Change

We long for it and dread it. We work for it and resist it. We celebrate it and resist it. We pray for it and ask God to stop it. We embrace it and hate it. I am, of course, talking about change. Someone once said that the only constant in our lives is change itself. Someone else said that “there are only two things we hate: the way things are, and change.”

There is no doubt that we live in a changing world.  Things are not what they used to be. I did not need to look long in the mirror this morning to recognize that I am not what I used to be either. That can bring sorrow because the effects of aging are obvious, and capabilities are lessened. It can also bring joy because I have moved away from some of my past weaknesses and failures.

Within our hearts there is a desire for change. We recognize our shortcomings and get frustrated when our attempts at change fail. (How are your New Year’s resolutions coming). We see the struggles and sins of our society and want things to be different. We feel helpless because we seem unable to achieve the changes we long for. In Jeremiah 13:23 we are reminded that we can’t change the color of our skin, leopards can’t change their spots, and we who are accustomed to evil can’t do good. We are what we are, and that is not always good!

Even as we long to be different we long for something in our lives to be constant. We seek some point of stability; something or someone who doesn’t change and doesn’t need to change. In these turbulent seas of life, we long for a rock on which to stand – a solid place to set our anchor.

The good news is that there is one who is that rock, and real lasting change is possible! In Malachi 3:6 we read; “For I the LORD do not change” and Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is that anchor point that we long for – that one who is perfect in all his ways. We can rely on him to always be there and to keep every promise he makes.

He is also the one who can bring wonderful, lasting change in our lives when we trust in him. It is as if we have a new birth, a new heart, and a new life. Old things pass away and all things become new as we trust him as our savior, our lord, our rock! Want stability? Want to change in meaningful ways? Turn to Jesus.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

The value of one

This morning, having made my coffee I opened my laptop to see what was going on in the world, particularly in our own nation as the vote counting from yesterday’s election continues. It is, of course, a topic of great interest as the outcome can affect the lives of millions of Americans.  After checking out several websites about the election I turned to my favorite blog, one I read every morning and was greeted with a shock. Tim Challies wrote that his son collapsed and died yesterday at college. He was with his sister and fiancé and some other college friends playing a game when he unexplainably collapsed and died. Tim and his wife Aileen drove through the night from their home in Canada to Louisville where there son Nick and one of their daughters were attending college. He briefly shared their grief and their hope in Christ this morning and asked for prayer.

Tim is not a friend or even an acquaintance. I have set in a couple of workshops he led in years past at a pastor’s conference, and have regularly read his blog for several years but he wouldn’t have a clue who I am. That being true, I was still moved to tears as I contemplated what this brother and sister in Christ are going through. When we put a name and face to a tragedy it changes everything.   National and global events can and should capture our attention and our prayers, but the loss of one human life can seem even greater. After all, the big events are really just a combination of individual stories.

There is a lesson to be learned in that – each and every human life has great worth. We were individually shaped by our Lord into His own image and that gives us each eternal value. I am so glad that Christ doesn’t view simply as the mass of humanity that we are, but that he knows us by name. It is as individuals that he calls us to himself and saves us and the death of each of his children is precious to him. Just like the story Jesus told of the shepherd leaving the flock of ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep, the Holy Spirit seeks us out.

You may have never heard of Tim, but I ask that you pray for him and his family. But I also ask you to reflect upon the need we each have to acknowledge and revel in the reality that we have a Lord who loves us personally. Respond to his love today and then share that love with the people around you.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Chronic Disease

Living with a chronic disease is difficult. If you are uncertain what that term means, here is a definition from the CDC; “Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” The list of chronic diseases is long but includes such things as:    Arthritis, Asthma, Cancer, COPD, Crohn disease, Cystic fibrosis, Diabetes, Dementia, Epilepsy, Heart disease, HIV/AIDS, Kidney disease, Mood disorders, Multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson disease.

People can be at differing stages of those and others, and some may have more devastating effects, but the common thread is that they are ongoing. There is usually more talk about managing than curing them.  Sometimes they are under control and other times there are major outbreaks, but they are always present, never forgotten. People close to the person can get frustrated and discouraged and sometimes are less than supportive.  Often patients need to find either an expert who has studied and understands or someone else dealing with the same issue who can commiserate with them and offer advice and comfort.

There is another chronic condition that affects every human being. It is a congenital disease – one we are born with. It is what the Bible calls sin. We read in Romans 3:10; “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;” and a little later it says; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Like physical diseases it is something that we learn to manage. It too can frustrate and discourage those who are around us. It can seem under control at times and then we can have a “flare up.” We try to ignore it, but it never goes away.

The good news is that that there is a cure! Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world to live a life without sin. He went to the cross and died to pay the price for our sin and when we believe in him he takes our sin upon himself and gives us his righteousness. We still deal with the residual effects even after we trust in him, but even that has a way to find relief; “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9). Trust him today!

Blessings,

Pastor Nord

The last enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

What I needed to hear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

My Name

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

A Pattern for Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Time to re-calibrate

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Who’s Watching?

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Giving Each Other Some Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Pastor Nord