Taking God at His Word

Remember that old gospel song, “Standing on the Promises?” I remember a rejoinder to that which said, “You can’t stand on the promises if you don’t what they are.” The point that was being made was that we need to know and understand the Bible – God’s word. People often think they know what God has promised based upon their own assumptions, and are often frustrated that God didn’t keep a promise that he never made! Other times people are insecure because they are not aware of God’s marvelous provision for them and their future as it is spelled out in the Bible. In short, we need to actually pay attention to what God has said.

I think that there is, however, an even deeper issue that prevents us from living confident lives dependent on our creator. Even when we understand with great clarity what the Lord has proclaimed, we just don’t believe him!  Satan’s words to Eve in the garden speaks volumes; “Did God actually say…” We have struggled with that same thought over and over. We are called to simply trust him (and it is a reasonable trust), but we usually want him to give us some upfront guarantee that he will do what he says. God says “follow me” and we want to see a map of where he is taking us. We would kind of like some travel insurance for the trip!

People pray for a sign, rather than simply trusting God’s word and his character.  One example of that is found in Exodus 3 when God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush. God tells Moses that he is sending him to Pharaoh to rescue Israel and Moses doubts that he is the man for the job. He is perhaps hoping for some miracle that would confirm God’s word and guarantee success. (Even though he is seeing the burning bush not consumed and is actually hearing the voice of God!)

God’s response is interesting: He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exod. 3:12 ESV) The Lord promises that He will accompany Moses, and the sign will be that the mission will be successful – they will worship God on that mountain one day after they leave Egypt. The promise is to be accepted as true, and the evidence will be seen as Moses looks back on what God will accomplish.

Is God good? Will He do what he says? To use an often misquoted old saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.” Trust his word, rely on his presence, and you will be able to look back and say “God did exactly what he said he would do.” Remember his promise to Moses and his promise in Hebrews 13: 5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

A Prayer for Today

Heavenly Father,

As this crisis continues we do not pray for understanding, because we recognize that there is much that is beyond our grasp. You are far above us, and your thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are your ways are ways. We have no right to demand or expect explanations. You do not owe us that, nor have you promised that in your word.

We recognize that any such explanation would not satisfy. Like Job, we may think that it would, but you never explained your actions to him. You simply reminded him of your glory, majesty, and might, and that satisfied his soul. Knowing why does not remove pain and frustration, because to us who cannot understand, the explanation is never enough.

As those who are your children though faith in your Son, we ask for protection. Even as we ask, we understand that you allow your children to suffer. We simply claim your promise that nothing can separate us from your great love. We claim the promise that no-one can pluck us out of your hand. We claim the assurance that whatever happens in this short time on earth we have an eternal home with you in a new earth and a new heaven.

Please remind us of your presence. May we have the peace of knowing that when we hurt, you hurt for us and with us.  May we rest in the reality that your commitment to your children has no end. Help us to know you, and keep us from doubting your love, wisdom, or power.

Please use these stressful days to mold and shape us into the image of your Son. May our thinking reflect his, whose love for others exceeded his love for himself when he sacrificed himself on the cross. We ask that your Spirit would enable us to live in such a way that people around us would not praise us, but would praise you.

In the name of you Son and our Savior, Jesus,

Amen

Reasons to Worship

Even though we can’t worship together right now, we need to continue to worship The Lord privately. Once we are able to be together again, our worship together will be a reflection of what our worship apart has been. If you need a reminder or some instruction on how and why you should worship the Lord, I recommend that you read and meditate a little on Psalm 100.

The psalm consists of four stanzas. The first and third tells us how to worship, and the second and fourth tell us why we should worship. If we understand why we worship, it is easy to praise Him.

Stanza one is found in verses one and two: ” A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Ps. 100:1-2 ESV) Note the underlined words. Make a joyful noise – we should praise the Lord verbally. We need to speak to those around us and we need to speak our praise to Him. He enjoys our verbal praise. We need to serve Him with gladness. Think of ways you can serve the Lord by ministering to one another even when we are apart. We need to come into His presence. In Hebrews 4 we are told that we can approach His throne confidently because we come through His son, our Lord Jesus. Recognize that if you have trusted Christ, God is not far off. You can speak to Him as one who is standing before you.

