We Need Friends

Friends. They are easy to take for granted. They are easy to see as just happy additions to our lives. Those of us who have gone through hard times appreciate them immensely. However, have we given much thought to how faithful friends can help us in our walk with Jesus? Have we thought about how much good friends can amplify our courage?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 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. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Think about the profound encouragement of these verses. First, when two work together they have a great opportunity to see success. Second, when two walk together their time in the dirt is shorter. Third, when two are together the cold is easier to defeat. Fourth, the fights we face are easier to endure. Whether we are working, just living, facing calamity, or being opposed we find strength when we walk together. Do we believe it?

Image result for we need friendsThere was a recent study done by Cigna (the health insurance company) that found that almost half of Americans feel isolated or alone. Probably even more disturbing is that the study also revealed that loneliness relates to mortality at the same rate as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does! Having an active social media presence didn’t make the feeling of being alone any better. Screen time is not the same as face time. We don’t need strangers online. We need friends at home.

We shouldn’t be surprised at Cigna’s findings. The Bible speaks well of having faithful friends who call us to live for God and invest in others. The problem is that many of us use substitutes for friendship. We avoid rubbing shoulders with others and believe that our Facebook or Twitter followers are the same thing. We hide what we really feel and keep our friendships at the acquaintance level. We insulate ourselves from uncomfortable situations by using platitudes to shield ourselves from actually walking with people through their struggles.

The greatest commandment according to Jesus is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second greatest is to love our neighbor as our self. Do we seek to do that? Do we really seek to love our neighbor like we love ourselves? Do we seek out people to walk with? If you are wondering – yes, they will disappoint us at times. Yes, we will let them down too. However, that’s how friendships are forged – through thick and thin. When one falls down, the other picks him up. When she is working, her friend doubles her success. That’s what the Scripture says. Friends are worth it. Being a friend is worth it too.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Preparing to be Courageous

Image result for what is courageHave you considered what it takes to be courageous? Do you think of courage as the exclusive domain of the fearless? Courage isn’t just available to those who don’t feel fear. It is also available to any who will prepare.

Prepare. What do I mean by prepare? The simple definition of preparation is to consistently put together the tools for success. I thought about firemen this past week. They aren’t just courageous because they are brave. They also prepare every week to use their tools. They practice constantly so that they know what to do in the situations they face. They prepare, therefore their courage does not fail them.

How does that relate to having courage as a Christian? We too, can prepare to be used by God. As we prepare, we are getting ready to be courageous.

Joshua 1:7-8 7 Only be strong and very courageous;  be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

So, how do we prepare as Christians?

  1. We learn the Word of God. The Bible declares that when we hide God’s Word in our hearts, we prepare ourselves to find victory sin.
  2. We practice the Word of God. When we obey the Word, we make a habit of living by trusting what God has said. As that becomes our character, it becomes easier to make the right choices. That is the backbone of courage.
  3. We rejoice in the work of God. Rejoicing in what God is doing helps us practice seeing God’s activity in our lives. Seeing God work reinforces our prayers and our desire to stand for Him. Never underestimate the power of the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man”!

This is our preparation: the Word, obedience, and faith-filled prayer. As we practice these things we are preparing to stand in courage for what we believe and what God is leading us to do. We need people of courage and character in our day. Are you and I preparing to be those type of people?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Finding Delight In the Word

Psalms 1:1-2 ​1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the  path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.

Image result for house built on the rockEnglish is so sloppy. Specifically, how we speak about love is sloppy. We use the same word for loving our spouse, loving our dog, and loving a cheeseburger. Obviously, it isn’t the same thing. We are encouraged in the Bible to love the Word of God. What does that look like?

The verse of the week is Psalm 1:1-2. I am specifically thinking about verse 2: “his delight is in the law of the Lord…” This verse makes me think: what does that delight look like? I see in Psalm 119 (the Psalm all about the Word of God) the psalmist use words like delight, treasure and meditate all over the place. He isn’t quiet about this delighting in the Word of God that we see in Psalm 1. The Psalmist demands it.

Psalm 1 also demands it. As we look at the psalm, we see a simple and clear difference between the one who delights in God’s Word and the wicked. The wicked are like chaff. The one who delights in the Word is like a mighty tree. The wicked face God’s discipline. The one who delights in the Word receives God’s blessing. This is pretty clear stuff.

So then, what does it look like to delight in the Word of God?

