Instant Joy

Lose fifteen pounds in one month! Three steps to financial freedom! Improve your credit score overnight! Earn your degree in one year! Own your own home now! Three quick makeovers!  Five easy recipes that will wow your family! We have learned to ignore such statements, and yet companies continue to make such claims everywhere we look. Why? Because they have a stronger pull on us than any of us would like to admit.

We are dissatisfied with our lives and we all like the idea of a quick painless step to a better, happier life. Something for nothing may not be true, but it sounds good. We have been told that there is “no free lunch,” but we still wistfully think that might be true. A great deal of marketing is based on those desires, and a great deal of money is spent on stuff that doesn’t deliver what was promised. Instead of learning from failure to satisfy after we encounter failure, we tend to discard the old (think garage sale) and look for the next promised joy-maker.

Christianity is often hawked in a similar fashion. “Come to Jesus and your problems will disappear.” “Pray this prayer every day for a month and watch what happens!” “Send this verse to ten friends and wait for God to bless you!” Church is seen as a means to an end, and the Bible is viewed as a self-help book. Our country is full of people who have come to Christianity on that basis, and having tried it they moved on to something else. It didn’t deliver on the promises. It certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

Don’t get me wrong, the gospel is about grace and we are offered a free gift of salvation. An eternal relationship with God is not something we earn – it is a wonderful free gift that we receive when the Lord enables us to see our sin, repent, and trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin. We can’t take any credit for what He does for us and in us.

That being said, the Bible nowhere promises instant holiness or a passive path to perfection. We can have a changed life and great joy, but that is really more about a change within us than a change in our circumstances. Salvation is instantaneous, but growth and change (what we call sanctification) takes time, commitment, and often sacrifice.

That is why the Apostle Paul wrote young Timothy and said; “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Tim. 2:3-7 ESV) All three of those illustrations demonstrate that success comes after self-sacrifice and hard work.

What could be clearer than what Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23 ESV). Eternal life is a free gift, but it comes with a call to a life of self-denial and commitment to Christ. We have the hope of heaven, and we have the promise of God’s help though His Spirit to live well now. It is not a “be happy quick” scheme, but is truly a wonderful path for each one who walks it!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Feeling Trapped

By all rights, most of us should be feeling pretty comfortable. We are in our homes. We have plenty of food and other supplies (toilet paper?). We have shows to watch, books to read, music to listen to, hobbies to pursue. We are currently in good health (for some I have to add “considering our age”). Life is good except for one thing – we feel trapped. I don’t have anywhere I need to go, but since I’ve been told I can’t go out, that is what I want to do.

There have always been people who were trapped; some in painful or hard relationships, some in jobs they detest, some in poverty, some by disabilities or physical limitations.  Our world has numerous people who are looking for a way out of their situation. Some try to escape through destructive addictions to alcohol, drugs, or porn, others turn to amusements to dull their senses, and still others decide to end a life they can’t stand to live. Often people become angry at whoever they think is responsible for their entrapment – and that is often God.

We can profit by hearing some instruction given to Israel by Moses over 3000 years ago. You probably know the story: God had used Moses and a series of miraculous events to lead the people of Israel out of their enslavement in Egypt. They got to the sea and were told; ” Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.” (Exod. 14:1-2 ESV) That seemed ok until they realized that Pharaoh had changed his mind and the Egyptian army was coming after them from the north. The sea was to their west, and they were trapped by Pi-hahiroth (salt marshes), Migdol (a watchtower or fortification), and Baal-zephon (a place named for a pagan Canaanite god). They were trapped! They lashed out at Moses because this seemed far worse than the slavery they had endured.

Consider Moses’ command: “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exod. 14:13-14 ESV) They needed to calm down, stand firm (with confidence), and quiet down. The Lord would fight for them. As you well know the Lord made a way for them through the sea and used that same sea to stop their pursuers.

If we have put our trust in Jesus Christ, God’s son, we have already been rescued from our greatest enemy; sin, which results in spiritual death. Whatever we face now; we must simply calm down, quiet down, stand firm in our knowledge of His great love and power, and trust Him to see us though. I don’t pretend to know all that God will do, but I trust His character, and I know he will get me all the way home!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Live Your Life!

