It’s worth the mess!

As I am writing this I am sitting at our dining room table while my wife is making a real mess.  She is removing a border from our wall that has been up for about 15 years and obviously had very good glue.  The project involves making slits in the paper though it’s vinyl coating, wetting it down with a vinegar solution, and then a lot of scraping with a putty knife.  The room looks worse that when she started! That is the way most improvement projects go. A new house starts by digging up a nice lot and turning it into a muddy mess. An old house may need the plaster and lathe torn off for new wiring, plumbing insulation, and drywall. It’s almost impossible to cook an elaborate meal without turning a kitchen into a mess.

Many things don’t happen because we decide they aren’t worth making a mess to do. We have all had projects we started and then about halfway through began to question our own sanity. I recently had to replace the gasket in the oil pump on my old Camry. A simple part, but what a mess to get to it! When I had parts all over the place I was asking myself why I thought the old car was even worth fixing. Nice to have it running again, but for a while I wasn’t sure.

Relationships can be a lot like that. It is hard to make new ones and sometimes even harder to improve old ones. Many of us are way outside our comfort zone making small talk and then allowing someone else we don’t know all that well learn about us. Will they accept or reject us? Will they understand our struggles or simply look down on our weaknesses? Will they build us up or tear us down? It can get messy and part way through we may think that it was a really bad idea to try.

Repairing or improving old relationships can be equally difficult. Some things have to be brought up that we would just like to leave alone. It may be time to recognize that we have held on to hurts and pain way too long. We may have to let go of cherished dreams so we can focus on reality. Just like home renovation it is messy and it may cost us a lot! That’s why many rooms are never rejuvenated and many broken or damaged relationships are not renewed.

Even as I think about those human relationships, I am amazed at the relationship God has chosen to have with me.  Broken and scarred from my sin and rebellion, dead to the core, what about me would make a mess worthwhile? And what a mess it would be! It involved him sending his son to come, take on humanity, live a perfect exemplary life overcoming temptation, die on a cross and come out of a grave. It involved his Holy Spirit indwelling this sinful creature and continuing day by day to deal with my failures and set-backs. It involves him dealing with a horrible mess because he envisions what I will look like when he is done molding me into the image of his Son.

Christy is taking a break but she isn’t giving up. This room will not be ready to paint today, but she is determined to see the project through because of what she wants this room to be like. In a similar, but much grander scale, our Lord will not stop halfway. I love that verse that says: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) I may not look like much right now – but wait until he gets done with me! Ask him to do the same with you. It will get messy, but it will end wonderfully.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

It’s out of our hands.

“It’s out of our hands.” “We have done all we can but now we must wait and see what happens.” “There is no more that we can do.” Perhaps at some point you have heard those words or something similar. They may have been said by a doctor, a counselor, an attorney, a parent, a pastor, a spouse, or a friend.  Occasionally in life we are faced with a situation that we must recognize is out of our control. As much as we desperately want a particular outcome, we realize that our power and our ability is limited.  We do all we can, but then have to recognize that we leave it there – it’s in God’s hands, not our own.

The words of Jesus stand in great contrast to that statement. In the gospel of John chapter ten Jesus describes himself as a great shepherd who loves the sheep so much that he is willing to die for them. perhaps you have loved someone on that level. You would do whatever you could, even give your own life, if it would make them well or bring them to right thinking. The apostle Paul felt that strongly about his fellow Jews and expressed it like this; ” For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:3 ESV) We may say something similar, but even as we speak it is a recognition of our inability. I don’t have the ability, the power, the authority over my own life, and certainly not over someone else’s life.

That is why many who heard Jesus speak decided that he must be insane or demon possessed.  That was the reaction after he said; “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:15-18 ESV)

They understood what you and I know as well – no human being has that kind of control over their own life and death. None of us would claim that we could die and then make ourselves alive again! We also know that we can’t change someone else’s destiny. Only God can do that. They pushed Jesus to explain what and who he was claiming to be. Was he claiming to be the Christ (the Messiah)? As you may well know he answers by declaring that he and his father (God) are one. He also claimed that those who believe in him have eternal life; they are safe in his hand and in his Father’s hand.

We are faced with the same question the people listening to Jesus had to answer – was he insane and demonic or is he God? If we think the first, we must reject him, but if he truly is God then he truly can save us through giving his life and taking it up again which is exactly what he said and he did. Trust in him and you will find yourself safe in the hand of God himself. That is a wonderful place to be!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Immunity, Defense, and the Church

Let me lead you through the convoluted path of my thinking this morning.  I was thinking about our bodies amazing immune system. One aspect of that system is the white blood cells that circulate through our body and that are stored up in certain places. When some type of pathogen enters and attacks our body, there are already white blood cells nearby ready to deal with it. When it is a large threat the body senses the need for help and sends many other white cells that are being held in reserve for just such a situation. There is this remarkable balance between having some very quickly on the scene, but also having a huge army that can be summoned. A truly amazing design.

As I pondered that design my thoughts went to Nehemiah and the people rebuilding the defense system (walls) of Jerusalem under his command. (I told you it was a convoluted thought process!). As the progress moved ahead on the walls, Israel’s enemies became much more aggressive. Nehemiah knew that an attack was imminent so he took precautions. Half of the men stood guard while half worked, and they all carried weapons even while they were working.  Each person worked on the walls in their own neighborhood and were ready and determined to defend their homes. There was however, another level of defense. By Nehemiah stood a man with a trumpet. In the event of a major attack he could move quickly to the breach in the wall and sound the trumpet. At the sound of the trumpet men would rush from all over the city to defeat the enemy.  Just like our bodies, there was a local quick acting defense, with the potential of a much greater defense being summoned if needed.

That is also how the church is to function. We are each commanded to put on the armor described in Ephesians six to battle our spiritual enemy. We should each carry the word of God in our hearts and minds as we go about our daily routine. Then, when the enemy attacks in whatever form he may take we will be ready to defend ourselves – we should be ready to stand against him always.  The reality is though, that sometimes the attack is too much for us to handle by ourselves – that is why we are part of what the Bible calls the body of Christ: the church.  when we feel that we are in danger of being overwhelmed or defeated by sin and Satan, when we feel that the pressures of life are too much, we call on each other for help and support.

There are of course two parts to that. There has to be a willingness to swallow our pride and ask for help when we need it.  many have been defeated in life because they were afraid to show weakness.  The other aspect is that we need to be willing to drop what we are doing, leave our work and our comfort zone (just like the people in Jerusalem had to leave their own neighborhoods) to help each other. Only then is the defense effective.

When the body functions well in harmony within its parts it is strong. When the people of Jerusalem worked under the organization of Nehemiah they were able to withstand attack.  When believers walk in the power of the Spirit in unity they function well to glorify God as they overcome the enemy. May we learn from the example God gives us!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Qualities to hold dear

What do you appreciate in other people? That list could and should be quite long.  I know I appreciate people who are talented and  enhance our lives with art and music.  I appreciate people who are very intelligent and think through or design things that I certainly would not have imagined. I appreciate people who work hard – who see a task and dive in and give it their all.  I also appreciate people who are willing to stop working and just talk; you know, the kind of folks that may be busy but if you show up at their door they drop whatever they are doing to spend time with you.  I appreciate truthful, trustworthy, people. I appreciate people who pray for and with me.  I appreciate people who study, write and speak to help me understand the Bible better. I appreciate parents and grandparents who love their children. As I stated; it is a long list and continues to grow the more I sit and consider it.

In my bible reading this morning I was reminded of a pair of wonderful character qualities I appreciate in others and pray that I can emulate myself. I was reading in the book of Proverbs in the Christian Standard Bible and read; “Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you. Tie them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will find favor and high regard in the sight of God and man. (Prov. 3:3-4 CSB).”  “Loyalty and faithfulness,” those two words arrested my attention. Of all the things I desire in a relationship none would rank higher than those two!

The word translated loyalty there is the Hebrew word chesed. When it is used of God it refers to His steadfast love, his covenant loyalty.  In human relationships it speaks of the joint obligation that exists in marriage, family and community.  It includes the concept of grace and speaks of a commitment to do what is best for the other person. It is not a blind loyalty that refuses to find fault, instead it is a decision to do what is best for the other person even though they do have faults. The Lord brought difficult things into the lives of His covenant people, Israel to help them see their sin, but He did that because of His commitment to them.  I treasure the people in my life who are committed to that kind of loyal love.

The word translated faithfulness speaks of trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness, firmness, and truth. The idea is something that is firm in the sense that it does not change easily – it is fixed or solid. A faithful person is one who keeps showing up and doing what they have committed themselves to do. They are not one thing today and something else tomorrow. Their lives demonstrate consistency and constancy. You don’t worry about their being there when you need them nor do you wonder what they will be like today or tomorrow.

Loyalty and faithfulness – they describe people we appreciate, because they describe our God.  He demonstrated His committed love to us when he sent His son to die for us even though we are sinners. He promises that He will never leave or forsake His children. May we glorify and worship Him, and may we show Him great honor by imitating Him in our relationships with each other!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Praying ACTS

Prayer is a wonderful privilege that God has given us as a means of communicating with our creator and our savior. It is something we say is important, but then quickly admit that we don’t pray as often or as well as we should.  It is the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them. He of course taught them many other things, but when they were with him as he prayed, they clearly recognized their need to instruction. He gave them a model prayer that is usually called the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Over the years, there have been many suggested patterns to follow in our praying.  One of the most simple outlines which includes the elements we find in our Lord’s example is contained in the simple acrostic ACTS. It is:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Supplication (asking)

Let me suggest a prayer for today following that simple pattern.

Adoration

Lord we praise you for who you are. In these days of confusion and uncertainty we look to you and recognize that there is no limit to your knowledge and your wisdom is perfect. Your power is beyond our ability to grasp as you can simply speak and create a world out of nothing. Your unparalleled love was demonstrated perfectly when you sent your son to save us. Truly, you are our God and there is none like you!

Confession

When we consider your perfection we recognize our great imperfection.  In contrast to your strength, we are weak, and in contrast with your wisdom we are foolish. We often choose our own path instead of the perfect one you would have us walk. We are often ignorant, but even when our understanding of right and wrong is correct, we still choose to rebel. We complain when we don’t get what we want even though you have something far better for us. We ask your forgiveness.

Thanksgiving

Thank you Lord for your grace! You have chosen to save us even though we rebel in sin against you! You give us hope when we recognize our own inabilities. Thank you for giving us your word so we could know about you and actually come to know you. Thank you for providing the many good things in our lives, and for sustaining us through the hard days. Thank you for giving men and women skill and ability to care for those battling this virus.  Thank you for the technology that we have that past generations did not. Thank you for the promise of eternal life through faith in your Son, our savior, Jesus.

Petition

Father, we humbly ask that you would protect us and our families.  Help us to trust in you alone no matter how you choose to work. Give us patience with each other as these unusual days have frustrated us.  Give us renewed confidence in your grace. Give us a heart of compassion for those in much worse condition than our own. Give us boldness to proclaim your truth and help us to express your love in our words and with our actions. Most of all, we ask that you be glorified in our lives.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

A Change of Plans

We have certainly been reminded recently of how tenuous our plans are. We make plans and then find that we can’t do what we had hoped. Everything from a flight across the nation to a trip to the store to a birthday party for a grandchild has been changed in our household. I’m sure many of you have experienced similar changes and disappointments. You may have even used an old line: “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (Or if you have Scottish roots you may have quoted the original phrase from Robert Burns “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley”).

There is certainly nothing new in recognizing that all of our plans are tenuous because they often rest on things outside our control. I can plan a picnic, but I can’t control the weather. I can desire a relationship with someone else, but I can’t control their thoughts or actions.  I may want a degree from a certain school, but I can’t know for certain if I will be accepted or even if I will be able to complete the requirements. Much of life is uncertain.

Of course, anyone with a casual familiarity with scripture would be aware that the Bible often addresses the uncertainty of life (and of course, the certainty of death). In Luke chapter twelve we read a story the Lord told about a rich man who planned to expand his farm operation. Things were going well, and he decided that it was time to build new barns to increase the storage capacity for his grain. He felt that if he was able to accomplish that, he would be set for life, and then be able to retire in comfort and security.  he didn’t know that he already had enough, because he was going to die that night!

James in his very practical little book tells us about some business people who thought in a similar plan. They laid out their agenda for the coming year and anticipated what their profit should be as a result.  He reminds them and us that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. When we make plans we should always recognize God’s plans can override ours at any time, so James says; ” Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15 ESV).  We don’t control our future – the Lord does!

