Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Rock of Our Salvation

Friday, January 30, 2015
Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come to him with thanksgiving.  Let us sing psalms of praise to him.  For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods.  He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains.  The sea belongs to him, for he made it.  His hands formed the dry land, too.  Come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God.  We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.   If only you would listen to his voice today!      Psalm 95:1-7 (NLT)
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.  Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”  But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish.  A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.     Mark 6:34-37, 42-44
The Psalmist cautioned, If only you would listen to his voice today!

The disciples had that opportunity with a large crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus and feel the Messiah’s healing touch.  It was late and everyone was hungry.  The disciples were smart enough to recognize a coming food disaster.  They also knew it was an impossible situation; how could so many be fed?

Then…the voice of the “rock of salvation” – YOU feed them.

We know the end of the story…what started out as five loaves and two fish became twelve baskets of leftovers.  Oh brother; our God does math SO differently!

And, speaking of numbers, you could do a lot with numerology in this incident – the five loaves and two fish add up to seven, the number of perfection.  The twelve baskets left over – one for each apostle to take home and mount over their fireplace to remember this daily-bread miracle!

But, at the end of the day it’s still hearing his voice which stands out.

YOU feed them.

There’s always something about a miracle and mercy that requires somebody to be hands-on in faith, isn’t there? 

There’s always something about it that demands that somebody trust the Rock to provide for the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner and the lost one.
YOU feed them!

For You Today

Could Jesus have been speaking to you?

Who is it that needs feeding today?

If only we will listen to his voice today.

[1] Title image:  Diego Delso, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pastor and People

Thursday, January 29, 2015
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  Yes, you are our glory and joy!   
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
Paul was the original “Little League Dad”.  Any time the thought of Jesus’ second coming, and the throne of  rewards crossed his mind, he could just picture all the wonderful brothers and sisters of Thessalonica standing before the throne; he could envision them being crowned by King Jesus.  And Paul would break into his pastor’s song:  What’s my idea of glory, a crown?  Hey, beloved, it’s YOU!  YOU’RE my crown! 

Talk about a cheerleader! 

Paul understood that souls won to faith in Jesus, and service to others in the name of Jesus will be the centerpiece of the judgment seat.  Now, to make the distinction, remember that there are two judgment seats: 

One – the Great White Throne is like the Great White Shark – you don’t want to be there.  That is the place where God will reject those who have rejected His son, Jesus. 

Two – is the Bema seat, the judgment seat of rewards, where Jesus will hand out crowns of victory for all those who are faithful to Him.  Souls won; faith in Christ, service to Christ – these are the measuring sticks of worth in the Kingdom of God. 

As a Pastor I am charged with the responsibility of helping to equip those I serve to better-navigate and serve in the Kingdom.  My priority, like Paul, is to see you stand at the Bema seat, crown in hand. 

That is graduation day.  And the rewards are based not on how good you look, how much of a fortune you amassed on earth, or if you knew all the right doctrines and could quote the Westminster Confession or John Wesley’s sermons by heart.

It’s a faith and service thing.

Faith is an internal thing – it has to do with your trust level with Jesus. 

Service is an external thing – it is driven by your internal faith, but finds its way into the everyday of life, touching others. 

And so, my priorities are to teach and preach the Word of God so your faith develops around internal allegiance to the King – as well as to organize to serve others.  I teach and preach that we are to serve, not be served.  Faith and works; trust and serve!

My crown as Pastor would be to see any faithfulness I exhibit in preaching and leading grow in you – so much so that on judgment day there are crowns all over your heads for loving Jesus, and loving others in His name by serving them and bringing them to faith and service.

Yeah…pastors are a little like cheerleaders.  When one of the flock scores a big faith thing, or serves a winning blessing into someone else’s life, or takes some other step forward toward the Master…well, we just can’t help it……GLORY, GLORY, and GLORY!

For You Today

We know there are plenty of crosses to pick up and follow; but there IS a crown waiting.

Keep stepping, church member, choir singer, outreach leader, faithful mother, dad, uncle and aunt.  Keep moving all you children of God.  Some day we will all stand before Him, and it will be time for the exchange.

