In my years of ministry people have asked me one question more than any other. Why did God allow Jesus his Son to suffer humiliation, torture, and excruciating death? Why not swoop in at the last minute, before the crucifixion and raise his Son to an exalted state? The question itself suggest we have made an assumption about suffering—that it is always bad and serves no purpose.
Lent begins on Wednesday, March 6 with our Ash Wednesday service at 7 pm. I hope you will attend and receive the ashes on your forehead, the traditional sign of joining with Christ in his walk to the cross.
A survey was done recently on the occasion of Valentine’s Day in which the question was asked, “What do you think of first when you hear the word “love?” Fifty-nine (59) percent said God. This is as it should be because “God is love.”
Ever notice how you feel when you get something new—a new blouse, a new car, a new pair of shoes, a new golf club? There’s something exciting. This new thing—whatever it is—holds promise that things will be better.
The birth of Jesus Christ our Savior is a study in how to handle Plan “B”. When Mary heard from the angel that she was going to bear the son of God, it was a complete surprise and a huge re-ordering of her world. “How shall this be?” she asked God’s angel. Now she would be pregnant and unmarried—a recipe for scandal and death, or at very least excommunication from her family and town. Bearing the Son of God was definitely her Plan B, or maybe even plan X, Y, or Z.
In her book The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser uses the image of soil to convey the power of gratitude. She says that a thankful disposition is like good soil. In fact, in many European languages, poor soil is called “ungrateful.” “Ungrateful” soil has been drained of its power to give life to the seed that is sown in it. It is dry and devoid of the nutrients that cause seeds to grow and flourish.
But good soil, or “grateful” soil holds moisture and is rich in nutrients and causes the seed to thrive. Then the seed gives back to the planter a plentiful harvest. Good soil is reciprocal. It receives but it also gives back.
A grateful heart is like that. When we are thankful, we give life to others by being kind and generous. We feel blessed and so we want to bless others with the bounty with which God has blessed us. We are free with our compliments because we ourselves have been affirmed by others. We love others because we are full of God’s love.
Or, we may be ungrateful which causes us to take but not to give. We don’t feel blessed and so we can’t bless others. Life withers around us as it does in bad soil.
We have the freedom to choose to be grateful or not. Gratitude doesn’t just happen. Like good soil, it needs to be cultivated. Farmers know the importance of cultivating good soil. They till up the soil so that it may take in oxygen. Farmers plant nutrient-rich crops in it to replenish its vitality. Just leaving it alone does nothing for the soil. They must proactively enrich it.
So, we must cultivate gratitude in ourselves. We must see the goodness that God has poured into our lives and say thanks. We must appreciate other people and what they have given to us. We must look around and see by contrast how much better off we are than many others. We must see life always as half full and not half empty. Then, joy comes as gratitude gradually takes hold. Life takes on a new brightness. We see with new eyes how good it is to be alive in God’s world.
This Thanksgiving let us “cultivate” gratitude. To do so is its own reward, for a grateful heart is a happy heart. And who doesn’t want to be happy?
“Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” --I Thessalonians 5:18
--Rev. Ken Shick, Interim Pastor
There are “destiny” moments, when you make life-changing choices. What makes it hard is that at the time they may not seem like–life-changing choices.
In Matthew 8:21 we have an example of a man missing out on the chance of a lifetime. A man said to Jesus, "Lord,” another of his disciples said, “let me first go and bury my father." Notice he doesn’t say, “My father has died and I need to go and bury him.” He’s speaking hypothetically, “WHEN my father dies and the inheritance comes through.” A common day equivalent would be, “Wait until I’m financially secure and I’ll follow you.” Jesus invited him to get in the boat with him. “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." But the man refused. He literally missed the boat, the “Jesus boat.”
Jesus asks us all to put following him before our own comfort. This is hard to do because we are all creatures of comfort. Sometimes it’s relationship comfort, or job comfort, or financial comfort. I once talked to a man who refused an invitation to go on the mission field in Africa because he wanted “culture” comfort. He didn’t want to adjust to a new culture and language. That man “missed the boat.”
