The last enemy

We fight many battles in our life and so can make or have many enemies, including our enemy the devil, who goes around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Our nation is divided over many important issues and people are going to battle verbally and physically. We often demonize those who oppose us and use every weapon we have to defeat them. We feel strongly and so we fight hard. Many battles must be fought, but there is one enemy we are certain to face and it is imperative that we be prepared to face it.

I was reminded of that battle yesterday as a twenty year old friend of my grandsons faced that enemy.  I have watched Ian do battle on a high-school wrestling mat and cheered for him on many occasions, but this time I took his side by joining with others to pray for him as he fought for his life in a hospital bed with his family at his side. He lost that battle with death yesterday evening – or did he? This battle was different than the times he faced an opponent one to one on a wrestling mat. This time he had someone by his side fighting alongside him, and there is more to the battle than what could be seen in that hospital room.

Jesus Christ came to this earth to do battle on our behalf. He dealt with sickness, with injustice, with bigotry, with poverty, but we think most about that battle he fought on a hill outside of Jerusalem called Calvary.  There he faced that enemy we will all face – death itself. It would appear that he too, lost that battle because he died on a cross in that place. His battle over, and his defeat seeming sure, the crowd that had gathered left except for a few who stayed to put him in a tomb. Just one more man who died and was buried.

Of course, as you well know, the story did not end there. Following his death on Friday Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday. He defeated death! He did so we are told not just for himself but for all who put their faith and trust in him. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about Christ’s resurrection and tells us that those who are “In Christ” have life – eternal life!

Even Jesus battles his and our enemies. He will continue to do so until he defeats each one of them and we are told; “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:25-26 ESV) Death is real and each of us have an appointment to do battle, ” But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57 ESV)

The question for each of us is simple: are we prepared fo the battle we will inevitably be called to fight? Some at a young age, more of us at an old age, but all of us for sure will battle death. We have a choice. We can fight in our own strength and be defeated or we can rely on our Lord Jesus and have victory. he fights for those who are his. Are you?

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

What I needed to hear

I love the Bible – the Word of God! As I turn to it day by day I always find what my soul needs. It truly addresses all of human need. It is a source of wisdom that can be trusted and it is always profitable. I was reminded of that today as I turned to the little book of James. James is that book we turn to when we just need some practical instruction on living well. It is where we go to learn and relearn how to live in relationship with God and other people.

The verse that popped into my head just when I needed it this morning was; ” Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James 1:19 ESV).” I had spent a few minutes on social media and as I observed others talking past each other – brothers and sisters in Christ divided and angry, and I was heartbroken. I wanted to shout this verse to them, but realized that I was the one in need of its instruction.

I so need to develop my listening skills. All too often, instead of focusing on what someone else is saying I am formulating my response as they speak. I don’t try to understand what they are saying because I assume I already know their thoughts. If they use some overused or trite slogan (the kind that tweets well), I almost immediately load it full of baggage that they may not have meant at all. Of course, that tendency comes from a prideful heart that feels he has little to learn.

I need to listen to other people, but the heart of that verse and passage is not just that. The context is clear that most of all I need to listen to the Word of God. Verse 21 commands us to “receive with meekness the implanted word,” and verse 22 elaborates that we must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” While I need to hear what other people are saying, most of all I need to hear what God is saying and act upon His word! This isn’t just an instruction in being a better conversationalist – it is command to listen to my creator.

The second instruction is that we must be “slow to speak.” It is not a command to be silent, but rather to speak only after listening and considering what we have heard. We are often too quick to give our opinion or advise. Verse 26 puts it very directly when it says: ” If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Just as a horse needs to be bridled, my words must be kept under control. Later, in chapter three James warns that not too many should become teachers because we are judged with “greater strictness.” For those of us who speak as a major part of our calling/occupation there is a higher risk of talking too quickly and that is matched with a higher accountability which we must always be aware of.

