Good days in the midst of hard days

Our family has been fortunate. While many are struggling with the effects of COVID-19 either physically or financially, we have had little to deal with. None of us have contracted the virus. I am still receiving my salary from the church, and all my children and grandchildren are still employed (although two at a lower rate). We have seven children, five of whom are married, and eighteen grandchildren, one of whom is married and expecting our first great-grandchild. I will help you with the math. Counting spouses there are 33, soon to be 34 of us. We are all well and certainly well fed. God has blessed us greatly!

We have certainly had difficult days in the past – dealing with severe illnesses, financial hardships, loss, and grief. There is also the reality that we may face such things again. We are reminded of that in so many ways; even tomorrow my wife Christy needs to go in for a scan to check for recurrence of her cancer, but this is a good day!

We learned a lot in those hard days. We learned to call upon the Lord for basic needs and for life itself. We learned to make Him the priority of our life. We learned that His grace was sufficient for each day and that He would take care of us and provide all we needed. We learned to live life a day at a time and that when we faced things too big to handle He was there to carry the load we could not. I don’t want to repeat them, but the hard times were good for us and were times of growth.

The question on my mind this morning was; “how are we handling the good times?” In these days when there are those around us hurting in profound ways and we are not, how should we react, and what should our response be? I would suggest at least three biblical responses:

We should be thankful. James 1:17 reminds us that: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” If I am experiencing blessing, it is only right and proper that I thank the giver of the gifts I enjoy. I am grateful for the Lord’s blessing.

We should be humble. Scripture and experience make it very clear that I am a sinner, and as such I deserve judgment and condemnation. I am a recipient of grace. I haven’t earned what I have received, it was given to me even though I don’t reserve it. I’m a beggar who found bread and that is humbling.

Thirdly, my response should be that of repentance – turning from sin and self and focusing on the one who has chosen to bless me even though I don’t deserve it. We read in Romans 2:4; ” Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” The realization of His goodness makes me all the more aware that He must be central in my thoughts and actions. I turn from other wants and desires to a new desire to serve Him and Him alone.

I don’t know whether this is a good day or a horrible dark day for you as you read these words. I pray God’s blessing and grace be evident to you. But I also recommend that whatever this day is like, you turn in a fresh, new way to the one who loved you and sent His Son to die for you and I!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

On Separation

A year ago if someone told me I needed to practice social distancing they would have seen a puzzled look on my face. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue as to what they were referring. It is now a common expression on signs, in the news, in serious contexts and as a joke. We have learned in a very short period of time to stay apart from one another. As I walk down to the post office to get our mail each morning it is now second nature to step off the sidewalk if one of my neighbors is approaching from the other direction. We stop and talk, but the radius of expected personal space has increased.

The current situation to which we have adjusted is new, but there is nothing new or novel about separation or isolation. Some people have had physical issues that required them to be isolated or quarantined to protect others or for their own safety. Some, like my oldest daughter and her husband, have gone through lengthy times of separation because of deployment in the military. Others have lived in cultures that are not their own and have been isolated by customs, language, race, and religion. Far too many have experienced the heartbreak of a marriage and a family that has been split in two by divorce.

As I write this my mind is also on a great, painful type of separation. This afternoon I will be standing with a family beside a grave as they bury one they love. Most who are reading this know the pain of the death of a loved one. The realization that at least in this world; you can never see, speak to, or hear one you love is hard. You may have walked together for many years but the grave reminds you that you have gone as far as you can on the journey they are traveling. You know that by God’s good grace you will adjust, but it is a difficult path you now will walk. I still remember the words of a good friend ten years after his wife died: “Nord, I have learned to be alone, but I have never learned to like it.”

Death is certainly the great separation. That is why it is so tragic to learn that we are born dead. The Bible is clear that we are spiritually still-born. As we draw our first breath and let out our first cry we are already isolated from our creator. We have inherited a sin nature that we will demonstrate with our words and actions as we grow. It creates an empty place in our heart that we learn to live with, but there is always a yearning in the back of our mind for a relationship that we can’t have.

There is a chasm between us and our Lord and there is nothing we can do to make that relationship right. That is why it is such wonderful news to learn that he did what we could not. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Jesus came to deal with the sin that separates us from God. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay so that we could actually become the children of God. If we simply rely on what he has done and trust in him alone, we find ourselves in a position to rejoice that nothing can separate us from the love of God (see Romans chapter eight). In a world of living at a distance from those we love what a wonderful reality that we are in the arms of the one who loves us most!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Out of date?

If you happen to be on face book I am sure that you have seen many posts that show a picture of an object and say something like; “Do you know what this is? Like if you do and share if you have ever used it.” Sometimes I think “how could anyone not know what that is?” but then I remember that I am not exactly young. Some of the objects are still regularly used in some circles, others are simply obsolete. Some things were once needful tools and now serve as decorations hanging on a wall.

Some things have always had a limited use. I think of a few specialized tools that I still have, but will probably never use again. Some things get thrown in a tool box or a drawer “just in case” even though the chances of using them are nil. I think I still have a couple of tools needed to set the valve timing and injection pump on a 1970’s Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel. If you need them give me call and they are yours.

We not only accumulate things that become useless, we also may spend a fair amount of time developing skills that are no longer needed. Some things are just no longer done by anyone, and some other skills may have been good at one time in our life but are not related to our current jobs. I paid the rent and bought food for my family by developing abilities I haven’t used in years. It is good to remember that life changes and so do the skills we need to live well in our current circumstances. Some things are important to know for the present, but will not always be significant.

There are, however, some things that will always be useful and some skills that will never lose their value. God’s word is eternal, and an understanding of it will be valuable for all time. Relationships may change, but the need to relate well with others is something we will always need. Learning to worship and praise our Lord is valuable, because we will do that in a new heaven and new earth if we have trusted Christ as our savior.

There is little more tragic than to think of someone spending their whole lives focused on the temporary instead of the eternal. Be sure to distinguish between the two. Your future depends on it!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Faced with decisions we don’t like

These are hard days for our state and national leaders. They are being asked to make decisions which will affect the lives of a large number of people. They are balancing the impact of a dangerous virus and an economic disaster that could ultimately harm many lives.  The problem they face is twofold; they are not experts on viral infections nor are they economists. They rely on experts in those given fields, but the experts don’t always agree. They could take a poll of the populous, but that would just help them understand what the majority of ignorant people think. It is a hard place to be!

The dilemma they face is certainly on a much larger scale than most of us have dealt with, yet we can relate on some level because we have all been in situations where we have to make a decision without knowing the full impact of our choice.

I remember the year after my wife, Christy, had kidney transplant. It was discovered that she had a type of lymphoma (PTLD) resulting in part from the immunosuppressant drugs that she had to take to avoid rejecting the kidney. As various treatments were discussed it became obvious that there was going to be a decision made between a course of action to deal with the cancer that might result in her rejecting the kidney but was aggressive towards eliminating the cancer, or one that protected the kidney but might allow the cancer to spread.

We were ignorant, so we listened to the experts. The problem was they didn’t agree. Her nephrologist  was very concerned about the cancer and her oncologist was worried about her kidney. We did what every person facing decisions like that should do. We listened to both doctors, gained as much knowledge as we could, asked the Lord for wisdom, and made a decision knowing that the outcome was ultimately in our Lord’s hands.

The goal was, of course to get rid of the cancer, but protect the kidney. It didn’t work out as well as we hoped and she rejected the transplant and ended up on dialysis. It was a difficult time, but we really never regretted the decision that she made, because we had done all we could do to gain knowledge and we trusted the Lord to give us wisdom. Whatever the result was, it was in the hands of one who loves us greatly and who is in control. Christy later had a second transplant and that has gone well.

I told that story to remind us all that as we make decisions, we need to follow a simple routine. Gather as much information as we can, ask the Lord for wisdom, and then make a decision and act on it. Nothing should be decided out of ignorance in blind faith, nothing should be decided without asking our Lord to direct our thoughts, but ultimately a decision has to be made and action has to be taken. Not deciding is always a poor decision!

It is right to ask our leaders to do the hard work of gaining as much knowledge as they can. We should expect that out of them, but it is also imperative that we pray for wisdom on their behalf, and then trust the Lord to give us the grace we need as we move ahead.

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

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