When No One is Looking

church buried in snowThere is an old saying – “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” It was popularized by the man who wrote God’s Little Instruction Book. Henry Ford used a version of it when, speaking about quality, said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” The question comes, what do I do when no one is looking?

On Sunday we had one of those rare winter mornings when the snow comes at the exact wrong time for a church. What is the exact wrong time for snow to come? The exact wrong time for snow to come is midnight to noon on Sunday morning. It’s a bad time for the church because you can’t make a decision about the parking lot until that morning. It’s an even worse time for the community because roads and driveways are horrible until the snow begins to taper off.

That was Sunday. Now, I am an old-fashioned pastor. I believe two things about the Sunday morning service – 1) We should offer it for any and all who should come, and 2) People should decide for themselves if it is unsafe to drive because church attendance is not mandatory. What does this mean? This means that if I can get to church, our church is open every Sunday morning. What did it mean this Sunday? It meant that my family was the only one at church! No one at Sunday school. No one at our fellowship time. No one at worship. Just my family.

If there is ever a test of your character, it is when the voice in your head tells you that it won’t matter if you follow through on your convictions because no one will benefit even if you do. When it’s just your family, does it really matter? Those of you who know me personally know what I did. I am “almost” irritatingly consistent in my behavior. I just can’t help it. It is who I am. So, yes, we did have worship. I let my college and high-school aged children pick a few hymns and focused my sermon on one of the supporting texts from the planned sermon on Joshua. However, I must confess that I did wonder if it was worth it. I wondered if we should all have just gone home for cocoa and a snowball fight.

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Then it happened. I had just read the passage for our Scripture lesson when a head peaked in the door. A couple from our church had worked hard to dig out of their driveway to come and worship Jesus. They knew that they would be late, but they came anyway hoping to at least catch the sermon. They were right on time for that! It made me think… What if I had skipped worship when it was just my family? Would I have missed the opportunity to bless and be blessed Sunday?

That’s the thing about character. It’s not only what we do when no one’s looking. It is also the thing we are doing when “surprise!” we learn that someone is looking. Someone is always looking. Sometimes, that someone is the person we look at in the mirror. Sometimes, it is someone unexpected. Either way, someone is always looking.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Background of the Believer’s Life

What does it mean to you to say that God is in control? Is that something that gives you confidence, or is it something that makes you confused? In God’s Word the sovereignty of God is the underlying assumption of every act of faith. With the exception of extreme suffering, the faithful saw God’s sovereignty as the reality in which they lived and stepped out in faith. When the extreme did happen they did not abandon their view of God’s control, they ran to Him to seek the reason and the relief from their pain. Is that how we live today?

I see this as the key difference in the Bible between those who truly believe in God as God and those who want to use God for His blessings. The second group are happy with God when life gives them good things like material blessings or temporary happiness. However, when life gives them hard things like unexpected change or suffering God becomes a villain who doesn’t care about suffering or an impotent grandfather figure who just can’t do anything about it. The first group sees life differently. Their trust of God doesn’t sway in the wind of circumstance. No, for them the only thing that changes is the conversation that they have with God. When times are good, they ask God how they can use their blessing to draw others to Him. When times are hard, they ask God to come closer to them so that they can discover His purpose or His comfort. Their trust doesn’t change. Their desire to know Him only deepens. Thus Paul says –

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

Paul didn’t disregard suffering or struggle. He wasn’t happy suffering. However, Paul did believe something about that suffering. He believed that the suffering couldn’t stop what God was doing. He believed so much that God was going to accomplish His work in Paul and the Christians of his day that Paul saw those sufferings as inconsequential in comparison. The background of Paul’s life is this – since God is in control nothing, not even present sufferings, can keep God from doing what He said He will do.

That is what belief in the sovereignty of God can do in the believer’s life. It can make them willing to face each day, no matter the circumstance, with a boldness of belief. What is the belief? It is the belief that God will accomplish in this day exactly what He has planned. It is also the belief that as we stack those days together we will one day see how that work of God is for a greater glory in our lives.

This is who I want to be. I want to be the person who doesn’t look at every crisis as an attack on my faith. I want my understanding of God’s sovereignty to be the background of how I see life. Otherwise, who does that make God in my eyes? The Bible is clear. God is the all-powerful loving God who works purposefully in our lives. Since He is this type of God, how I see life needs to come through this truth. It is the background of my life. Is it the background of yours?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Precious Prayer

Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God’s infinite grace and power.