The third instruction is that we must be “slow to anger.” There is such a thing as righteous anger and we are not told to never be angry – we are to be slow to anger. I must never confuse my anger with God’s. I must also be aware that my angry response will  not change my or another person’s heart. Those who know me well know that I am capable of responding harshly to those whom I differ with strongly. I often need that reminder of verse 20; ” for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Well, those are the words from God that I needed to hear this day. Perhaps you needed them also. If not, you will find what you need this day in the Bible. Be sure to spend some time there.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

My Name

I have an unusual name. When I introduce myself to someone I often say “I’m the only Nord you ever met, and maybe the only Zootman.” The Zootman family is small and I have truly never run across another person named Nord. It has its advantages – I never have to ask which Nord people are talking to, and it is easily remembered. That raises an interesting question though: why do I care if people remember my name? The answer of course is that it feeds my pride. We like it when people know who we are. It makes us feel important that our name is recognized by others.

There is something good about having a “good name,” that is, a good reputation. Ecclesiastes 7:1 says; “A good name is better than precious ointment.”  Because we recognize that truth we often in subtle or not so subtle ways promote our name. We like to have others note our good works, and when others get credit for something positive we have done we are less than happy. That happened to me just the other day when someone was given credit for my work and accepted praise that I thought should go towards me.

I found myself immediately feeling peevish. (I know, it was a childish reaction, but that is where we sometimes are in our thinking). I didn’t say anything, but found myself quite irritated. That is when the Holy Spirit reminded me of a verse I used just last week. In Psalm 103 God is glorified for his ongoing mercy, grace and love and mankind is placed in contrast because of our short lifespan on this globe. Verses 15 and 16 say: ” As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” It was that last phrase that got my attention. There are a lot of places where people have never heard of Nord Zootman, but at Lockport Church everyone knows my name. I have been pastor here for 34 years and they know me in this place.  

As I read that verse I realized afresh that someday people won’t know my name even in this community. As time passes we are forgotten. That shouldn’t sadden us as Christians, because it is not our name that we should be promoting; rather it is the name of Christ Jesus that we pray is impressed on people’s minds and hearts. Scripture says; “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (Phil. 2:10 ESV)” and ” there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 ESV)”

I am glad that He knows my name, but it really isn’t a big deal if you do. He knows the things I have done to serve Him and He knows when I did those things for his names sake or for my own. My name is unusual, but there is no name like his! May we learn to promote the name of Jesus and not our own!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

A Pattern for Peace

I have several Bibles that I have used heavily over the years in ministering to hurting people. They all have a few pages that are worn more than others. Places they just fall open to if you open them close to those particular texts. There are passages like the 23rd Psalm, or Psalm 121, or the end of Isaiah 40 that bring great comfort to God’s children so we read them to each other when we are hurting or fearful.

There is a passage in the New Testament that not only offers comfort in stressful days; it also gives clear direction for coping and moving forward when we face fearful things. Philippians 4:4-9 is a passage that every believer in Christ should know well. If you take time to study and learn it, you will find it is repeatedly helpful as you face the trials of life and the anxiety that results from those trials.

There is a logical pattern to be followed if we want to overcome fear and serve Christ well in this broken world. The first thing we must do is expressed in verses four and five. We must rejoice in the Lord, and do so in a way that is evident to others. It is not referring to some made-up fake happiness, but the joy that is evident when we focus on his great love, his great sacrifice on our behalf, and his great gift of salvation. Thinking about him actually changes our demeanor in a way that others can observe.

The second step in this process is to pray. Having found joy in him it is natural that we should talk to him. We give him thanks for who he is and what he has done and then we ask for his help. We articulate what we want. We are in no position to make demands of our creator, but he has asked us to share our requests with him, knowing that he will deal with them appropriately.

Having prayed, we will experience a peace or calmness that only he can give. It is in that peace that we recognize that we are not going to go crazy. We should acknowledge the reality that his peace will guard our thinking and our emotions. We find relief from our inner struggles.

That sense of well-being and confidence should be used as an occasion to consider what around us is good and wonderful and right. We can get so caught up in the conflicts and struggles in life that we stop seeing the goodness that exists as well. Start by finding it in little things and move to bigger ones. This is not simply sticking our head in the sand to escape the evil in the world and in our hearts. It is a means of recognizing that the evil has not and never will overcome the good. Pain, fear, grief, and frustration may cloud our vision but if we look around we will still discover the goodness and beauty of the Lord.

Too often people reach this level and stop. For us to do well in hard days there is one more instruction found in verse nine. Paul uses himself as an example and calls us to follow his lead. He knew pain, suffering and injustice, but he continued to serve his Lord and proclaim the good news of the gospel to the broken world in which he lived. He promises that if we do the same the “God of peace” will be with us. It is only in actively living for Christ that we experience his presence and peace!