  1. We read and think on the Word of God deeply enough for it to move us. The things we truly delight in are things that move us. They make us happy. They make us cry. The thing they don’t do is make us say, “Meh…” We should think deeply enough that it moves our affections and passions.
  2. We seek to understand and not just fill a quota. People talk about having a daily quiet time. That is great. However, if our devotional time is just something to check off our to do list, then we are not delighting in the Word. When I read, I want to understand the Word. I want to know what it has to do with me. I don’t want to ever just take it for granted.
  3. We always seek to apply God’s Word to our life. Yes, there are a few places in Scripture (genealogies, for example) where direct application will be more in the area of appreciation, but the Scripture has been given to teach, correct, rebuke and train us in righteousness. It wasn’t given to merely appreciate. It was given to change, challenge, comfort, and correct. Those who delight in God’s Word aren’t satisfied with simply reading it. They want to do it.

If this is what it looks like to delight in His Word, then how do we do it?

  1. Never read passively. When our brains and hearts are engaged, the Word’s truths naturally move us. We don’t have to manufacture feeling. A life intentionally given to understand God’s Word will be moved.
  2. Come to your personal time with God as worship, not just reading. Whether it is singing, praying, or thinking deeply – worship God as you spend personal time with Him. Read His Word with that same intensity.
  3. Fight lethargy and sporadic affection with the same intensity as you would in any relationship you value. Don’t be surprised by times of dryness, be ready for them with renewed fervency and time chasing after Jesus.
  4. After you understand the Word ask this question, “How can I live this out in my life today?”

It is easy to forget that loving God in Christ is all about getting to know more of Him. We like the emotional side of worship as we sing and pour our hearts out to Him. Yet, letting Him speak is just as important. His clearest speech comes through His Word. Let’s listen to Him with rapt attention!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Poor You Will Always Have With You

Do you have any projects that never seem to end? They just seem to go on and on. Sometimes we get tired, don’t we? When that happens we are faced with a choice: 1) quit and leave the job undone OR 2) rest so that we can jump back in with both feet. When it comes to caring for the hurting, which shall we do?

Jesus said, “”For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” (Matthew 26:11)

Caring for the hurting and struggling is another one of those never ending tasks, isn’t it? Jesus said that we would always have the poor. His time on earth with the disciples was limited. Their time with the poor (and ours) is not. Yet, there is sometimes a struggle with ministry fatigue in the area of working with the hurting, isn’t there?

Think of this word for a minute: opportunity. That’s not always how we see helping others, is it? When it comes to helping others, we struggle with the never ending nature of it, don’t we? Yet, it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to love. It is an opportunity to reach out to our fellow man. It is an opportunity to share the gospel.

In medical circles care givers sometimes struggle with care giving fatigue. When that happens, they are encouraged to take a break. They take the break so that they can come back to ministry with renewed energy and perspective. They care, but they just get worn out. However, they don’t take a break so they can quit. Their respite is to renew and refocus their desire to care.

Is this what happens to us when we think about helping others? Does the never-ending nature of the call to minister to the hurting get to us? Are we overwhelmed by the constancy of need? I am challenged by the words of Job as he questioned why he was suffering. He said,

“If I have kept the poor from their desire, Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, Or have eaten my morsel alone, And the orphan has not shared it (But from my youth he grew up with me as with a father, And from infancy I guided her), If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, Or that the needy had no covering, If his loins have not thanked me, And if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, If I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, Because I saw I had support in the gate, Let my shoulder fall from the socket, And my arm be broken off at the elbow.” (Job 31:16-22)

Yes, the need is constant; but our love can be even more constant. Job had lost his fortune, lost his children, and lost his health. And yet, he was still thinking about others who were struggling! I want that kind of heart. I want a heart that sees the needs of others and finds ways to meet them. No, I can’t solve every problem. I am not asked to solve every problem. However, I can meet the needs of some. Let me start there and see where God leads next. May all His people see the opportunity that is open to us when we minister to others.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Reality of Heaven

Last Sunday I preached about what the Bible says about Hell. It is a heart wrenching topic. To balance that heavy subject, this week I want to think about Heaven. The great struggle in modern Christianity is that both of these great teachings of the Bible are minimized in our pulpits. We need to embrace both again.

Jesus said in John 14:2-3, 2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[a] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (ESV)

Now, for the purposes of this blog, we are going to be thinking together about our eternal home without separating Heaven from our eternal state in the new Heaven and new Earth. We can, at a future date think about those wonders; but the focus of our time now is the reality that future rather than the details of it.

Image result for heaven our real homeWhy focus on the reality of Heaven? Two reasons. First, the reality of the future that Jesus promises us is directly connected to His character. In other words, do we believe that Jesus is trustworthy? The passage above begins with these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me.” (John 14:1 ESV) Jesus asks his disciples (and us) to trust his testimony of the future just like we trust God. So, living with the confidence of Heaven is directly related to how much we believe we can trust the character of Jesus.