All that being said, it is still a right and good thing to make plans!  Sometimes when life’s uncertainties are evident we can begin to simply drift. We can just wait to see what happens and then react to it. That is not healthy either. Another old saying states; “aim at nothing and you will hit it every time.” It is good and right to know that we are always living in uncertain days, and yet it is still a good and proper thing to look ahead and make plans. Just do so with the realization the God can change our plans as he desires. Also be sure to include the one thing that is certain in your plans – we will certainly die. Be sure to plan accordingly.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Thinking about the future

Last night I spent awhile thinking about our first church service back together at Lockport.  I’m not sure when that will be (I have a hopeful date in mind but am not ready to share it), but I know it will happen.  This current situation is temporary.  It will not last forever.  I was contemplating what we should do. Should it start with an outdoor service or a regular inside service?  Should we have Sunday school and evening activities?  What guidelines should we promote?  What extra steps should we take if we celebrate the Lord’s supper?  There is a desire to protect people, but also a realization that we need a return to normalcy even if it is a “new normal.” I do not yet have all those answers.

What I do know for sure is that it will not always be like this.  The strange thing is that we can make that statement any day of any year in any situation.  If life on this globe is characterized by anything, it is that nothing stays the same. We can watch children playing and be glad that they are enjoying the day, because we know that childhood only lasts for a while.  A newly-married couple goes on their honeymoon and enjoys that special time together with the full realization that it is a brief time in what they plan on being a lifetime together. A young mom is up in the middle of night with a fussy baby and continues on because she knows that night (and those days) will pass.  A student works hard because they know that graduation will come. Many work hard knowing that there will be a time when they can’t work.

Life has its seasons. Some are full of joy and some are characterized by tears. Most are a mixture of both, but none of them are forever. There is no better expression of that than what is found in Ecclesiastes 3:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Eccl. 3:1-8)

The seasons come and go, and then, of course, life itself comes to an end – or does it?  The instructions of the Word are clear. We are to enjoy the pleasures of life that the Lord gives in each season.  We are also to endure the hardships that He brings into our lives as well.  We do so because we know that for those who have put their trust in Christ Jesus there is a purpose in them all.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:18 that things here are not worthy to even be compared to what lies ahead for the child of God.

As pastor and friend, I urge you to trust the Lord with your very life – your life in this world and you eternal life. Do so on a day by day basis. Enjoy or endure the days depending on what they are, but always do so with an eye toward the future.  We should look to the future days and weeks and think about life after this current time is past, but even more so we must look to the years after our certain death, and live these days with that in mind!

Blessings,

Pastor Nord

Reasons Not to Fear

They told me; “Cheer up, it could be worse” so I cheered up and they were right, it got worse!  That corny old saying reminds us of a powerful truth – positive thinking may help my attitude, but it doesn’t make me immune to trouble. It is good to not worry or fear, but don’t assume that a right attitude automatically protects you from harm.

Unfortunately, some people have become disillusioned with Christianity because they heard somebody claim that if you just trust Jesus bad things won’t happen. They made some kind of commitment to the Lord or profession of faith and it “didn’t work.” Their mom still died from cancer, their spouse still left them, their business still failed, or their child still rebelled. Read the end of Hebrews chapter eleven and you will be reminded that bad things happen to people who are actually given as examples of great faith.

What does it mean then, when we read in scripture those two words; “fear not?”  I did a search in the ESV Bible for that little phrase and found it appears in that form 33 times. I did a quick scan of that phrase in various contexts and came up with a few solid reasons why the child of God should not fear even when bad things may happen.

Isaiah 41:10 says; “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Israel was commanded to not fear because God was their God and would help them. If he is our God through faith in Christ, we know that He will give us aide.

A few verses later we read: “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.”  Notice that they are called a worm. The point there is that they would be foolish to rely on their own abilities. I have never been personally afraid as a worm roared and bared its teeth! I have never seen one outrun its enemy either. Just like that worm, we don’t have the ability to defeat our circumstances, but we have a God who says he is our redeemer!

In Luke 12:32 we read: “”Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That reminds us that we don’t have the power of numbers (little) or of strength (flock – sheep), but we have a relationship with God (He is our father through trusting Jesus) and he desires to give us the kingdom – a word which speaks of abundance and of authority.

Matthew 10:31 reminds us that we are valued by our heavenly father; “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” It is a repetition of what we learn in Matthew 6 where we read that he cares for birds, and we are valued much more than them. Having paid the high price of his Son to redeem us, there is no question that he greatly values our lives.

Let me share just one more verse, Revelation 1:17, where we read; “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.” It means much more than this, but we can say that Our Lord is our creator and the one who will bring our lives to completion with Him in eternity. We know His power. We know His love. We know His character. We can be confident of our relationship with Him by trusting in Christ Jesus alone. So, yes, bad things can happen, but we are secure in Him! Fear not!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Reminders to Pray

I have come to appreciate and depend on my cell phone calendar the last few years.  It syncs with my desktop computer and my Ipad and keeps me on tract. Every event that I need to attend is in it and it reminds me in advance that I have an appointment coming up. It is even smart enough to calculate how long it will take me to get from where I am to where I need to be and tells me when to leave.

These recent weeks however, have been strange. My phone doesn’t understand about the virus, and keeps telling me to do things that I can’t do and reminding me to leave for places I can’t go. It is a regular reminder that life is different.

It is also a reminder of ministry that isn’t happening. Today is an example of that as I was reminded of my service at the nursing home. I have been going to the same nursing home every other Tuesday since 1987, missing only on the rare occasion of being sick or out of town. I thoroughly enjoy meeting with a number of the residents in the chapel to sing and share from the word of God. I have multiple opportunities to pray with people who aren’t well enough to come to the service. It is an opportunity to encourage older saints who may be discouraged and to share the gospel with some near the end of their life who still need to know and trust Jesus. I miss them a lot.

I could just ignore my phone; after all, I can’t go there these days. I could just feel a little sorrow for what can’t happen, or I can use the reminder to pray. There are a number of people in that place who are already discouraged and feeling alone. They currently cannot even see their family. There are some there who live with great confusion, and having their routine messed up has added another level of frustration. Some are facing death and doing so without much outside support. The staff that still cares for them day by day have to be feeling the pressure as well as they try to explain our difficult days. In short, they need the Lord’s help (much more than my help) and I can ask Him to meet their needs in other ways. I can do much, I can pray!

Your schedule is different than mine but you are missing doing things you normally do. Use the reminders that come in many different ways to pray for those people that are normally a part of your life. it may be a coworker who faces problems at home. It could be someone that you usually see each week at the bank or in the store. Stop for just a moment and picture their face, and the take them to the throne of grace by praying for them.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Check Your Sources!

Spend a few minutes on the internet and you will be able to read some amazing things! Many statements are almost unbelievable for a good reason – they are not true. Graphs and charts can seem so convincing, but may be distortions of the truth or even based on outright lies. Some of that is the result of people knowingly deceiving others (similar to the old carnival side shows), but some of it is the product of well-meaning people stating what they sincerely believe to be correct even though they are sincerely wrong! We can want something to be true and accept it as fact when there is no underlying reason to do so.

A current illustration is how people are reacting to the current Covid-19 crisis. I assume you have read some of the far-fetched conspiracy theories. Claims are made that it is a manufactured virus designed to destroy our country. Others say that it is no worse than the flu, but is being used for political purposes. Some are viewing this as an attack on our freedoms, including some churches who feel that they are somehow being targeted. After I read what some say, I can begin to think that I might get arrested by being outside mowing my yard!

Whether the issue is Covid-19 or something more mundane like, “is that picture of a two-headed elephant really real?” the answer is the same – Don’t believe everything you read or hear! Check the sources! If you can’t substantiate something is true, don’t repeat it! Even if it was said by a well-meaning person you trust to not be deceptive, it may still be wrong.

I would encourage you to recognize that the issue of miss-information is an even graver issue when we talk about God.  You can hear all sorts of statements about what God is like. You may read all kinds of things that you can do to assure His blessing in your life. You can hear many concepts concerning heaven and hell and your entrance into one and avoidance of the other. Some things are written by people who deliberately want to deceive you for their own ends, but many things are repeated by well-meaning people who propagate a kind of folk religion.

When it comes to matters of the soul and statements about God, I would encourage you even more than ever – check their sources! Where did they get that information? Is it authoritative? Why should you believe it or base your actions upon it?

I would direct you to one source that is accurate and reliable and has been demonstrated to be so for many years – the Bible; the very Word of God. It makes this claim: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Tim. 3:16 ESV)” We also read; “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:20-21 ESV) It is a source that has often been questioned, but has always stood up under scrutiny.

You can rely on the Bible to get accurate information about God, about humanity, and about eternity. When someone quotes it, make sure they are not misquoting it. If someone generally refers to it ask them to be specific. The issues of life and eternal life are way too big to just “take someone’s word for it.”

In Christ,

Pastor Nord