has not the history of this church, from its littleness in Park Street until now, been a march of triumph with the hearts and souls of men being the spoils of the war and the flag under which we have marched been Christ crucified?
     And it is so everywhere! Only let men come back to the gospel and preach it ardently, not with pretty words and the artificiality of polished speech, but as a burning heart compels them, and as the Spirit of God teaches them to speak it.  Then will great signs and wonders be seen!  We must have signs following—else we cannot answer the world!  Let them sneer; let them rave; let them curse; let them lie—God will answer them!  It is ours in the power of the Spirit of God to keep on preaching Christ and glorifying the Savior.  Just as Jesus always met the adversary in a moment, and the disciples had no need of any other defender, so we have another Helper, who in answer to prayer will vindicate His own cause, and gloriously avenge His own elect.”
     In a world of competing ideas and religious views, something must set Christianity apart from all the rest. Something more than "mere morality" as C. S. Lewis called it.  Something more than mere religious gatherings.  Something that shows our faith to be different from all the rest.  And that "something" (as Spurgeon points out) must be the power of God!  People must be able to see and sense the evidences of God's presence and the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit among His people if we are to truly testify to the reality of Jesus and His gospel (I Cor. 14:24-25 / II Cor. 10:3-5).
     Be it the miracle of an extraordinary and other-worldly love; the miracle of someone turned to repentance and faith; the miracle of a healing or a prophetic word that hits home as if it were tailor made; or the miracle of a regenerate heart -- the greatest miracle of all -- the power of God must be seen if people's objections are to be stifled!  "The only way in which the church can hold her own, and answer her detractors is by real power from God!...  If there is not a miraculous spiritual power in the Church of God at this day, she is an impostor!  At this moment the only vindication of our existence is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit among us...  Only let men come back to the gospel and preach it ardently, not with pretty words and the artificiality of polished speech, but as a burning heart compels them, and as the Spirit of God teaches them to speak it. Then will great signs and wonders be seen!  We must have signs following—else we cannot answer the world!"
     To use the words of Isaiah in his deep yearning for a visible and incontestable manifestation of God's power: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!" (Is. 64:1-2) That's what we need more than anything else -- a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God in incontestable and saving power!  Not manufactured miracles, but God-given miracles.  Not the stuff of mere human emotion, but the supernatural intervention of a sovereign God.  And it must stem from earnest prayer and the gospel ardently preached, as Spurgeon says, from a burning heart that's moved and compelled by the Holy Spirit.  Our prayer, Like Isaiah's, must be, "Come down Lord!"

     With Prayer for the Renewing of Christ's Church on Earth, Pastor Jeff

6.25.2019

Life Together


Greetings to All,

     Our “thought” for this week comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was martyred by the Nazi's one month before the end of World War II.  Though his most famous book was, "The Cost of Discipleship" (where he warned people against adopting the unbiblical substitute for real grace which he called "cheap grace") this thought comes from ideas expressed in his superb book on Christian community entitled, "Life Together."   If you have never read it, it is well worth your time (and the price of the book)!   It's all about those things that are necessary for true Christian community to take place.  Enjoy.

     “Acknowledgement of sin in the presence of another brother is a safeguard against self-deception.  It is a curious fact that many people find it easier to confess their sins privately to a holy and sinless God than to openly confess them to an unholy and sinful brother.  If this is so, we must ask ourselves if we are really confessing our sins to God?  We must ask ourselves whether we have not been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God – whether we have not, rather, been confessing our sins to ourselves, and also granting ourselves absolution.  Is this not perhaps the reason for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience?  Is it not to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness?
     When sin has been brought into the light and confessed it can be forgiven.  Its power can be broken.  It can no longer hold the believer in bondage or tear the fellowship apart.  The sinner can honestly be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God and the love of the brethren.  This is the moment where fellowship in Christ becomes a profound reality. [When sin is openly confessed – even the worst of sins – and the love of our brethren continues to be extended to us in spite of it, we approach the profound and transforming reality of community.]
     Open confession of sin to another so crucifies one's pride that rarely ever occurs unless a person earnestly yearns to be rid of his sin.  By openly confessing his sin he breaks the habit of secretly cherishing, nurturing or refusing to let it go.  He becomes accountable.  He gains the support of his praying brothers in his fight to overcome its life-polluting influences.  In essence, he begins to live the life of discipleship." 

     Elsewhere Bonhoeffer equated sin with mold that grows in a damp, dark, cool basement.  How does one rid a basement of that growing mold? They open the windows, let the exposure to the air dry it out, and let the bright light of the sun shine upon it until it dries out and is easily brushed off. 
     Confession of sin is like that.  When we expose sin to the light through confession, in the presence of a brother (for me) or sister (for women), it begins to lose it's life or power, dry up and die.  But if we keep it hidden -- locked away in the dark and damp cellar of secret and repressed memories or emotions -- it will only fester and grow. There is healing, as James reminds us, in confession of sin accompanied by prayer for healing (James 5:13-16). 
     "Confession is good for the soul," as the old adage goes. (Yet one must be careful in their selection of a brother (for men) or sister (for women) to confess to. Trust, confidentiality and godliness would be essential traits.)  Hard as it is to expose some things to the light, it is much more harmful to our spirit to hold it in and keep it hidden and shut up in the dark basement of our emotions.

     In the Service of the Gospel and Church, Pastor Jeff