Now, I can’t sing it (especially like he could), but just imagine Bev Shea’s voice:

To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true, it’s shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then he’ll call me some day, to my home, far away, where His glory forever I’ll share. 
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down. 
I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.[2]

[1] Title image is of the ministry of my friend, Rev. Pacquito “Packs” Padilla or the Talisay Christ Church in Negros, Philippines
[2] The Old Rugged Cross, © George Bernard, Rodeheaver 1913 (renewed 1941)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Title image Illustration for John Milton’s Paradise Lost“ by Gustave DorĂ©, 1866.via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way.   1 Thessalonians 2:18 (NRSV)
It’s not exactly clear what it was that “hindered” Paul from going to Thessalonica; it is abundantly clear who did it – Satan, the adversary.  He uses many tools. 

In this case it might have been the opposition of the Jewish officials.  They were opposed to Paul’s preaching of Christ. 

It may have been Paul’s health, that “thorn in the flesh”. 

Whatever the instrument, we can be certain who was instrumental in causing the hindrance.  Ever since the Garden of Eden Satan’s greatest enemy and target has constantly been those who would spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Satan has always known God would send a deliverer from sin and death; he has always hated man and God…

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (NRSV)
The adversary is still doing his best to hinder; sometimes he does quite well!  And that hindrance is still taking its toll on the church because most of us get distracted, and that keeps us from giving our most excellent best to serving where God has planted us.

The antidote for hindrance as you serve Jesus is to keep fighting and leave the scorekeeping to God.  

A fact:  

You don’t really know what the score is anyway – God does!  And as long as He is the One orchestrating the final outcome, you needn’t worry about what others are doing.  Just keep serving!

The early church was a dismal failure in the eyes of the world.  They preached Christ unashamedly, many of them dying for their faith, and the blood of the martyred saints was the seed of the spread of the Gospel.  The score on earth may have been Christians “0” and Lions “many”; but it was the other way around in the Throne room above! 

The Dark Ages saw a reversal.  The church was infiltrated by darkness and evil; a corrupt clergy would not allow the average man to even see a Bible, much less hear the Gospel.  The church was prosperous in gold and silver, but devoid of the Spirit. 

Then, Martin Luther and the Reformation cast the light of holiness to dispel the dark ages; true Christians were once again guerillas, outlaws of an apostate church, hunted and poor, but preaching the true Gospel. 

Today the church is ripe for another “underground takeover”. 

With apostates creeping into every denomination, the adversary, Satan is at work obscuring the truth of the Gospel. 

But we can never tell the score by reading the polls, or who is in the White House, or what programs this or that church uses to draw a large crowd. 

The score is kept in a different set of books that belong to the Lamb. 

For You Today

You keep fighting the good fight – leave the score to the Lamb. 

Loving Like Jesus Loved

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   Matthew 10:39 (NRSV)
Sometimes heartache becomes our newest “best friend” as life turns and twists.

Mr. Holland's Opus is a movie about a frustrated composer in Portland, Oregon, who takes a job as a high school band teacher in the 1960s.  Although diverted from his lifelong goal of achieving critical fame as a classical musician, Glenn Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) believes his school job is only temporary.

At first he maintains his determination to write an opus or a concerto by composing at his piano after putting in a full day with his students.  But, as family demands increase (including discovery that his infant son is deaf) and the pressures of his job multiply, Mr. Holland recognizes that his dream of leaving a lasting musical legacy is merely a dream.

At the end of the movie we find the aged Mr. Holland fighting in vain to keep his job.  The board has decided to reduce the operating budget by cutting the music and drama program.  No longer a reluctant band teacher, Mr. Holland believes in what he does and passionately defends the role of the arts in public education.  What began as a career detour became a 35-year mission, pouring his heart into the lives of young people.  Mr. Holland returns to his classroom to retrieve his belongings a few days after school has let out for summer vacation.  He has taught his final class.  With regret and sorrow, he fills a box with artifacts that represent the tools of his trade and memories of many meaningful classes.  His wife and son arrive to give him a hand.

As they leave the room and walk down the hall, Mr. Holland hears some noise in the auditorium.  Because school is out, he opens the door to see what the commotion is.  To his amazement he sees a capacity audience of former students and teaching colleagues and a banner that reads "Goodbye, Mr. Holland."  Those in attendance greet Mr. Holland with a standing ovation while a band (consisting of past and present members) plays songs they learned at his hand.

His wife, who was in on the surprise reception, approaches the podium and makes small talk until the master of ceremonies, the governor of Oregon, arrives.  The governor is none other than a student Mr. Holland helped to believe in herself during his first year of teaching.  As she addresses the room of well-wishers, she speaks for the hundreds who fill the auditorium:

"Mr. Holland had a profound influence in my life (on a lot of lives, I know), and yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent.  Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his, and this was going to make him famous and rich (probably both).  But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous; at least not outside our little town.  So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure, but he'd be wrong.  Because I think he's achieved a success far beyond riches and fame."