I heard Josh McDowell give this illustration. He was waiting at the airport for his family to pick him up. A passerby began talking with him. The passerby teased him that maybe his family wasn’t coming. Maybe they had forgotten him. With confidence, Josh replied that he knew they were coming. He had no worries. That is Jesus to us. He has given us his promise. We know that he can be trusted.

This leads to the second reason we need to embrace the reality of Heaven. Such a promise should change how we face each day. Sacrifice is easier when one knows that  reward is coming. Even death has less of a sting due to this reality. Paul declares, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) When a person has a sure promise of blessing, it changes how they see their present. Likewise, if that promise is unsure or unknown then their perception of the struggles of life is different. Without Heaven, everything is harder. With Heaven, it isn’t that everything is easy – it is that the sacrifices and struggles we face are worth it.

Is Heaven real to us? Do we know enough about the promise Jesus gives to be excited about it? For centuries, the promise of Heaven has given missionaries and struggling believers (which is all of us) a bigger perspective on their struggles. It will do the same for us. Let’s think deeply upon what God’s truth says to us about our future with him. May we let it change us and how we think about each day.

Something to think about.

Pastor John

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Living His Worth

Image result for i will not offer that which costs me nothing

You know the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” We know that there is value in something we have to pay for. How do show something is valuable when you got it for free?

Philippians 3:8-10 English Standard Version (ESV)

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Paul is clear about what saves a person. In both the book of Romans and the book of Galatians he states emphatically that salvation is a free gift that we CANNOT earn. So, what is he saying here? He is saying the gift Jesus gives has excited Paul’s love. It has excited his love beyond a smile or even a thank you. It has excited Paul’s love to the point that he intentionally gives up the blessings of his natural life to know Jesus better. He wants to understand Christ’s humility so he gives up his position in his society. He wants to know Christ’s heart to suffer and die for us so he gives up a right to be comfortable and embraces without bitterness the suffering that comes with persecution. Yes, Paul wants to know Jesus in the power of his resurrection. So, Paul is going to even trust Jesus with his death.

That is the secret of valuing something. It isn’t found in how much you pay for it. The secret of valuing something is what you are willing to pay to experience it in its fullness. Let me use a human example… in healthy families the members don’t have to earn each other’s love. Yet, Moms and Dads will spend money, sacrifice time, give up sleep, and miss personal opportunities so that they can spend time with their children and see them thrive. They aren’t doing these things because they want to earn their children’s love. Parents are willing to be spent for their children because they love them. Their love is excited for their children to the point that they will give of themselves freely for them. When others see that, they know that those parents love their children.

Is this us with Jesus. Is that the type of discipleship that you are living? Does your life’s sacrifices show the worth of Jesus to you? I want that to be my heart. I want to show the worth of Jesus not in mere dollars. I want his worth to so excite my heart that nothing is too great a sacrifice.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Being a disciple of Jesus, is it radical?

Image result for take up your cross daily

There are two words that are rattling around my head today: discipleship and radical. We are called by Jesus to follow Him. Followers of Jesus are called disciples. What type of disciple does Jesus call us to be?

Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” I think about those descriptions of a disciple, and each one challenges me. Denying self asks me to consciously and consistently make Jesus king. He is king of my actions. He gets to call the shots on how I respond when I feel strong emotions. I am called to deny my own rights and privileges and let Him decide when I avail myself of those rights and when I let them go to serve a higher good.

Wow. Taking up my cross daily hits me twice. First, I think of the cross. The cross is a burden. The cross is a sacrifice. Jesus calls us to embrace both. He calls us to embrace a consistent burden. He calls us to embrace sacrifice. The second thing that hits me about our Lord’s statement is that He calls us to embrace both daily. It is a lifestyle of sacrifice and burden.

It is after we have embraced these two descriptions of a disciple that Jesus then says that we can follow Him. This is where the radical part comes in. No, I am not talking about the type of radical that we hear used on TV. I am talking about the original meaning of the word. The word refers to a change (or a characteristic) that happens at the root or essence of something. In that way, Jesus’ call is supposed to be radical. It is supposed to change the root of who we are as people. In other words, disciples are people who are completely open to Jesus changing and challenging them from the inside out.

That is what I want. I don’t just want to be the old person I was. I don’t just want to join the “Jesus club.” I want to be changed. I want to be challenged. As Peter said to Jesus after a truly challenging teaching – Who else has the words of eternal life? Who else indeed? It is only Jesus. So if he wants to change me, I welcome that change. I don’t want to just watch Jesus. I want to follow Him!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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