Please take some time before this day is over to read through that passage slowly and determine to follow the pattern laid out there. it will strengthen you and enable you to help those who do not yet know the joy of the Lord.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Time to re-calibrate

We just had to have the windshield in our Camry replaced when it was hit by a rock. It’s been a few years, but I have had that happen on other vehicles. No big deal, just the nuisance of having to call, set up an appointment for them to come out, and of course, pay the deductible on our insurance. On this car, however, I was asked if we had certain options including lane assist (it beeps if you cross a line and actually slightly moves the steering wheel to correct itself). Since we do, and since that operates off of a camera mounted to the windshield in a housing behind the rear view mirror, I was informed that it might have to be re-calibrated by a dealer. If the mount is slightly different the camera angle would be off and it would not be accurate.

That made me start thinking about other things I own or have used that need to be checked and re-calibrated. I have a small scale I use to measure chemicals in my darkroom. It came with a weight so one can check its accuracy and re-calibrate it if necessary. I use some antique cameras, and sometimes their light meter (if they have one) is off. They have to be compared to one that is known to be accurate and re-calibrated. I have three different thermometers in my darkroom and they all read slightly different. I don’t know which is correct, and since I am primarily interested in consistency, I just chose one to use all the time. I had to throw out a level once because it wasn’t level! We have had the gauge checked on Christy’s pressure canner because it could be off without us knowing – not a good thing! Of course, many instruments, like our dulcimers, are often out of tune, so we compare them to a tuner and correct them.

With all of those things and many more there is one common thing that must be done – they have to be compared to a standard. Over time, and with use, things change. Often the change is so small, and so gradual, it is not noticed. Then one day it is obvious that something is wrong and depending upon the object, disaster can occur! The only to prevent that is to regularly check them against a standard and do what is needed to bring them into agreement with the standard. They need to be re-calibrated.

Christians are like that. We embrace truth when we come to Christ, but over time we can begin to move from what we know to be true. The wear and tear of everyday living can have an effect upon our thinking. We can be influenced by our environment as well. If everything in a room is out of level, sometimes it is the level which appears to be off. If another instrument is out of tune how do we know that it ours that is right? We begin to question our judgement. That is not a bad thing because it would be foolish to assume that we are always right. We need a certain, set standard by which we can check our thinking.

That standard is of course, the very word of God – the Bible. The only way I can know for sure that I am not thinking clearly is to compare my thoughts to the unchanging, always correct word of God. It can be helpful to have someone help, because they may have a better perspective, but even then it is important to know that they are comparing my thinking with the Word, not just their own thinking which can also be wrong. Nothing replaces a regular exposure to the Bible – it will tell us when we are wrong and aid us in the necessary re-calibration.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Who’s Watching?

Part of living in this modern world is the realization that our privacy is limited. My cell phone knows exactly where I am on planet earth and it can convey that information to a variety of sources (supposedly only ones I allow). I have an I-pass mounted on the windshield of my car so that I don’t have to stop at toll booths driving around Chicago, but every time I drive through a toll at 60 mph it is taking a picture of me and my license plate and recording the exact time I was there. If you shop for something on the internet you know that ads for that product or something similar start showing up on other pages. Some stores track how long you stand a various places in their building so they can trigger ads for things you looked at. The grocery store Christy shops at sends her coupons for the items she buys regularly because it tracks her purchases. If you are reading this, you are on the internet and the fact that you are on this page is recorded.

I was reminded of all that yesterday when I was looking at last week’s worship service live-stream. I deleted it because we had some audio problems which hopefully have been corrected, but before I did I noted that I had a copyright notification. I was informed that I couldn’t make money off that post (we don’t anyway) because it contained copyrighted material. Even though the audio was horrible YouTube was able to recognize the songs we sang. One contemporary song (His Mercy is More) and one older one (This is My Father’s World) are still under copyright. They were recognized by a program and we were notified. That is pretty cool and pretty weird all at the same time!

That made me think of how as a little boy my parents “kept an eye” on me. I thought of how later in life Christy and I might have wanted to go out as a couple and needed someone to “watch the kids.” We want to protect our children so we make sure we know what they are doing. Sometimes mothers are accused of having eyes in the back of their heads. The goal is not just to catch a child in wrong-doing and condemn them. The goal is to protect the child from harm brought about by their own actions or someone else’s.

There is, of course, someone else who always has his eyes on us. Psalm 33:13 says; “The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man.” That reality should make us fear, and also give us great comfort. Our creator, who controls this world, knows everything we say do or even think. We can’t hide (Ask Adam, Jonah, or David about that), so our sin will always be known. On the other hand how wonderful it is to know that He is watching over us out of his great love. In correcting King Asa, Hanani said; “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Chr. 16:9). Asa had failed because he didn’t rely on the Lord who is always watching to support his children. Whatever you are facing today, know this – He sees you and he knows what you face!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Giving Each Other Some Space

Yesterday we met together as a local church for the second week after our absence from the building due to the COVID-19 shutdown. We had about two thirds of our normal attendance, which was more than we had last week. It was good to see people interacting with one another before and especially after the service. It was also good to see people showing grace and care by maintaining distance from one another even as they enjoyed the fellowship.

Opinions are obviously all over the spectrum when it comes to dealing with the virus. Some see the whole thing as a farce. That group is divided between those who are laughing and those who are angry. Some see this as perhaps one of the greatest catastrophes they have ever dealt with. They are split between those paralyzed by fear and those reacting against some in the first group. There are, of course, many somewhere in the middle of all this that are trying to find the right balance of caution and courage.

As Christians we are called to live by faith, and to face all things confidently knowing that our lord is in control. There are many things that can harm us, but none that can destroy us. On the other hand we are also to live our lives wisely; and our Lord reminded us as he was being tempted by Satan to not test God. That’s why I fix the brakes on my car when they need it. If can be a fine line between faith and foolishness.

The problem is that we do not all draw that line in exactly the same place. We all agree at the end of the day we just need to trust God, and we also would agree that we should use the brains the good Lord gave us; but there is a lot of gray area in the middle of the extremes. That is why we must find the right balance as we relate with one another. We need to give each other a little “space” to disagree and still walk in unity.

Paul expressed that balance in ministry we are to have when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica and said: “And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). There are some who need to be encouraged to not just sit on their hands, but to be active (even in a physically limited way) in serving the Lord and serving others. Some are discouraged – perhaps even depressed. They don’t need a lecture; they need to be comforted with the reminder that they are safe in Christ’s hand. Some are weak and they need us to help them and perhaps carry their load for a while.

Most of all, we need to follow the admonition at the end of that verse and be patient with each other. We may not be able to understand what someone else is thinking or how they are responding to this, or a hundred other issues of life, but we need to give each other time and space to grow. I am sure glad that the Lord (and many others) has been patient with me!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Good days in the midst of hard days

Our family has been fortunate. While many are struggling with the effects of COVID-19 either physically or financially, we have had little to deal with. None of us have contracted the virus. I am still receiving my salary from the church, and all my children and grandchildren are still employed (although two at a lower rate). We have seven children, five of whom are married, and eighteen grandchildren, one of whom is married and expecting our first great-grandchild. I will help you with the math. Counting spouses there are 33, soon to be 34 of us. We are all well and certainly well fed. God has blessed us greatly!

We have certainly had difficult days in the past – dealing with severe illnesses, financial hardships, loss, and grief. There is also the reality that we may face such things again. We are reminded of that in so many ways; even tomorrow my wife Christy needs to go in for a scan to check for recurrence of her cancer, but this is a good day!

We learned a lot in those hard days. We learned to call upon the Lord for basic needs and for life itself. We learned to make Him the priority of our life. We learned that His grace was sufficient for each day and that He would take care of us and provide all we needed. We learned to live life a day at a time and that when we faced things too big to handle He was there to carry the load we could not. I don’t want to repeat them, but the hard times were good for us and were times of growth.

The question on my mind this morning was; “how are we handling the good times?” In these days when there are those around us hurting in profound ways and we are not, how should we react, and what should our response be? I would suggest at least three biblical responses:

We should be thankful. James 1:17 reminds us that: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” If I am experiencing blessing, it is only right and proper that I thank the giver of the gifts I enjoy. I am grateful for the Lord’s blessing.

We should be humble. Scripture and experience make it very clear that I am a sinner, and as such I deserve judgment and condemnation. I am a recipient of grace. I haven’t earned what I have received, it was given to me even though I don’t reserve it. I’m a beggar who found bread and that is humbling.

Thirdly, my response should be that of repentance – turning from sin and self and focusing on the one who has chosen to bless me even though I don’t deserve it. We read in Romans 2:4; ” Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The realization of His goodness makes me all the more aware that He must be central in my thoughts and actions. I turn from other wants and desires to a new desire to serve Him and Him alone.

I don’t know whether this is a good day or a horrible dark day for you as you read these words. I pray God’s blessing and grace be evident to you. But I also recommend that whatever this day is like, you turn in a fresh, new way to the one who loved you and sent His Son to die for you and I!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

On Separation

A year ago if someone told me I needed to practice social distancing they would have seen a puzzled look on my face. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue as to what they were referring. It is now a common expression on signs, in the news, in serious contexts and as a joke. We have learned in a very short period of time to stay apart from one another. As I walk down to the post office to get our mail each morning it is now second nature to step off the sidewalk if one of my neighbors is approaching from the other direction. We stop and talk, but the radius of expected personal space has increased.

The current situation to which we have adjusted is new, but there is nothing new or novel about separation or isolation. Some people have had physical issues that required them to be isolated or quarantined to protect others or for their own safety. Some, like my oldest daughter and her husband, have gone through lengthy times of separation because of deployment in the military. Others have lived in cultures that are not their own and have been isolated by customs, language, race, and religion. Far too many have experienced the heartbreak of a marriage and a family that has been split in two by divorce.

As I write this my mind is also on a great, painful type of separation. This afternoon I will be standing with a family beside a grave as they bury one they love. Most who are reading this know the pain of the death of a loved one. The realization that at least in this world; you can never see, speak to, or hear one you love is hard. You may have walked together for many years but the grave reminds you that you have gone as far as you can on the journey they are traveling. You know that by God’s good grace you will adjust, but it is a difficult path you now will walk. I still remember the words of a good friend ten years after his wife died: “Nord, I have learned to be alone, but I have never learned to like it.”

Death is certainly the great separation. That is why it is so tragic to learn that we are born dead. The Bible is clear that we are spiritually still-born. As we draw our first breath and let out our first cry we are already isolated from our creator. We have inherited a sin nature that we will demonstrate with our words and actions as we grow. It creates an empty place in our heart that we learn to live with, but there is always a yearning in the back of our mind for a relationship that we can’t have.

There is a chasm between us and our Lord and there is nothing we can do to make that relationship right. That is why it is such wonderful news to learn that he did what we could not. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Jesus came to deal with the sin that separates us from God. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay so that we could actually become the children of God. If we simply rely on what he has done and trust in him alone, we find ourselves in a position to rejoice that nothing can separate us from the love of God (see Romans chapter eight). In a world of living at a distance from those we love what a wonderful reality that we are in the arms of the one who loves us most!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Out of date?

If you happen to be on face book I am sure that you have seen many posts that show a picture of an object and say something like; “Do you know what this is? Like if you do and share if you have ever used it.” Sometimes I think “how could anyone not know what that is?” but then I remember that I am not exactly young. Some of the objects are still regularly used in some circles, others are simply obsolete. Some things were once needful tools and now serve as decorations hanging on a wall.

Some things have always had a limited use. I think of a few specialized tools that I still have, but will probably never use again. Some things get thrown in a tool box or a drawer “just in case” even though the chances of using them are nil. I think I still have a couple of tools needed to set the valve timing and injection pump on a 1970’s Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel. If you need them give me call and they are yours.

We not only accumulate things that become useless, we also may spend a fair amount of time developing skills that are no longer needed. Some things are just no longer done by anyone, and some other skills may have been good at one time in our life but are not related to our current jobs. I paid the rent and bought food for my family by developing abilities I haven’t used in years. It is good to remember that life changes and so do the skills we need to live well in our current circumstances. Some things are important to know for the present, but will not always be significant.

There are, however, some things that will always be useful and some skills that will never lose their value. God’s word is eternal, and an understanding of it will be valuable for all time. Relationships may change, but the need to relate well with others is something we will always need. Learning to worship and praise our Lord is valuable, because we will do that in a new heaven and new earth if we have trusted Christ as our savior.

There is little more tragic than to think of someone spending their whole lives focused on the temporary instead of the eternal. Be sure to distinguish between the two. Your future depends on it!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord