Grace – hard to receive and hard to give!

Grace – we love that word! We enjoy singing songs like; “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” and “He Giveth More Grace,” and “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” and “Saved by Grace,” and of course “Amazing Grace.” We use the word in a variety of ways, but among Christians its primary focus is the unmerited favor bestowed upon us by a loving God. We often quote Ephesians 2:8-9: ” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9 ESV).” We treasure the concept of grace because it is at the heart of the gospel. It is our only hope as we stand before a righteous holy judge.

Why is it then, so hard to receive and extend grace to others? Receiving grace is hard, because it is humbling. The greatest offense of the gospel of Christ is that we have to admit that we are sinners – we are not good enough to merit heaven or anything else. We like to see ourselves as imperfect, but basically good; as needing help, but still able to accomplish our own righteousness.” The thought of “saved by grace” is a struggle because we don’t like to think we need to be rescued at all.

If it is that hard for us to admit need and receive grace from a holy God, it is doubly hard to receive grace from another human being. We are forced to recognize that we cannot measure up to God’s standards (perfection), but we would like to believe that we are at least better than other people. The idea of receiving forgiveness and grace from another sinner is just too humbling. we think we are the ones who should give grace, not receive it!

On the other hand, we find it hard to extend grace to other people. They don’t deserve it and often don’t appreciate it. We want to be rewarded by their gratitude, and when that isn’t forthcoming we can quickly become angry with them. But here is the problem; the very definition of grace is centered in the reality that it is extended to those who are undeserving. If they deserved it, it would not be grace. For us to emulate our Lord we must show grace especially to those who are unworthy.

We are called to receive the grace that our Lord provides, and then extend that to others in our human relationships. It is only when we see our own great need that we can dispense grace to those around us.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

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Wishing

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

I still remember hearing Perry Como sing those words on the radio when I was a boy.  We all knew why you would want a falling star, because you can make a wish on a falling star! It has to be as effective as those wishes you make right before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake. Or perhaps it fits with “I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”  If your childhood was like mine those words or something similar were part of growing up. You never really counted on that stuff, but you still kind of hoped it was true.

Part of maturing is realizing that we don’t expect to get what we want or need simply by wishing. Yet, I often hear adults wish for things. Sometimes it is expressed as something we “hope” for. “I hope I get a raise,” “I hope I find a mate,” “I hope we can buy a house,” “I hope my kids turn out alright,” “I hope I pass this exam,” or even “I hope I don’t get caught.” All those can simply be expressing a desire without any plan of how to acquire them. I still remember telling my doctor that I knew I needed to lose some weight.  His response was simply; “So what is your plan?” I said “wishful thinking” and he wasn’t impressed.

Recently in a deacons meeting we were discussing David Platt’s book “Follow Me” (I highly recommend that book to Christians). His last chapter lists six areas of our Christian life and he guides the reader to list specific steps we are planning to take as we follow Christ. One of the men mentioned how often he encounters people who don’t seem to comprehend the difference between a wish and a goal. People really want their life to be better. Christians really want to be more like Christ, and to obey His commands, but they often just wish. The difference is that part of setting a goal is establishing a plan to achieve that goal.

At this point you might be thinking, “What about prayer? Aren’t we just supposed to ask God for these things and then trust Him?” My answer is simple – prayer should always be the first step of our plan right alongside our searching scripture to see if our goal is even a valid one to have. God does respond to prayer and does do what we cannot do ourselves, but he still expects us to Plan and work as well! Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds us that we are saved by grace, not by our own effort, but then it adds that we were saved to do the works God has planned for us. That thought is expressed concerning our life as believers in Philippians 2:12-13. We work, knowing that God is at work in our hearts and lives. We don’t place our confidence in our own effort, but we do put forth effort!

My challenge to you is simple. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in your life. Be specific. Then ask God to help you consider how to get from where you are to where you need to be. Formulate a plan. Pray for His strength to do so, and then begin to do the first step in your plan. Be willing to alter your plan as God works in you, and you truly can be what He has called you to be!

Blessings,

Pastor Nord

Looking at the snow

Today I feel quite fortunate! As I write this the snow is falling outside. It is a day when, barring some emergency, I don’t need to go anywhere. Thanks to technology, I don’t even need to go to my study. As long as I have my laptop with me I have a large library at my disposal and I can study anywhere. I am privileged to be inside by a fire and to thoroughly enjoy looking out at the snow. As I do so I am reminded of some important truths.

First, not everyone experiences the same event the same way. My son often works outside and has been doing so the last couple of weeks. He is probably not nearly focused on the beauty of this day. My grandchildren are home as school was canceled and are excited about that, but some of their cousins are homeschooled and may be a tad envious! Road crews and police officers are most likely not thrilled to see more white stuff falling from the sky. It is a good reminder that in all of life I should be sensitive to how others are affected by things that I love or dread.

I am also reminded that little things add up. One snowflake doesn’t change anything, but enough of those tiny things can change our life. One little sin doesn’t seem to matter, but they tend to grow and affect many others. One small kindness may seem insignificant, but when combined with others can have a powerful impact.

Thirdly, I considered how beauty can be deceptive and dangerous. I will probably venture out in a little while to snap some pictures because our whole neighborhood is transformed into a work of art. At the same time I am aware that this snow storm could prove deadly to those driving or for someone lost outside, and the beauty can quickly turn to a truly terrifying experience. In many area of life, what seems so attractive to us can destroy us.

In a similar manner I am also reminded that ugliness can be covered up, but that doesn’t remove it. A pile of trash disappears when it snows, but it will be there in the spring. Sometimes we try to “cover up” things in our life, but they reappear later, often uglier than they were when we tried to hide them. Covering up never replaces cleaning up.

But perhaps the greatest lesson that I am reminded of is the wonderful scripture that tells us that our sin can be washed as white as snow. Not just covered over, but truly cleansed! By Christ’s grace my heart can truly be pure! What a blessing!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Celebration of Conflict?

On October 31 we celebrate something that we usually go out of our way to avoid in the church. I’m not talking about Halloween or All Saints day. I am speaking of the reformation. Some groups recognize reformation day every year sometimes having a reformation day party as a Halloween party substitute, but it is getting a lot more attention this year as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. While there had been conflict in the church for some time, that action ignited a conflict that would change Christendom.  It began a great conflict that would have repercussions right up to our current day.

As Protestants we celebrate that conflict because we view it as a necessary correction. The church had lost sight of the true gospel of Christ. The message of salvation by grace alone through Christ alone by faith alone needed to be declared afresh. The overarching authority of scripture alone needed to be re-established all for the glory of God alone. It was and is a good thing. We rejoice in the courage of those who fought in that conflict, and yet we often go to great lengths to avoid conflict in our own day.

There are some legitimate reasons to avoid conflict. Jesus commanded our unity in John 15 and prayed for it in John 17. In Proverbs 10:12 we read: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” And of course Peter refers to that as well. We know the danger of divisive people who can destroy a local church. Certainly most of us don’t want to be bitter, angry, and hyper-critical. We take serious ly what Paul wrote to Titus; “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” (Titus 3:9-10 ESV).

All that being said; there is a proper place and an important role for controversy. There are at least three positive aspects of conflict referenced in scripture. The first is that it is a means of personal growth. Proverbs 27:17 states; “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” My understanding is improved when I am challenged by someone who disagrees with me. I am forced to examine my beliefs and defend them. I grow because sometimes I have needed to adjust my thinking and other times I have thought though issues on a deeper level. There is value in reading and conversing with those who challenge me.

A second reason that conflict can be good is that it can correct not only wrong thinking, but wrong behavior. In Matthew 18:15-17 we are given a pattern to follow when we have a brother or sister who is living in unrepentant sin. Too often we are unwilling to get involved and to challenge them to consider their sin, and yet the instructions are crystal clear. We are to go to them to personally (and lovingly) help them to see their error and correct their behavior. If that fails we are to enlist the help of someone else, and as a last resort, to involve the church as a whole. It is clear that if we don’t follow that practice as individuals and as a church, we are not caring for each other as we should.

The third area in which conflict is essential is when we are dealing with false teachers. When we refuse to point out the serious error of false doctrine we harm the church. It is unpopular to identify someone by name as being a false teacher, but scripture is clear that if we do not, the church can suffer great harm (2Pet. 2:1; 1Tim. 4:1; Jude 4). We have a responsibility to point out serious error and to separate from it. That is exactly what happened in the Reformation.

I appreciate the desire to get along and I certainly treasure unity. But let us be careful not to let our desire for peace to keep us from necessary conflict. Sometimes that is what the church needs!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Unique

Often, when I introduce myself to someone I give them my name and then say, “I’m the only Nord you have ever met.” I sometimes add, “You probably haven’t met many Zootmans either.” That usually produces a smile and an agreement from the other person.  My name is certainly unique, but so am I! You are unique as well. It doesn’t matter if there were two other people in your class with the same name or if you, like me, have never met another person with the same name. There is no one like you!

In Psalm 139 David describes how God has formed him and knows him: “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” (Ps. 139:1-4 ESV). Scripture is replete with references to the reality that God knows our inner thoughts (Psalm 44:21; 94:11; Proverbs 5:21; John 2:24-25). That truth is sobering because we can’t hide anything from him and is encouraging because he truly understands us.

It is interesting that at the end of Psalm 139 David asked God to search him to know his heart and to know his thoughts. From what he wrote earlier David obviously knows that God already knows him, but this request I think implicitly includes the idea that David wants God to reveal to David the things that are in his heart. One of our tasks if we want to live well for the Lord is to understand our own heart. We also are given the task of communicating God’s truth to others and the better we understand them the better we will fulfill that task. I still remember the words of one of my professors 45 years ago when he said that understanding our message is only half of the preparation to teach, the other half is we need to understand our audience.  Understanding people (ourselves and others) is essential to living well.

There are many things that make us unique as individuals. We are each “hard-wired” a little different from each other. It can be fun to take a simple personality test and compare the results with other family members or friends. One online test that is free can be found at 16personalities.com. Spend some time there learning about yourself and each other. We are not only born with different personalities, we have been born into different families, cultures, and subcultures. Different economic and social status has molded and shaped us as well as such obvious things as race and geographic location. Even within a family we all showed up at different times (unless we have a twin). Dr. Kevin Lehman has written extensively about how birth order shapes us as individuals as well.

While we are all very different from each other, we are also each created in the image of God. The fall of mankind described in Genesis three has marred that, but it still exists. Since God is infinite, it is not surprising that his image would be expressed in many different ways. We know of God through the perfect revelation of his word and his son, but we also gain insight as we see him in his creation – human beings! It is a great and worthwhile quest to know ourselves and to know others even as we, most of all, desire to know God!

In Christ

Pastor Nord

Soul Rest

I just finished an enjoyable week of vacation and truly feel rested. It was actually a “staycation” as we didn’t vacate the premises, we simply stayed home. We had some things around the house that needed done and some things we just wanted to do locally. I told someone about our plans and they said: “that doesn’t sound like much of a vacation to me.” That brings up an interesting question – how can working on our house be restful?

Rest often comes not by ceasing activity, but by changing activity. We certainly need physical rest (and I did sleep in a couple of days), but often we need our minds and hearts refreshed and our soul renewed. That comes by sitting aside our normal work and enjoying our Lord. We do that by focusing on him, his word, and the many great gifts he has given us. Working on the house can be physically exhausting, as can extended travel, camping, hunting, sightseeing, and a variety of other typical vacation activities. Yet that “change of pace” refreshes us. We come back to our work with a new energy. employers recognize the value of giving their employees time off as productivity increases.

This rhythm of work and rest is built into our very nature. we are created in the image of God who worked (created) and rested. He rested not because he was exhausted, but to reflect on what he had done. It was a pattern he established for us. Of course, after the sin and fall of mankind in Genesis 3 our work became much more difficult and rest is desperately needed. That is why the Lord established a weekly rest from normal activity – a Sabbath.  It was instituted because of our need, and we cannot ignore that principle of life and function well. We benefit from vacations, but we need that weekly change of pace to focus on our Lord and our life.

There is as well a different kind of rest that everyone of us needs. We need the restoration of our souls that only comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. We grow weary of pain, struggle, conflict, failure, and most of all sin. It is a weight we carry with us through life, but it doesn’t have to be so. Jesus said;  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

Note that Jesus does not call us to a cessation of activity. He calls us to exchange a heavy burden for a light yoke. As we come to him there is much we are called to do, but we will find that our souls are wonderfully refreshed as we now work for him. We are saved by his grace, not by anything we do, but we are saved for “good works.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is in the activities that he  now gives us that we find the rest we truly need.

Don’t make the mistake that many have in thinking that coming to Jesus means you no longer work. That is the spiritual equivalent of not physically working but sitting in a hospital waiting room. You find yourself still exhausted. If you have not yet placed your faith in Christ alone for salvation do that first, but then explore the activities he call us to do. In that work you will find great rest!

In Christ

Pastor Nord

More than good social advice

We all know the feeling of walking into a large room filled with tables and wondering, “where should I sit?” It may be a wedding reception, or a banquet, or a conference. We have learned to look for place cards with names on them. If those exist, it then becomes a simple matter of trying to find our name. If there aren’t cards we begin to evaluate the room. If there is going to be music do I want to be close or further away from the speakers? (That may also depend on what type of music is being played). Where will the speaker be standing? I want to be able to hear. Where are the kitchen doors? I may not want to hear all the kitchen noise. If there is a bar, I might not want to deal with the traffic back and forth. If hungry, we might even quickly evaluate which tables will be served first. Of course, if there is a close friend already seated we may want to sit by them if there is room at their table (or maybe there is someone we want to avoid).

Some people want to hide in the back, but others want to be noticed. They especially want to be seen sitting with “the right people.” That is the group that caught Jesus eye as he was invited to a feast. He speaks about that in Luke 14:7-11. His basic instruction would be, “don’t sit at the head table unless you are instructed to do so.” It would be embarrassing for someone to assume they are to be at the head table, to sit down and perhaps begin to enjoy a beverage and make small talk with the other people there, and then to have someone come up and ask them to move to the back because they are in someone else’s seat! It is always better to be asked to move up rather than be asked to move back.

That is good social advice, but Jesus is not just helping us learn etiquette and avoid embarrassment.  He uses that situation to teach an important spiritual principle. In verse eleven he says, ” For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  He is referring to our standing before God. If we approach the Lord hoping he will notice how significant or good we are, he will help us see our true condition by humbling us. If on the other hand, we recognized that we are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God except our empty hands and great need, he will lift us up in his grace. That is the point James makes in James 4:6 where he states, ” But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” A few verses later he instructs us: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Isaiah says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15).

It is good to learn to reign in our self-promotion in social settings, but it is essential to recognize that our pride will separate us from our creator and savior! “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV).