More than good social advice

We all know the feeling of walking into a large room filled with tables and wondering, “where should I sit?” It may be a wedding reception, or a banquet, or a conference. We have learned to look for place cards with names on them. If those exist, it then becomes a simple matter of trying to find our name. If there aren’t cards we begin to evaluate the room. If there is going to be music do I want to be close or further away from the speakers? (That may also depend on what type of music is being played). Where will the speaker be standing? I want to be able to hear. Where are the kitchen doors? I may not want to hear all the kitchen noise. If there is a bar, I might not want to deal with the traffic back and forth. If hungry, we might even quickly evaluate which tables will be served first. Of course, if there is a close friend already seated we may want to sit by them if there is room at their table (or maybe there is someone we want to avoid).

Some people want to hide in the back, but others want to be noticed. They especially want to be seen sitting with “the right people.” That is the group that caught Jesus eye as he was invited to a feast. He speaks about that in Luke 14:7-11. His basic instruction would be, “don’t sit at the head table unless you are instructed to do so.” It would be embarrassing for someone to assume they are to be at the head table, to sit down and perhaps begin to enjoy a beverage and make small talk with the other people there, and then to have someone come up and ask them to move to the back because they are in someone else’s seat! It is always better to be asked to move up rather than be asked to move back.

That is good social advice, but Jesus is not just helping us learn etiquette and avoid embarrassment.  He uses that situation to teach an important spiritual principle. In verse eleven he says, ” For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  He is referring to our standing before God. If we approach the Lord hoping he will notice how significant or good we are, he will help us see our true condition by humbling us. If on the other hand, we recognized that we are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to offer God except our empty hands and great need, he will lift us up in his grace. That is the point James makes in James 4:6 where he states, ” But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” A few verses later he instructs us: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Isaiah says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15).

It is good to learn to reign in our self-promotion in social settings, but it is essential to recognize that our pride will separate us from our creator and savior! “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV).

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Lessons from a Peach Tree

We have a peach tree that just won’t die! A number of years ago Christy and I planted a peach tree in our back yard. It grew well for a couple of years and then one summer it started to lose its leaves and dried up. I waited until spring to see if there was any life left in it, and when it truly still looked dead I cut it down. That summer a shoot started growing out of the roots and eventually grew into a tree. It had peaches, but they were different than the ones on the original tree as it had grown from beneath the graft. We harvested peaches off that tree for several years, but last year the tree split in two and ended up resting on the fence. I left it until we could get what fruit there was on it and then cut it down. There is once again a new little tree rowing out of the stump.

I thought of that tree today as I was reading a little book by James M. Hamilton Jr. entitled “What is Biblical Theology?” In a section speaking about imagery in the Bible, the author spoke of the biblical image of a tree. He deals with it briefly – just a couple of pages. I have been fascinated with the trees in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the human race, and those trees that are in the New Jerusalem at the end of time. The entrance to that new heaven and earth is possible because Christ died on a tree. Those are some things to mull over, but that is beyond the scope of what is covered in that small book.

What Dr. Hamilton deals with primarily is the powerful image found in Isaiah. It starts as a bit of a mixed metaphor as Israel is seen as a vineyard that God plants in chapter five. As Israel rejects God, He sends Isaiah in chapter six to preach until their hearts are hard and then, picturing them like a tree He uses the Assyrians as an axe to chop down that tree and burns it. There is, however, a shoot from the stump of Jesse that grows and bears fruit. That is Jesus, our savior, who comes from the “root of Jesse” and who grows and bears fruit. His leaf will not wither nor will His fruit fail. It is through death and new life that he makes our salvation possible.  If we trust in him we can also be like that tree that is planted by water (Psalm 1).

I really should cut that peach tree down and plant a new one. Its fruit is not all that great. But for today, I think I will just go out to the back yard and take a picture of that which pictures Christ: life out of death. I am so glad that by trusting Him I have died with Him and now have new life! In this Easter season as you see new life springing up all over, take a moment to reflect on the reality of the new life that is possible through the resurrected Christ. If you have not experienced that life, ask God for it. If you have come from life to death in Him, praise Him for it!

Stay the Course! An example of how that is done.

We’ve all heard it; “Cheer up, they said, things could be worse, so I cheered up and sure enough – things got worse!” That sounds pretty pessimistic because it is – and yet, there are times in life when we can be fairly confident that we are headed into some hard times. We can only speculate what lies ahead, but we are pretty sure that troubles await us.

The apostle Paul was facing one of those times when he was completing his last missionary journey and headed towards Jerusalem. He had already faced strong opposition in many cities, but he was aware that even greater difficulties lie ahead. We can learn from him how to cope with life when difficulty and even death are on the horizon.

In Acts chapter 20 we pick up the story as Paul comes to a place called Miletus. He knew that he wouldn’t be free to travel through there again, so he sent for the leaders of the church at Ephesus. He had spent three years with these men and had corresponded with them. Even as he faced great trouble his mind was on others. He knew time was short so he decided to use some of that time to encourage and strengthen others. Facing hardship, he knew the value of relationships.

Paul also knew that importance of focusing on eternal truths. When we face difficulty it can cause us to become focused on self-preservation rather than obedience to Christ. Sometimes we must remember why we are here and what we are called to do. It can be good to say those things out loud, preaching to ourselves as much as to someone else. Listen to what Paul said:

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24 ESV)

When hardship or even death approaches, it is important that we recognize that our work is not yet done. As long as we have breath there is a task that must be completed. Paul had served well, even as he testified in the context of those verses, but he also wanted to finish well! There is nothing more tragic than a life lived well that is thrown aside because of fear, doubt, or discouragement.

Paul also remembered that he wasn’t alone. When we isolate ourselves things seem darker and fears grow larger. Paul called these men so that he could see them one last time, could encourage them to stay the course as well, and could pray with them before he traveled on. They prayed, they hugged, they walked him down to the ship, and I can imagine that they stayed and watched as the ship pulled out.

Whatever you are facing, learn from Paul’s example. Continue to live well (make corrections as needed).  Know your mission on earth and say it out loud to yourself and others. Encourage those around you. Pray with others. Maintain relationships by expressing emotion together. Do those things and God will help you all the way home!

A great truth worth learning

I occasionally hear a Christian say something that literally makes me cringe. It is usually something like, “We just don’t get into theology,” or “I’m not concerned about doctrine, I just love Jesus.” I think I know what they mean – they don’t want to get into debates about things that have little or no bearing on everyday life. They have seen some people focus on words instead of people and others talk about God in some abstract way that has little relevance to everyday life.

The reality is, however, that theology is extremely relevant. The things we know about God will have an impact on our lives every day. The better we understand Him, the better we will understand our world, ourselves, and our purposes in life. Our perception of God will have an impact on our everyday decisions and our relationships with other people.

Let me give you an example by introducing you to a word that you may not be familiar with. Theologians use the word “immutable” to describe an important characteristic of God.  The basic meaning is that God does not change. You are probably familiar with the word “mutation” which describes a genetic change. The immutability of God describes the truth that He cannot change. The practicality of that truth is seen in the many scripture passages that express it:

We read in Numbers 23:19, ” God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” God will never say an untruth to mislead us, nor will there ever be a time when God will fail to do what he has promised. That makes our reading of scripture take on a new significance – it removes a lot of the thought that, “that was then, but this is now.” His words are as accurate today as they were two or three thousand years ago.

That same thought is expressed in Isaiah 46:9-10; “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” Since His purposes will never change and since he is all-powerful (another great doctrine), He will accomplish everything He has planned to do!

Because He will never change, He will never retract the grace He has extended to us; “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6 ESV)” We never need to wonder if His grace and mercy will become unavailable because He never changes!

Because He does not change, He always gives perfect gifts –  “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.” (James 1:17 ESV) And, of course, the greatest gift He has given is His Son who also never changes – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 ESV)

God is immutable, and the more you consider that great truth the more you will trust Him. The more you trust Him and His word, the more you will confidently obey Him. The more you trust and obey Him, the greater joy you will experience! Spend some time today thinking about Our great, unchanging, God.

In Christ, Pastor Nord

The importance of small things

We have just finished a wonderful week for Christians, and many churches had their highest attendance of the year this past Sunday as we celebrated Easter. As we have focused on our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection there may have been many who were prompted to make some type of decision. Some determined to place their faith in Christ’s work on the cross to rescue them from their sin. Others made a fresh commitment to serve Him in a greater way. Still others had a renewed desire to know the Lord on a personal level.

All those decisions are important, and the Lord often brings people to a crisis type of decision. That being said, big decisions by themselves rarely result in changed lives. I have watched many people make some type of public or private commitment, and yet very quickly go back to “life as normal.” Sometimes they have a lingering sense of guilt, but that is soon suppressed as well. Within months or even weeks you would never know that they had committed themselves to the Lord.

I am certainly not opposed to people “deciding for Jesus.” The Bible speaks of the need to commit to turning around and heading a different direction with our lives. It uses the term repentance to describe that event. But as God works in people’s hearts there must be some patterns of life developed. It is in the small daily habits that Christians develop that most change occurs. The apostle Paul writing to a much younger men said: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; (1 Timothy 4:7 ESV)” Focus with me for just a moment on that word “train.” An athlete doesn’t do well unless they undergo training, and soldiers must be trained if they are going to succeed in battle. So it is with the Christian – unless they train, they will not do well.