Stanza two tells us why we should worship Him with our voice, our hands, and our presence: ” Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” (Ps. 100:3 ESV) We recognize that he is God – the supreme being who is alone worthy of praise. We praise Him because He is our creator. We glorify Him because through faith in His Son He has made us “His people,” and He protects and provides for us as his sheep.

Stanza three returns to a command to worship: ” Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Ps. 100:4 ESV) The focus of our worship here is being thankful. We are to express gratitude. That is easy to do when things are going well, but much harder when we are going through difficult days like the ones we currently face.

The final stanza gives us three reasons to be thankful: ” For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100:5 ESV) Notice that He is good. It is not just that He does good things, but His very being is characterized as good. His steadfast love translate the Hebrew word “hesed” (or chesed). It is a loyal love – the kind of love that exists in a family. It is an expression of a commitment or even obligation that comes out of relationship. If we have trusted Jesus as our savior, God is our father and he takes that role very seriously! That is why we can be sure of His faithfulness year after year, generation after generation. He will never leave His family or forsake his children. Even though we go through uncertain days, we do so being fully aware of His great love and close presence.

Take a few minutes to read through that short little psalm again. Spend some time considering what it says about our God. Put you trust in Him through the work of His Son, and then give Him glory with you words, actions,  presence, and thanksgiving!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Songs of Hope and Confidence

We have been recently reading through the “songs of ascent” (Psalms 120 – 134) for our scripture reading during Sunday morning worship. Several times a year the people of Israel would travel to Jerusalem to worship the Lord in the temple. As they met up with family and friends going up to Jerusalem they would sing these psalms together. There was a mixture of joy and sadness, as they were glad to see each other again, but were aware of the problems within their nation.

When we are once again able to be together in corporate worship we will resonate with the words of Psalm 122:1, “A Song of Ascents. Of David. I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” It is good even now to look forward to that day, reminding ourselves that our current situation is indeed only temporary.

It is good as well to learn from one of those other psalms – Psalm 131:

A Davidic song of ascents.

LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.

I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me.

2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.

3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3 CSB)

This is a time to come to the Lord with humility. This virus remind us how dependent we are. A few weeks ago we thought we could handle anything that came our way. We might have even said that “God will never give us more than we can handle.” We must recognize that is not a true statement unless we add, “with His help.” We need the Lord! This is a time to recognize our constant need of His grace which He so willingly supplies.

This is a time to calm down. The psalmist uses the analogy of a mother calming her toddler. When a little one is hurt or scared, a mother may offer some explanation, but most of all just reminds the child through her hugs that he is safe in her presence. So we comfort ourselves (literally “our souls”) by reminding ourselves who our heavenly Father is and of the great love He has for us.

This is also a time to express hope – not just hope in our leaders or our technology and ability, but in our Savior. We know His power, we know His Love, we know His wisdom, so as David encourages Israel; “put your hope in the Lord, both now and forever.” If we have trusted His son He is with us now and always will be!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

A Proper Perspective

Today I am thinking about perspective. Sometimes I think about that as I pursue my hobby of photography, but today I have something else in mind. One of the definitions for perspective listed by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.”

If you have spent any time at all on social media, or even in casual conversations, you are well aware that a proper perspective is hard to achieve. It is truly amazing how people can take a small slight and turn it into a major attack. Other times they may minimize the pain, suffering, or danger others are in.  Some people have the perception that if you don’t agree with them on any given issue, you must be attacking them. Sometimes people “make a mountain out of a molehill,” and other times they refuse to see how large an issue truly is.

The current crisis has produced many examples of the problem of perspective. Some people are angry because their vacation plans got changed. Some are hoarding supplies like the world is about to end. Some see it as an inconvenience, others sitting at home without a paycheck are panicking. Add to that mixture all the stuff that is thrown around in an election year and we truly have many who have lost perspective – they can’t see straight.

Sometimes it is hard to see properly and we judge things wrongly. The solution? We need an accurate standard to lay alongside the situation. When I am not sure if a picture I am hanging is straight, I pull out my little level. It gives an accurate readout and I can adjust accordingly. For the believer the standard is the Word of God – The Bible. For the person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ (and in Him alone) we find many statements that help us measure our present circumstances. The apostle Paul suffered greatly, but then said; ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 ESV) It truly is a matter of perspective.

One of the Puritans, Robert Parker, penned this prayer over 400 years ago. It is still appropriate.

A MIDDAY PRAYER FOR PERSPECTIVE

Show me how to love the word, that my bold love for you would increase.

Remind me that the fashions of the world pass away, and their momentary glory will vanish into emptiness and nothing.

Draw my heart to you and set my mind on things that will last forever.

Help me love you fiercely, and cleave to you with a perfect heart. may nothing here satisfy my soul.

Protect me through the rest of this day, that I may fall into no temptation, and no danger of soul or body, for the sake of Jesus Christ my blessed Redeemer. Amen.

(Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, copyright 2019 Robert Elmer, page 272)

Praying for you all,

Pastor Nord

When it gets personal

Our perception of this current crisis that we face, like all others, changes when it gets personal. When we personally know someone affected by a disaster it resonates very differently within our soul. We may care for people in general and have sympathy for their plight, but things change greatly when “one of our own” is hurting or in danger.

When this virus hit China, I prayed for the people there, but my great concern was for Danielle, a young woman from our church who is teaching at a school there. I was privileged to perform her parents wedding and have known and loved her for her entire life. It changed the way I was praying. When Israel was feeling the impact of the virus I was concerned for Robynne, a good friend that lives there and prayed consistently for that nation.

This morning I learned that David Deford was in ICU on a ventilator and had tested positive for Covid-19. Our church has supported David for many years as a missionary to Native Americans. Christy and I have shared meals with him and his sweet wife Becky (who is currently quarantined) on several occasions. My concern level for him is high and my prayers are intensified for them, but also for others who are in a similar situation.

Relationship matters! It changes our view on many circumstances. That is why I am so glad we have a God of relationship. As Father, Son, and Spirit he has existed for all eternity in relationship; and he has invited us to be part of that relationship. He sent his son (who willingly came) to be a sacrifice for our sin so that we could live in relationship with him. He promises: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (Jn. 1:12 ESV). Jesus instructed us who have placed our trust in him to pray to God as “our father.”

In these troubled days it is important to understand that we don’t have a God who is far off, instead we have one who desire to be in relationship with us. Having trusted his son, we have been adopted into his family. As he sees our pain, fear, and anxiety, he is moved because we are family and relationship matters!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Pray AND Plan

Today as I am setting in my study, my mind keeps going to the example of a man who lived in Persia about 2500 years ago. A very different time and place, and yet there is much we can learn from Nehemiah as we deal with our current national and global crisis.  Nehemiah was not concerned about the attack of a virus, but he was aware and concerned about the very real threat of enemy forces surrounding Jerusalem, which was without defenses (their walls had been destroyed and never rebuilt).

To properly develop that whole story would take longer than this short article. You can read the account in the Bible in the book of Nehemiah. What I want to direct your focus towards is that Nehemiah was a man of faith and a great strategist. He was a man of prayer and a man of planning and action. We need to learn from his example.

Christians in our country today largely move towards one of two extremes. Some say we just need to cry out to the Lord and He will save us from this disease. They feel that it is our faith that will bring victory in this conflict. Some even feel that they are somehow exempt from infection because of their faith. There is a second group that act as if it is just something we can solve on our own. They feel we must rely on human ingenuity and effort. If we work hard enough and spend enough of our resources we can surely find a cure and prevent great harm. Both of those views are deficient!

Nehemiah was a governmental official in Persia. He was humanly in a position of influence and power, yet when he recognized the serious plight of his people in Jerusalem the very first thing he did was pray. He understood that victory over the situation would only come if God chose to act. His prayer was one of confession of national failure and requested that the Lord show the mercy He had promised Israel. It was a humble prayer knowing that God was the only solution.

However, Nehemiah did much more than pray. He researched what it would take in terms of materials, funds, and man-hours. When the door opened for him to make a request of the king of Persia he knew what to ask. When he arrived at Jerusalem he did not make any proclamation as to what they should do until he had opportunity to quietly examine the need and develop a plan. It was a plan that would need to be altered as the project went forward and opposition increased. We read In 4:9, “So we prayed to our God and stationed a guard because of them day and night.” The opposition grew stronger so by the next chapter they are carrying a load in one hand and a weapon in the other.