– R. A. Torrey

That’s a cool quote, isn’t it? When I read that, I get a picture in my head of the colossal power that is ready to be used when we just ask for it. I see God expectantly looking toward His people. I see Him ready to work in our lives even at a moment’s notice. It is quite amazing.

prayer or worship

As I continue to meditate on this idea, though, another thought crosses my mind. I wonder – for how many events in our lives does Heaven hear silence from our end? God is ready, but there is no cry from us. He is a good Father who delights to work in the lives of His children, but do His children seek His face?

It is tragic thought. So many promises in and invitations to pray go unused.

Proverbs 3:13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. 14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her.

I know that this verse is focused on wisdom, but we there is a clear connection between the effect (wisdom) with its Biblical cause (spending time with God). If wisdom is precious like rubies, then isn’t the thing that gives us wisdom just as precious? Of course it is! What does it mean for prayer to be precious? It means that we value it. It also means that we use it. That’s what gold, silver, and precious stones are to us. We make pretty things with them that everyone values. Because everyone values gold, silver, and precious stones we also use them to get us other things that we need: food, clothing, houses, etc. This is prayer for us. It is valuable because it connects us to God. It is useful because God’s power and promises are behind prayer.

I wonder how often I could have prayed when I didn’t. I wonder how often I didn’t pray when I needed to. I really doubt that I would bury a suitcase of gold in my backyard. No, I would prepare that gold for use – turn it into cash, put it into the bank, give some to a jeweler to make something for my wife – and then use it! I want to do that with prayer. God gave it to me to be used. He keeps giving me prayer to change my life for His glory and wonder. I would be silly to miss out on the gift, wouldn’t I?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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What are you waiting for?

Have you decided to do something and after you did it asked, “Why did I wait so long?” It’s a common experience. It happens when we’ve delayed something out of convenience or fear. When we finally force ourselves to do that ‘thing’ we find that we shouldn’t have delayed it. Do we ever do that with God?
I have been thinking about two stories from my life that fit this description. The first is when I came to the place in my life where I knew that I needed Jesus. In the church that I grew up in we expressed that by talking to the Pastor at the end of the service. I wouldn’t do it. Instead, I grabbed him by the arm after the service and talked with him. Yes, I began following Jesus in earnest at that time; but the next week I still waited until the very last moment to share my joy with the church. After I had shared I really wondered why I waited.
The second encounter with God in which I experience the “why did I wait so long” feeling is one that has happened several times in my walk with Him. These are those moments when I realize that I have been neglecting my love for Him. Yes, the moment I realize my neglect I repent of my apathy and I seek Him fervently, but (and this is what I regret most) I don’t jump back into spending real time in prayer or worship with Him. I hesitate. I approach Him timidly. Now, I realize it is very human to do this. Perhaps for some of us it is even an attempt to be respectful of God’s feelings (after all, He does say that our sin genuinely hurts Him). Yet, I also know from the Scripture how unnecessary such timidity is.

From the mouth of Jesus, “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and  embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

It is tempting to think of God as an angry Father who is offended by our sin, isn’t it? And yes, He is offended by sin. However, the Scripture is clear that a real repentance on our behalf instantly changes His view of us. Suddenly, God is the Father in the prodigal son story. We may have forgot the context of that story. Jesus tells it as a follow up to this statement, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) That declaration was made in response to the Pharisees who were grumbling about Jesus spending time and eating with tax collectors and other types of sinners.
One final thought. Do you remember the prophet Jonah? Yeah, I am talking about the guy who ran away from God. Do you remember why he ran? He ran because he knew something that disturbed him about God. He knew that, “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b) Jonah knew what we need to know: God forgives immediately and powerfully when we come back to Him. It’s Jonah, not God, who wants judgment to happen. What does Jonah know that God wants? God wants restoration.
So, I am left to ask myself, “Why do I wait so long to renew fellowship with God?” God isn’t holding a grudge. He has forgiven me. He longs for restoration. What about you? Are you waiting? Why?
Something to think about,
Pastor John

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Where Do I Go?

I fell the other day while skiing with my family. I just clobbered my shoulder. I might need rotator cuff surgery to repair what I injured. During the first week I had quite a bit of pain. How I responded to that pain reminded me of what I have seen other people do with their pain. It got me wondering… how much of what we do when we feel pain is really helpful for us?

Response # 1 – Grit my teeth and bare it.

This is where I always start. My hope is that if I endure the pain that it will pass before I have to really do anything about it. Personally, I think that this approach works with the normal aches and pains of life; but it won’t help for real injuries of the body or the heart.

Response # 2 – Self-medication and avoidance

With the exception of over-the-counter pain medicine that is used as the label suggests, I avoid this approach to pain management. Why? I avoid this path because it leads to further injury and addiction (which is an added injury as well). It leads to further injury because without a good diagnosis, masking pain will only make us susceptible to more injury. It leads to addiction because all pain medicine when used for a long time will lead to chemical tolerance which requires more medicine to alleviate the same amount of pain.

Response # 3 – Freeze up and wish it would go away

Yes, I too sometimes circle my wagons and just hunker down under my blankets when pain comes. I use this approach when I feel depressed or when I am suffering an illness that has pain. However for both the times that I am down and the times that I have an illness, there is a limit to how long I stay under those blankets. Why? I don’t stay under the blankets long because staying under the blankets can lead to more staying under the blankets. In other words – especially when the injury has to do with the heart – hiding can lead to more depression. At some point I either have to get out and face the pain or I have to ask for help. Either choice will get me out from under the blankets. Either choice is the beginning of dealing with the pain.

Response # 4 – Ask for help

As a man, I know that we have the reputation of approaching pain using the first two responses that I have listed above. Whether it’s true for all of us or not, there is a sense that we would wait until we are nearly dead before we ask for help. I would hope that is not true for you and me. There is a contemporary philosopher from Canada that says it this way, “I’m a man. I can change. If I have to. I guess.” (Red Green) No, I have no idea if Red Green is a Christian; but I do think that this humorous expression is appropriate. I need to change and be willing to ask for help! Whether it is a hurt shoulder or a hurt heart, pain that lasts or is extreme needs help. Either my pain needs outside help because it is especially damaging, or I need help because it won’t go away on its own.

What do you do when you hurt? Do you seek help or do you try to fix things on your own? Where does God come into play for you? Does God give us people who can come alongside and give us help?

Consider these thoughts from the Word:

Psa 121:1 – 2
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

Ecc 4:9 — Ecc 4:12

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Promises Get Us Through the Day

When God says something, do we believe it? I don’t mean when He declares right and wrong. I hope that we would say of course we believe Him there. I am talking about believing what He says that He will do in us. Do we believe it?

Peter says, “2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:2-4)Image result for trust

Consider that a moment. God’s divine power has given to us, “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” We have at our disposal everything we need to live the life God has designed for us. We have what we need to be godly. He has given it to us in Christ! As we know Him more He reveals the steps that we will take.

In fact, Peter declares that God has given us, “precious and magnificent promises.” When I feel that I don’t measure up the idea that God has promised to make me like Himself is a great comfort to me. Why? The comfort comes in the promise. It comes knowing that the God who has called me also has made promises to me. If I acknowledge that the Bible declares God to be good, then I will believe that He will keep His promises. He will keep even His promise to make me into the man that He has created me to be.

Promises are precious things. We know this by how angry we get when people don’t keep their promises to us. We are hurt when they back out. When we think about God, do we consider His promises? Do we hold them as precious? Do His promises give your life hope and make how you see the future brighter? Do we understand that He thinks that His promises are precious too? They are precious enough to keep! He will keep His promises to you and me. Trust in that – our God keeps His promises.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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socksfireplacePeople like creating traditions. We have them in our families. We have them in our communities. The military is full of them. The church has theirs too. There is nothing inherently bad about traditions. The real question is: Do they still mean something to us?

That’s the thing about traditions – They can become substitutes for the real thing. For example, Memorial Day outings with family are supposed to be a celebration of family. They are supposed to bring the family together with camping, enjoying nature and sitting around the camp fire. However, if the family trip has turned into a chore, and you look around the camp fire and everyone is either bored or on their phone or tablet; isn’t it time to ask if the tradition is still holding up?

Matthew 1:20-21 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Here’s a thought from this time of year – For Christians, Christmas is about celebrating that Christ has come. Sure, there are other things we do this time of year: enjoy family, make yummy goodies, etc; but they aren’t what we are celebrating. Jesus is what we are celebrating. So the question to consider at the beginning of the season or as we pack up the ornaments and the wrapping paper is: did my traditions this year consistently remind me of Jesus or did they overshadow or replace Him?

Traditions can be great helps in remembering important things. In fact, Jesus gave us two traditions that are supposed to be practiced and appreciated by all Christians. He gave us baptism and the Lord’s Supper for just this purpose. Baptism reminds us of what happens in the heart of every believer when they come to Jesus. The Lord’s Supper, as the apostle Paul says, proclaims the Lord’s death (it’s purpose and power) until He returns. Can you imagine being at a baptismal or Lord’s Supper service and not be pointed to what they mean? When we are intentional our traditions serve to teach and remind us about things that are important to us.

Traditions are never meant to be cut off from the important individual or truth to which they point. Good feelings and fun can’t replace meaning. If we don’t pass on meaning, the next generation gets lost or bored in our traditions. Can you imagine a fourth of July that included fireworks without knowing why? Can you imagine an American flag that didn’t stand for America?

Jesus warned the leaders of His day that they had created traditions to honor God and then forgot the very God they had hoped to honor with those traditions (Matthew 15:1-9). We must do better. If we use traditions as part of how we honor God, we must not forget God in the process. So, how can we do better? Consider these approaches:

  1. Make the most important traditions the ones that most clearly reflect Jesus. By most important I don’t necessarily mean the things that take the most time, but they are certainly the things for which you stop everything. For example, baking for the family get together may take more time; but if reading the Christmas story out of the book of Luke is something you value, then everything should stop when you read it. It is a matter of priority – the pie can wait, Jesus shouldn’t have to.
  2. If something overshadows Jesus during Christmas, consider suspending or shrinking it this year. If decking the halls crowds out remembering the Savior, then deck less and remember more. Replacing the garland, outdoor lights, and two-story Christmas tree with a candle in the window and a ceramic light-up tree does not make you a Scrooge. It may give your mind space to celebrate Jesus.
  3. Don’t be afraid to create new traditions if the old ones don’t point you to Jesus. Your mom’s way of celebrating Jesus at Christmas may not translate to your family. No worries. Creating new traditions doesn’t diminish the old traditions. They are traditions, not Scripture. New traditions have to be explained. Explanations point us to the reason why. That reason is Jesus. That is a good thing. Perhaps you won’t replace an old tradition after all. Maybe in the explaining, you will find that the old tradition just needed a new generation to understand it to bring back the meaning.
  4. Make the things you do during this season a celebration of Christ and not a job to be done. You can celebrate Christ as you think and pray for all the family you will see. You can celebrate Jesus as you decorate as you think on the joy that He brings you. However, when things that should celebrate Jesus become a chore we have two choices: transform our thinking or trim some things from our celebration. It isn’t a bad thing to admit where you struggle keeping Jesus at the front of this season. Identifying the struggle is where we grow. Doing something about it is the second step of that growth.
  5. Don’t stress about the perfect Christmas attitude. There is no such thing just like there are no perfect people. I know, we hear that we shouldn’t stress over the perfect gift or the perfect meal; but it is also good not to stress about doing everything perfect in our attitude at Christmas. For some, an unintentional tradition has grown out of their worry about honoring Jesus. The perennial question, “Is this the right way to celebrate Jesus?” makes for some of us a hurdle to celebrating Jesus at all. Celebrate by doing your best to focus on Jesus. If you learn a new way to focus on Him next year, make that a part of your worship next year. Just don’t let what you might do next year keep you from really celebrating Jesus this year. Worry makes it difficult to celebrate!

What’s the point? Let’s continue to make Jesus our focus this Christmas. If you have fun traditions, use them to highlight Jesus. Don’t worry, celebrate! I am writing this on Christmas Eve. One of our traditions is to go to a Christmas Eve service that focuses entirely on the Christmas story and nothing else. It’s not a chore. It’s not something we worry over. We are celebrating! Joy to the world, Christ has come! As the angels told the shepherds – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Jesus is something to celebrate about,

Pastor John


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