Training involves learning; in the Christian that means studying the Bible. We learn best from someone who has already been in training, so having a mentor can help greatly. We usually train better when we are with others, so for the Christian, church attendance is significant. Training must be consistent to be effective so daily Bible reading and prayer are patterns that make a huge difference. Training is never an end in itself – it is for the athlete to be in the game, the soldier to be in the battle, and for the Christian to live well sharing their faith with others in the world.

Don’t just decide to follow Christ, go into training with other Christians to experience lasting change.

The Ultimate Recycle

I need to throw some things away! I own things I haven’t used for years and it is time to dispose of them. There are things I should have thrown away immediately, but instead carried them to the garage or the shed just in case I might do something with them. I have clothes in my wardrobe that need to be bagged up and taken to goodwill. I really do need to get better at throwing things away.

The question is why do I hang on to stuff? I obviously see some value in it. Maybe I am remembering how much it originally cost (ask me someday about my first computer). Maybe it has some sentimental value to me – reminding me of a good time or a special friend. Perhaps the reason for keeping much of it is that I hope it will one day be valuable to me again.

There is a special joy that comes from taking something broken and giving it new life. Just a few weeks ago Christy and I gave new life to an old dresser. It was literally falling apart. The drawers were broken, The rails that they sat on were worn down. The finish was dark and cracked. It was given to us a few years ago and we tried to pass it on and no one else wanted it. We needed a stand for our TV, so Christy stripped the finish off the old dresser and I rebuilt the drawers and replaced the wood in the frame that was worn. We added a shelf where one of the drawers had been for our Dvd player and sound equipment. We refinished the wood and cleaned up the brass hardware. We now have the joy of having a useful, beautiful piece of furniture that was literally someone else’s trash.

Many of you may know that one of my joys is photography. I still enjoy using film cameras and working in my darkroom. I have taken several old cameras which no longer functioned and I was able to repair them and then use them. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from taking something that is broken and discarded and restoring it to usefulness. To be able to create something beautiful with something that was rejected by others is a great feeling.

I can’t help but think that our Lord experiences that kind of joy when He gives us new life. As a sinner, I was ugly and useless to Him. I had no worth or value and truly deserved to be destroyed. Even my good qualities were not really good. In Isaiah 64:6 we read “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But He chose to save us from destruction and gave us a new life and purpose. He did that for us, but also for Himself – “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phi 2:13 ESV) Through faith in what Christ has done for us, we not only have new life – we bring Him joy!

In Christ,

Pastor Nord

Dealing With the Storm

Last week was a very special week for me. It was one of those times when I was quite cognizant of the Holy Spirit at work in my soul. I had the privilege once again to attend the Moody Bible Institute Pastor’s conference as I have done for over 25 years. Many have been a good experience, but this one was somehow special. The speakers were good, the music was great, food and fellowship were wonderful, but I have come to expect all of that. It wasn’t so much all of that as it was a very real sense of the presence of the Lord in my life. He instilled within my heart an increased sense of urgency. Perhaps some of that was because my mind was also on taking our youngest daughter, Allison, to the airport at the end of the week to fly by herself to Vietnam where she is doing a summer internship for her degree in missions. I think it had much more to do with the reality that ministry in our land is rapidly facing new challenges.

Dr. Nyquist addressed that very issue as he kicked off the conference Monday night with a powerful message about the storm clouds that are gathering in our land. I won’t repeat here all that he said (it is available online) but anyone who follows current events at all is aware that Bible believing people are going to be more and more counter-culture in our land unless the Lord brings about a massive revival. The storm is approaching, so what do we do? I have been thinking this week about some of the reactions people have to a major physical storm approaching. I think there are parallels that can be drawn:

  • Some people simply ignore the warning. They can be told that they need to take shelter and they refuse. They become the ones clinging to a tree that need to be rescued or one of those sad statistics of those who perished in the storm.
  • Others are curious, or even fascinated with the storm. I have to admit that there have been times when the tornado siren has sounded in our little town and I have gone out into the street along with a neighbor to watch what is happening. The danger in that is that we can admire it’s power, but somehow think we are safe until it is too late.
  • Still others simply panic. Their fear can make them do irrational things. They may also be the ones who run to get extra supplies for themselves which they don’t need and hoard things which others need.
  • Others recognize that many of their neighbors are in danger, so they risk harm and rush to warn and help those in danger. Sadly, some of their neighbors may scoff at their concern (see the first point), but they do what they can to help others. Great danger can produce great heroes.
  • Some get mad. It can be a time when even atheists are mad at the God that they don’t think exist! They feel that they deserve better and that he has somehow mistreated them.

The man or woman walking with God should plan and prepare; should warn and help: but most of all should cry out to the God who controls all things – the weather and the world! He is sovereign over all and has already demonstrated His great love for us by sending His Son to die in our place! The clouds are forming and it looks like this could be a big one. What are you going to do?

In Christ,

Pastor Nord