As we face a very different crisis we must understand that balanced strategy, we must first humble ourselves and pray. The Lord will assist us as we recognize and declare our dependence on Him. That does not mean that we then sit back and wait for Him to work. He has given us brains and abilities and expects us to use those gifts. We must take seriously our role in planning and readjusting those plans even as we continue to pray. May the Lord bless our efforts as we look to Him to give us aide!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Choosing to stay apart

As a pastor, I am usually trying to help people know the value of meeting together regularly if they are Christians – part of what the Bible calls the “body of Christ.” The Lord created us to function best in relationship: relationship with Him and with each other. I have been told in the past by several people that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.” That is true, but it certainly makes you a better Christian! That is why we are commanded; ” And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24-25 ESV).

Why then, have we decided not to meet this Sunday? Is it fear or lack of faith? Is it because we don’t think it is important to meet together? No, and no: There are two reasons we are choosing not to meet.

The first reason is that our governmental leaders are asking us not to meet. Romans 13 instructs us to submit to our leaders, and the greater context of scripture would tell us that they are only to be disobeyed when they command us to go against the very word of God. They are not asking us to do this permanently (if so it might be right to practice civil disobedience). This is just for a short while.

The second and greater reason is that we are told to love God first, but also to love our neighbors; ” And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk. 12:30-31 ESV) While I may be healthy and/or willing to take the risk of contracting the virus, I may pass it on to someone who is not.

This is certainly not the first time that the church has faced such decisions. When the black death  was devastating lives in Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther had strong words: “It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.” Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 43, p. 131). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

I am not equating the severity of the current pandemic to that of the black death in the 1520’s but Luther’s words still are worth considering. We have what he did not, modern means of communication. We can and should be taking advantage of our phones, tablets, and computers to continue to encourage one another until we can do so face to face.

Blessings

Pastor Nord

The joy of the Lord is your strength

Several years ago I was faced with some discouraging days in ministry. I will not share the circumstances that led to that, but I was left feeling very alone and discouraged. In the midst of those days, a good friend reminded me of the words of Nehemiah; “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It was a truth I could cling to in hard days and difficult nights.

That same truth can be encouraging to you as well in these days when you may be feeling isolated, and may be concerned about your future. It is, however, like all of scripture, only really powerful if it is rightly understood and applied. If it is simply a slogan to put on coffee cups, cards, and posters, it will have little lasting value. It is not some mantra we chant until we feel better. It is helpful to remember the context.

The words were spoken in a great public assembly in Israel. The people had returned from a long time of exile and suffering and were glad to be back in their family homes. They had gone a long time without hearing the Word of the Lord, but now it was being read and explained to them. That resulted in tears – perhaps because of their awareness of sin, but also from their realization that they had a God who had lovingly reveled himself to them through his word.

Reminding them that it was a unique and special day, Nehemiah said; “”Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10 ESV) The response of the people comes two verses later: “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Neh. 8:12 ESV)

In difficult days the source of strength and joy is not in posting and repeating religious slogans (even Bible verses). That is shallow and short-lived. Powerful lasting joy comes when we know our God who has revealed Himself to us in His word. If you are struggling, read the Bible! If you don’t know where to begin read the gospel of John which speaks of God’s great love. If you are a Christian the book of Philippians will remind you of the joy you can have in Christ.

If it is confusing to you, know that the people of Israel needed someone to explain it to them. There are many of us who would love to help you understand, just ask! Then you will find that even in the hard days there is great joy in knowing your God!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Better than winning

We all want victory! We are praying that we can deal with this current difficulty in a successful way. We are taking drastic measures as a nation to accomplish success in stopping or at least minimizing the effects of this virus. Those in healthcare are strategizing how they can handle a large number of infected people in a successful way. It is a good and proper thing to do.

But may I suggest there is something even better than being the victor in this battle? In Romans 8:35-36 we are reminded that there are a variety of things that can come into our life that can make us doubt that God loves us and can bring us to a position of despair.  Then verse 37 says: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  We are not just victors – we are more than that!

The following verses contain one of the greatest promises in scripture to those who have put their faith and trust in Christ: ” For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39 ESV)

Even greater than winning the battles we fight is knowing and experiencing the love of Christ in and through those battles. As you struggle with whatever is particularly difficult for you today, put your confidence in the one who loves you beyond measure. Remember what he endured in his life and death for us and join in what the apostle Paul elsewhere calls the “fellowship of his suffering.” This is an opportunity become more than victorious as we learn to rest in his great love!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord