24 February 2012 / Pastor's Pen
The late A.W. Tozer, pastor and author, wrote about the Christian life as being an exchanged life. Tozer said, "...a large part of Christian experience consists of exchanging something worse for something better, a blessed and delightful bargain indeed." In other words, when we are willing to give up a thing for God, He has something better to give us in return. We often have a hard time believing that, therefore, we cling to what we have, rather than relinquishing it to God, in exchange for His greater blessing.
At the heart of the Christian experience is the exchange of the guilt and consequences of our sin for the righteousness of God. The Bible tells us that "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:23-24). Jesus took our sins upon Himself in His suffering and death at Calvary. The apostle Peter stated it like this: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (I Pet. 2:24).
In the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, we read: "Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows....He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed....He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors." (Isa. 53:4,5,12).
Jesus became our substitute, taking upon Himself the consequences of our sin, and in exchange giving us His righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21). Christ, by His death on the cross, made it possible for us to exchange our sin for His righteousness.
The season of Lent is a constant reminder that we have no righteousness of our own. All our righteousness is as filthy rags. It's not a matter of being good. It is a matter of God's grace, extended to us through Jesus Christ. Lent culminates in the suffering and death of Jesus at Calvary. Good Friday took place because of us and for us. We crucified Christ and He died for us, that we might be forgiven. As Tozer said: "a blessed and delightful bargain indeed."
But that's not all! Not only do we exchange sin for righteousness, but we also exchange death for life. Lent leads to Easter. The crucified Christ rose again, conquering both sin and death. Again, listen to the words of the apostle Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).
There are many other wonderful exchanges we Christians may make if we will. But Lent and Easter remind us of the exchange of our sin for His righteousness and our sad mortality for His blessed immortality. What a blessed and delightful bargain indeed!
19 January 2012 / Pastor's Pen
For the past several weeks Linda and I have been packing and moving boxes and things from the parsonage to our new house. Having not moved in 36 years we have accumulated a lot of stuff, much of it we didn’t even realize we still had. It is amazing how things just accumulate, all by themselves, when you aren’t paying attention to it.
There are the things we never got rid of because “we might need them someday.” Meanwhile, years have gone by and we haven’t needed them, or forgetting we had them, we replaced them. Of course we haven’t forgotten the things we did throw away only later to wish we had back.
There is baby furniture and children’s toys that our children grew up with, and we saved for our grandchildren. Of course our children wouldn’t allow our grandchildren to get near those “dangerous or unsafe” things. How our children survived those things themselves I’ll never know! And what do you do with “rocket motors” that propel a toy rocket several hundred feet into the air, when your grandson is not allowed to have it?
Then there are the things that belong to our children, things that they “stored” at our house because they didn’t want to get rid of them and they didn’t want to take them. But, alas the day of reckoning has come. They take it or we dispose of it.
Boxes of mason jars filled one basement closet, reminders of days when we use to can fruits and vegetables. Oh, for the good old days! We found a home for the jars, but who knows where the canning equipment will end up. It’s not likely to be going with us.
And then the memorabilia, boxes and boxes of it; so many things to reminisce over when we retire. The sad truth is much of it we can’t remember now why we even kept it, or who those people are.
Now, all of this becomes a parable of life. How much do we allow the things of life to clutter up our lives and encumber us in our journey? How much do we spend our life filling it with things that have only earthly value, things that one day we will toss out, or leave behind for others to toss; things we will not be able to take with us when we move on to the next life?
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19-20). The Jesus added, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vs. 21). The significant thing here is that our treasure doesn’t follow after our heart, but our heart follows after our treasure. Whatever we treasure, whether it be the things of this world or the things of God, our heart then follows. Whatever and wherever our treasure, there our heart will be also.
In cleaning out and getting rid of things, Linda and I have found that sometimes you have to make hard choices, things you might like to keep but you really need to let go of. That is also true in our spiritual journey. Time and again we come upon something we would like to keep in our life, but God wants us to get rid of it. It is something that is cluttering up our life, something that is keeping us from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace and joy in our life. From time to time we need to clean house, to let God clean our house, to get rid of the sin that so easily besets us, or to let go of that treasure that has no heavenly value, that hinders our walk with Him.
Don’t hold on to the things of this life and this world until it’s too late. Let go of the earthly things you so treasure and lay up for yourself heavenly treasure that you may be able to have and enjoy for eternity.
05 January 2012 / Pastor's Pen
The New Year always brings with it the opportunity for new beginnings. Many times we don’t notice these new beginnings because life goes on pretty much as it always has. At other times the beginnings are glaring, even life changing. Such are some of the new beginnings we will encounter this year.
For Linda and me we are beginning the process of moving out of the parsonage and into our own home. We will be carrying out this process over the next couple of months. There is sadness in leaving the place we have called home for the past 36 years. But there is also excitement about the new beginning of living in our own home. Of course it’s going to take us awhile to decorate and furnish our new home. But it is a new beginning.
We will also be experiencing a new beginning mid-year when we both retire. It will bring about a drastic change in our life- style, going from 24/7 work and responsibilities to determining our own schedules and activities. But that is something that we will adjust to as we find our way into the next phase of life.
The church will also be experiencing some new beginnings. It is so easy to become complacent in our routine and not even think about changes. We expect things to go on as they always have. But you, as a congregation, will be facing a major change when you receive a new pastor and parsonage family. Things will not be the same as they have been for many years. That doesn’t mean the future is gloom and doom. Change is often good, though we may not realize it at the time. We are all set in our ways and we don’t like change. But this will be an opportunity for the church to make a new beginning for the future of the ministry and life of the church.
New beginnings can be daunting because they are filled with uncertainty. But they can also be a fresh start that breaths into us new life. As you enter into this new year and as you move through the year, en- countering many new beginnings, may you do so with the confidence that while we may not know what tomorrow holds, we know Who holds tomorrow.
07 December 2011 / Pastor's Pen
Christmas! To merchants it’s about ringing up the cash registers or swiping the credit cards. To children it’s about toys and toys and more toys. To many people it’s about shopping and food and parties and social events. But to Christians it is, and should be, about the Incarnation, God becoming man.
In the prologue to the Gospel according to John we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."(Jn. 1:1,14). Isaiah prophesied and Matthew recorded the fulfillment of that prophesy saying, “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Im‐ manuel’ which is interpreted ‘God is with us.’” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23)
To talk of Christmas in terms of Incarnation and Immanuel is not mere rhetoric that is of little consequence to the Christian faith. Rather, this mystery of God becoming man is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith. It is what Christmas is truly about. The eternal God stepped into the framework of limited time. The Creator God condescended to identify with His creation. The infinite God takes upon Himself finite dimensions. As someone has put it, "for a brief period of time in a particular part of the world, God ate and slept, worked and walked, lived and died with the very people He had created."
C.S. Lewis wrote about the Incarnation in this manner: "The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him."
On Wednesday evenings we are currently studying some of the miracles of Jesus. However, there is no greater miracle than that of the Christmas story, God becoming man in order to redeem us from our sins and offer us eternal life. It is this one grand miracle that makes it possible for us to enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God came to earth, incarnate in Jesus Christ, that you and I, through Jesus Christ, might come back to God.
Let us reclaim the wonder of Christmas in the mystery of the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, and in Him may we behold the glory of God.
07 November 2011 / Pastor's Pen
Thanksgiving Day was established as a time for us to corporately as well as individually express our gratitude to God for His bountiful blessings. It is also intended to encourage us to live in a spirit of gratitude all year long. It is not enough to give thanks on one day alone, forgetting to acknowledge and express gratitude to God the rest of the year for He has provided and made possible for us.
In this season of Thanksgiving it is good to re‐ member that all we have is a gift from God, a trust given to us to use wisely. We are stewards, or caretakers, of God's wealth and provisions. In light of that, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, gave three practical guidelines that should reflect our Christian living. I have shared these three thoughts before and they are worth revisiting.
1. Gain all you can.
The Bible does not say that money is evil but that it is the root of all evil. But, just as it has the potential for evil, it also has the potential for much good. Money can be used to provide food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothes for the needy, medicine for the sick, etc. Wesley warned, however, that we should not seek our gain at the expense of our neighbors, or at the expense of our health, or our soul. Wesley did not mean that the making of money should be our priority or goal in life. He meant that we should not be lazy, but that we should be gainfully employed.
2. Save all you can.
Wesley said we should not spend money merely to gratify our desires. He urged Christians to buy only what they really need in life, and he did so for two important reasons. First he noted that spending money on things we don't need, or using it frivolously, is a waste of resources. We can probably all think of many, many things that we have spent money on over the years only to realize later we would have been better off if we had saved our money. Second, and more important, frivolous spending only serves to increase our appetite for more things, or more pleasures. The more we get, the more we want. So Wesley says, save all you can.
3. Give all you can.
This third step is crucial. Without it we become selfish and self‐centered individuals. We are not to gain and to save for our own enrichment. We are to gain and to save in order to be able to give. Wesley said, "Render unto God, not a tenth, not a third, not half, but all that is God's, be it more or less; by employing all on yourself, your household, the household of faith, and all mankind, in such a manner, that you may give a good account of your stewardship...." Wesley believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not our standard of living, but our standard of giving. He practiced that in his own life, holding fast his standard of living and ever increasing his standard of giving. What about you?
If you really want to express and live in the spirit of thanksgiving, then I encourage you to live by these practical Christian guidelines. This will help you to realize that God owns everything you have and you are a steward, entrusted to manage your resources in a way that pleases Him, and thus expresses true thanksgiving.