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he was inviting him to do mission with him. Our Lord wasn’t talking about becoming his disciple, because the text says he was already a disciple. Almost every day we have an opportunity to do mission with Jesus. The Lord is in the boat ready to go. Will we miss the boat?
The point is that Christ calls us to be urgently in mission for him right where we are. Maybe it’s taking a friend to lunch and listening as he pours out his troubles. Maybe it’s watching our neighbors kids while she goes to the doctor. Maybe it’s picking up a newcomer and taking her to church on Sunday. Maybe it’s giving someone $100 so he can pay his electric bill.
We can talk ourselves out of helping in Christ’s name like the man in the story. He felt no urgency to get in the boat with Jesus. The text says Jesus and disciples went to the region of the Gadarenes and ministered to the demon-possessed. The man put it off and lost the opportunity forever.
Mainly, he lost out on time with Jesus. Also, he lost the satisfaction of changing peoples’ lives for good. And he lost out on getting Jesus’ approval for a job well done. He lost all that in order to hang out and wait for his father to die. Time well spent, or not?
Jesus teaches us two things: 1) We must choose serving others in Christ’s name to serving self. 2) We should DO IT NOW because we might not get another chance.
I don’t want to miss the boat and fail Jesus my Lord.
Have you ever heard the statement “You are what you think?” I have found this to be true. When I think I can’t, then I tend to fail or at least not be as successful as I could have been if I had thought, “I will succeed. I can do this.” So, repeating Philippians 4: 13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” has become my “positivity” verse.
Our thoughts can truly change things. They can either drain us of energy and enthusiasm, or they can empower us and encourage us. God has things for us to do and when we believe that we can do them, we end up doing God’s will. The payoff for Christians is that we have the joy of having pleased God and having accomplished his will. However, when negativity defeats us and we fail, the consequence is regret and guilt.
So, our attitude is crucial in living life successfully. How do we keep a faith-filled attitude that is positive?
Let me suggest a few things I’ve found helpful.
1) Avoid negative people. You can be full of positivity and yet when negative people are around you, it will drag you down. Sometimes I simply must avoid negative people. Some people are constant complainers. Nothing suits them. That attitude is contagious, and it will infect you if you let it. But the opposite is also true. If you want to be positive and encouraged, seek out positive and encouraging people. Their “can-do” attitude will rub off on you.
2) Change the subject. When I’m fighting negative, lustful, or discouraging thoughts, just telling myself not to think that way doesn’t work. It simply focuses me more on that. The key is to substitute something positive. For the Christian, this takes the form of thinking about Jesus and all that he did and said. You can’t get more positive than that because the Bible says that Jesus always went about doing good.
“For we take every thought captive to Christ.” --2 Corinthians 10: 5
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” –Philippians 4: 8
The more I think about Jesus, the more my mind becomes Christ-centered and positive. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done.” --John 13: 15 Focus on Jesus.
3) Pray for help. Sometimes our thought patterns are so ingrained and habitual that we are powerless to change them. Only God through his Spirit can change them. So, we pray and ask God to change our thoughts.
The Bible speaks to this when it says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” --2 Corinthians 10: 4 Strongholds are bad habits. And we must use God’s power to destroy them. So, we pray, “Lord, break the stronghold of my negative thoughts.” You will be amazed how quickly God answers that prayer. He cares about your thought life and wants it to be a positive influence on your attitudes and actions.
The real battleground is our minds. God wants us to win that battle with good, faith-filled and positive thoughts. Let’s fight hard against negative thoughts and ask God to help us.
--Ken Shick, Interim Pastor
I love the summer when all things are green. My grass, shrubs, trees, and flowers are all green and lush because they have sent their roots down deep into the rain-soaked ground. And they bring up the moisture and nutrients into the plant and they flourish.
God has also designed our spirits to flourish. Like plants, it involves sending our roots down into Christ, the Living Lord. Scripture puts it this way,
“ … So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…” --Ephesians 3: 17
Are you feeling spiritually dry? You can change that TODAY. Send your roots down deep into Christ. How?