Today’s blog is a little different. I just want to pass along some practical advice from your pastor. Covid-19 has certainly changed our normal routine, and we need to live differently right now than we have in the past. Physical isolation is important.

That being said, I am concerned that many people are simply putting their life on hold, and I would strongly encourage you to still live your life! There may be some that are paralyzed by fear, and I would keep pointing them to the confidence we have in Christ. I suspect that many others, being out of their normal routine, are just in a waiting or holding pattern. Rest is a good and necessary part of our lives, but we also need to be productive to be healthy.

The pattern of your life has temporarily changed, but it is important that you have some structure. If you are off work, you may want to sleep in a little later; but it is still good to set the alarm to get up and get dressed. Set some goals and develop plans for the day and for the week. If you can, get out and do some outside work or go for a walk (no one is saying we have to stay inside). That garage that you have ignored may need cleaned. The project your spouse has been hoping you would start/finish can now be tackled. You have time to cook that special recipe you enjoy or want to try.

This is a good time to exercise your mind as well as your body. I trust you are committing some time each day to be in the Word of God. There are many great books available for little or no cost on the internet. That Sunday school book that some of you have can still be read even if we are not meeting to discuss it. There are many online courses that you can watch or listen to for free. I-Tunes U has a wide variety (be discriminating), places like Biblicaltraining.org and credocourses.com offer much along with Dallas Theological Seminary and ­many more. If you need help in finding what you want contact me.

We often bemoan the reality that we don’t pray as we should. This is the time to schedule a time that you will stop and pray. Meditate on the Word even as you talk to the Lord.

Be sure to socialize! You heard that! Being physically separated does not mean that you can’t enjoy talking with others. The fact that you are reading this lets me know you have the ability to communicate. Call someone up just to chat, we need to laugh with each other as well as commiserate and pray.

There is an old adage; “If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.” These days can be difficult, but they do not have to be without profit. In fact, this could be the beginning of new patterns of life that we will profit from long after this virus and its devastation are in the history books.

Trying to “follow what I preach,”

Pastor Nord

Time to Get Real

The sun is shining this afternoon as I write this, and I am very aware that my yard needs mowed for the first time this year. Even though we are living in this surreal time of isolation and confusion, those are just a couple of the things that remind me that “life goes on.” The world has not come to an end and neither have we – yet. I know what you are thinking – “Nord that sounds pretty pessimistic and depressing.”

For the person who reads the Bible, that is not being pessimistic – it is being realistic. I am not saying that we are all going to die because of this virus, and I recommend taking precautions to prevent that. What I am saying is that scripture is clear; we are all going to die unless the Lord returns first. Many are familiar with the words of Ecclesiastes where we read: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;” (Eccl. 3:1-2 ESV). The author of Hebrews puts it this way; “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, (Heb. 9:27 ESV).”

Death is inevitable.  I appreciated a blog written yesterday by Carl Trueman,  in which he makes the point that we are ultimately not saving lives, we are delaying death.  Make no mistake; that is a good thing to do. Life is precious and whatever we can do to protect it is praise-worthy. I pray that the Lord gives us great success in our efforts to protect people from the virus and find a cure and/or a vaccine to deal with it.

We should, however, use these days to consider the reality that sooner or later we will die. Ignoring that truth and pretending that we will never experience death does not make it go away. It is like a student who decides to not think about an exam. If she is capable of putting it out of her mind and focus on other things it doesn’t make the exam go away. It just means that she will be unprepared when that day comes.

These days have caused many to be less active, and given us time and reason to think deeply. We can choose to sit in front of the TV and numb our minds. We can choose to continually read statistics and live in fear. We can throw caution to the wind and live as if nothing is wrong. Or, we can use this time to consider what we all face – death itself.

The Bible has very much to say about life that follows death, and what it takes to prepare for that event. I highly recommend a reading of the gospel of John which contains among many other things this statement: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26 ESV). Considering those truths will bring great confidence as we live out our lives trusting one who has made a way for us to live in great joy for all eternity!

Blessings,

Pastor Nord

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