Looking at her former teacher the governor gestures with a sweeping hand and continues, "Look around you.  There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each one of us is a better person because of you.  We are your symphony, Mr. Holland.  We are the melodies and the notes of your opus.  And we are the music of your life."[1]

Mr. Holland wasn’t the first to throw his life into serving others.  For him, it happened accidentally, he was teaching while waiting for his dreams of composing to arrive. 

You can expect heartache brought on by circumstances when you serve Jesus Christ – that’s a promise.  The principle antidote for heartache is to keep your heart turned towards serving, rather than towards the aching.  Many people get overwhelmed with indecision and paralyzing nostalgia as they look backward to better days and brighter skies.  Friend, they were never that good, nor that bright. 

Always living in the past will cause you to miss the present.  Besides, when you’re looking back you’re much more likely to bump into things! 

If you want to serve Christ, learn to love others in the “here and now”, that’s the only way ministry takes place. 

For You Today

Is your day pointed at finding ways to give your life and love away? 

[1] Mr. Holland's Opus, (Hollywood Pictures, 1995), rated PG, written by Patrick Sheane Duncan, directed by Stephen Herek; submitted by Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois            
2 Title image by Ford Madox Brown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 23, 2015

Life in Paradox

Monday, January 26, 2015
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee.  They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”  Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.  Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.   I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone.  But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.  Those who love their life in this world will lose it.  Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.  And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.    John 12: 20-26 (NLT)
A paradox, according to Funk & Wagnall’s dictionary is "a statement seemingly absurd or contradictory, yet in fact true."  We don't understand something, yet it works anyway.  
A man sitting in his office late one evening needed some help spelling a word. He went to the corridor and yelled. "Is anyone out there?"  A voice came back.  "I'm here."  The man asked, "How do you spell simultaneous?"  After a pause the voice answered, sounding farther away; "there's nobody out here."
The gospel itself IS a paradox – it seems absurd that God would die for his creation.  The Gospel is full of paradoxes, and we are called to live LIFE IN PARADOX.
We may be like the disciples, willing to see what we prefer, and what we hoped-for, while we ignore the point Jesus really wants us to see.  In the disciples’ case, Jesus had just entered town and cleaned house at the temple. The disciples and the crowds saw a "Son of Man" - conqueror of men.  The Greeks were noted for their thirst for knowing ...they wanted to see this ruler.  Palm Sunday was a triumph, and Jesus was a hot commodity.  Had the kingdom of God really come to Jerusalem?  
This is the picture of paradox ... the disciples expected a crown; the rabbi from Nazareth kept talking about a CROSS.  
Our text is a continuation of the terms of Jesus' paradox - absurd statements that are absolutely true; in this case, life only comes through death!
Jesus helped them understand this paradox with an illustration of wheat “dying to the ground”. It is more than an agricultural lesson; it’s the whole basis for spiritual life.  The fact is that wheat is ineffective when it is stored-up in a barn somewhere; it must be planted in order to bring forth fruit.  
And the application, spiritually-speaking, is that new life in Christ comes only when we bury our personal control over life.  The word Jesus used for what happens to the seed, being “planted" is strongly-connected to the word "prostrate" as in the humble, worshipping soul bowing before his superior.  If we wish to have eternal life there must be (through faith) an eternal death of the pride of life.  And that death, says our faith, is in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ.  
It is something you “release”.  And it’s similar to the banking system. You have some money and wish to open a bank account.  You decide on a local bank.  You look it over; you study its' financial statement.  You check the references of its board and officers.
Up to this point you have been operating on reason and intellect.  But then you take the plunge and hand your money to the teller.  The teller gives you a receipt.  THAT takes faith (especially with some banks)!  
The leap of faith is to count the old life dead: to say with Paul that you crucify the old life, and accept Christ finished work of salvation, His offer of new life to those who believe; His death - your new life.
What I have attempted to describe is the very beginning of eternal life as you entrust yourself to Christ for eternity.
What is simpler and clearer to say – but incredibly harder to do – is remember that we not only start-out the Christian life that way – but we live every single day in that paradox of death-bringing-life for the rest of eternity.  Trusting Jesus never ends!

For You Today

Live the paradox; it’s how you stay close to Jesus!