Step 1: Put your roots down into Christ’s love. Our Savior has such love for us as demonstrated on the cross. He said, “NO greater love has anyone than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” And then Jesus went out and died to save us from the penalty of our sins. So now instead of hell we have been given heaven. Meditate on Christ’s love for you. He was willing to give up his own life for you. You were eternally important to him. He wanted you with him forever. Receive his love for you in this moment.
Step 2: Protect your roots from predators who want to destroy them. I must spray a chemical on my plants to keep predators from destroying their roots and killing the plant. This chemical permeates the roots and makes them bitter to any would be “eater”. And you can protect yourself from THE PREDATOR, the devil, by fellowshipping with other Christians. Being with other disciples of Jesus strengthens you to resist temptation and sin. The goodness of other Christians rubs off on you and you become good. Where does this happen? Primarily in worship where you strengthen yourself in the knowledge of Christ. The Christian who worships weekly feels strong and can resist evil influences. Worship on Sundays.
Step 3: Water yourself with the Word of God. Plants can’t exist for long without water. And a Christian can’t remain strong without God’s word. If you don’t have a daily quiet time, start TODAY. Spend time daily in God’s word—read it, get the Bible app on your phone, listen to the Bible on CD. Hear God speaking directly to you through the Word. Start with the Gospel of John and Psalms. They are the most applicable parts of the Bible. Ask yourself, “Based on what I’ve just read, what does God want me to say, do, or think?” It’s better to read the Word daily for 10 minutes than read it weekly for an hour. You wouldn’t drink water only weekly, so why take in God’s Word only once a week? DAILY is the way to go.
This summer let’s all put our roots down deep into Christ’s living presence.
Blessings on you,
Pastor Ken, Interim Pastor
Someone said to me recently, “ … all’s right with the world.” They meant that once this problem of theirs got fixed, then all would be well.
Actually, the quote is from “Pippa’s Song” by Robert Browning. The full quotation is, “God’s in his heaven--All’s right with the world.” Browning is looking at nature and how everything is working together as God created it. God’s plan is perfect. And when it all comes together we should attribute it to the goodness of God and be thankful.
But it raises a good question, “What does it mean that God’s in his heaven?”
Some folks mean that God is far away from us and our world and that’s a good thing because it means he’s not interfering with human freedom. They think it’s good to be without God, free from his intrusion. We can make of this world what we want it to be.
But this is both naïve and troubling. It is naïve because it assumes human planning is always for the good. And it is troubling because it assumes human activity always brings good. History dispels that myth. Humans act selfishly with malice aforethought much of the time. They act with evil intent. Man’s inhumanity to man is well known.
It is pure folly to believe we can create a good life for ourselves and a good world for others without divine help. This was the first and greatest sin. Adam and Eve rejected God’s offer to order their lives wisely and well. They were saying in essence, “You don’t know what’s best for us, God. We do. So just go away.” Sin entered human life and has wreaked havoc ever since. Only a fool asks God to go away and not bother us.
On the other hand, Biblical faith tells us that God is involved in his creation whether we want him or not—thankfully. He sheds his grace on us even if we don’t believe he exists or don’t want him. Jesus said this in Matthew 5: 45: “God makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Metaphorically, sun and rain are the essence of God’s goodness because in the Middle East they mean life. So atheists and agnostics are blessed by God’s common grace just like believers, though they may not be aware of it or be thankful for it.
The God of the Bible is an intervening God. He works for good with people and nations. He guides human history. He directs those who are willing to listen to his voice. He empowers those who ask his help.
The gift of prayer is God agreeing to enter our world continually and work with us. An isolated God would not bother with prayer. God wants to involve himself with his world because he loves it and us. His sending of Jesus Christ into this life is the proof that he wants to be with us. He forgives us through Christ and saves us. He even puts his Holy Spirit in us to give us peace, purpose and power. Now that’s an intervening God.
So when we say, “God’s in his heaven …” we really mean he’s working things out according to his wise and wonderful plan because of love. Things can be right with the world only when we invite him in. He is above us but also right here with us. THANK GOD!
Ken Shick, Interim Pastor