Offensive Christmas Music

One of the things I look forward to every year is Christmas shopping.  I know…sounds strange to hear a guy say that…but it’s true!  It is something I have always enjoyed.  When we began having children, it became even more enjoyable to me!  I thoroughly enjoy taking an evening where my wife and I can go shopping together for our kids, as well as enjoy a nice dinner together.  It is fun for me to imagine the face of my children when they open the gift I am buying…even when it is a silly gift, such as a box of Twinkies.  Yes…I have been known to do such things!  But, over the last couple of years, some of the joy of Christmas shopping has dwindled for me as an aspect of the experience has been lost.  The aspect that I am speaking of is the offensive Christmas music.

Wait…is this a rant against Christmas music that speaks of Santa?  Is this a rant against the modernization of classic Christmas hymns?  Not at all.  In fact, to be honest, I am bothered very little by those things.  What I am bothered by is what has been lost.  And what has been lost is the offensive Christmas music!  I am speaking of Christmas songs such as “Joy to the World”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, or “O Holy Night”.  When was the last time you heard these songs playing in a store while you shopped in December?  Songs such as these or any song that speaks of Christ is simply too offensive for our culture these days.  They cross a line that simply cannot be tolerated due to their offensive nature of mentioning Jesus.  Now Christmas music rarely plays in the stores aside from a few songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.  Let’s be honest, how many Christmas songs are there really apart from Jesus?  The list becomes quite short if you remove Christmas songs that mention Christ.

Once again, we see that our modern culture’s mantra of tolerance is a one-way street.  It means Christians have to tolerate all that the culture throws at us, but we ourselves cannot be tolerated.  In the name of tolerance, Christmas music is out.  It can’t be tolerated in our culture of tolerance.  Thus, there is an aspect of the Christmas shopping that has been lost for me.  This makes me sad.  I really enjoyed shopping for gifts while hearing music in the background that spoke of the greatest gift ever given!  Last night, while Christmas shopping, I had to listen a Christmas song that repeated over and over again, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart…the next day you gave it away.”  Oh yeah…that really stokes the fires of the Christmas spirit!

But, as I thought and reflected on this issue, something became apparent to me.  While the years in our culture where it was okay for stores to play Christmas music was a blessing, it really isn’t their job to proclaim Christ.  We can get upset and offended that they refuse to play any Christmas music about Christ, but that was never their role in the first place.  It’s ours.  The culture is going to go the way of the culture.  Thus, as the culture goes, so will go their music.  It grieves me that I can’t shop for Christmas and hear Christmas music about Christ.  But the music of Christ is my job and the job of my fellow Christians.

Just consider the words from I Peter 2:9:  “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”  Our culture went through some decades of playing Christmas music about Christ, but it couldn’t last.  They are not the people of God!  But woe is us if we fail to proclaim the praises of God who called us out of darkness into His light!  It is our job to proclaim Christ this Christmas!

So, fill your home, your car, or your office with Christmas music that speaks of Christ!  Let the words be heard from your lips as you shop in the store.  Tell the cashier “Merry Christmas” when they tell you “Happy Holidays”.  Come to church and sing with joy of the meaning of Christmas!  It is our job to proclaim Christ and so let us joyfully proclaim it!

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Sweet Meditations

It was one of those awful nights as a coach where you stare blankly out the bus window, wondering what in the world went wrong.  As the bus carrying the girls’ basketball team made its way out of town and onto the highway, I sat across the aisle from the head coach.  Even though I was the assistant coach, I still felt the weight of the embarrassing loss.  However, from the back of the bus came the sound of laughter, joking, and goofiness.  The jovial sounds escalated and I could practically feel the coach’s temperature rising from where I sat.  Finally, he could take it no more.  He got up, walked to the back of the bus and in a firm, yet controlled tone, said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you girls are used to, but I’m not used to getting my tail handed to me like we just did!  You better figure out what its gonna take to be mentally prepared and you better figure out how to take this game seriously!  You girls should be embarrassed and instead you are acting like you don’t even care how bad that team made you look!”  Needless to say, when he sat down, the rest of the bus ride was quiet.  It took time, but throughout the season, the girls learned to think rightly and take the game more seriously.  By the end of the season, the team was a play-off contender.

How you think, what you think about, and where your mind dwells makes a huge difference in life.  One of the reasons Christians struggle is because they stop thinking biblically about their circumstances and the events that surround them.  Instead, they begin thinking about themselves, how things affect them, how they aren’t getting what they want, or things are not the way they want them.  In other words, as Christians, we can either think biblically or we can think selfishly. Either way, how we think matters.  I was struck by this as I was reading through Psalm 104 this morning.

Psalm 104 begins with these words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”  Note the Psalmist begins with worship!  He is making a choice to worship the Lord from the depths of his heart.  As we read on, we see him write, “O Lord my God, You are very great:  You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.”  The Psalmist worships God because God is the great God!  And, the great God is his God!

The Psalmist then goes on for the rest of the Psalm describing the greatness of God!  He reigns from Heaven and is over all Creation.  He “Laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever” (5).  The Lord God put the sea exactly where He wanted it to be and hedged it in with mountains.  He sent springs and creeks into the valleys for water, trees for the birds nest in and sing from, and grass for the animals to eat.  He made the moon and the sun to mark the days and seasons.  The Psalmist goes on to write, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all.  The earth is full of your possessions.” (24).  The Psalmist continues describing how God provides food and life for all living things, even bringing new life into Creation.  Throughout the Psalm, we see a picture of God’s sovereign goodness and wisdom exercised through the order of His Creation.

The Psalmist spends over 30 verses describing the greatness of God as seen in Creation!  As the Psalm draws to a close, we read this: “May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.” (34).  What is the Psalmist getting at?  Our thinking about life and our circumstances must line up with who God is!  When we are ruled by anxiety and fear, we not thinking on the greatness of God!  When are angry and controlling, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  When we are depressed and joyless, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  When we are complaining and disgruntled, we are not thinking on the greatness of God!  In all of these instances, and countless others, our meditation is not sweet to God and we are not glad in Him.  You see, our understanding of God and our faith in Him is directly proportional to how we view life.

So, here is the challenge for you and me.  Are our thoughts and what we think about sweet to God?  Or do our thoughts and what we think about discount the greatness of God?  Are we glad in the Lord?  Or is our gladness based upon circumstances being the way we want them thus revealing that we find our joy in something other than God?  Psalm 104 reminds of the sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and love of God and challenges us to think about life with those truths as foundational to the way we think.  Thus, may our thoughts and what we think about reflect these truths!  Oh…and spend some time in Psalm 104!  It is wonderful food for the soul!

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Precious Dust

Last night after dinner, our family took a drive up into the mountains.  We parked along a creek and hiked a small trail that meandered along the tumbling water as it flowed joyfully down the narrow ravine.  As we walked along, we saw large groups of Trilliums that had grown up out of the freshly melted snow.  These large, white, three petaled flowers are a welcome sight in the Spring!  It is a sure sign that Spring is well on its way!  However, these beautiful flowers have an incredibly short lifespan.  Within a matter of days, their vibrant white turns to a deep purple and then to a pale brown before dropping lifelessly off the stem of the plant.  The plants boldly declare Spring is here and then they disappear into the ground.

We shouldn’t miss that Scripture often refers to humanity as the grass or flowers in a field, here one day and gone the next.  Scripture reminds us that we come from dust and quickly return to dust.  There is a reason why the phrase “Dust to dust” has long been attached to funerals.  I have been especially reminded of these things in the past few weeks.  Our weakness and frailty has been readily exposed.  We can be taken out by a virus we can’t even see and an entire country can be nearly shut down by a microscopic organism.  Regardless of where one stands in regard to the government’s response to the virus, we should not miss that nearly 18,000 Americans have died in the last couple weeks.  If we value human life, that is a significant number in a very short amount of time.  It stands as a poignant reminder of our frailty.

But here is the question: Does our frailty make us worthless?  Are we no more important than the Trillium that announces Spring and then quickly dies?  The Bible gives us a firm answer to this question.  In Psalm 103, we read these words.  “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.  As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” (Psalm 103:13-18).

How does God pity us and extend His mercy and His righteousness to us?  Well, earlier in the Psalm we read, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12).  How has God done this?  Through the Cross of Christ.

Today is known as Good Friday.  It is the day in which we remember that Christ went to the Cross for us.  He took God’s righteous wrath for our sins in our place.  Jesus was our representative before the Holy God.  He took the penalty of death that should be ours to take.  Because He died on the Cross for us, our sins are forgiven through faith in Him.  He has removed our transgressions from us, as far as the east is from the west and clothed us with righteousness.

The Bible reminds us we are frail, though we are often slow to believe it.  But the Bible also tells us that we are precious and valuable.  While our frailty is compared to dust, grass, and flowers, our value is compared to children.  We are so precious to God that He sent His Son to die on the Cross for us.  We are so precious to Christ that He went to the Cross with joy because He knew it would mean we would be with Him for eternity (See John 17:20-26; Hebrews 12:1-2).  So, this Easter, as we are reminded of our frailty, may we be all the more thankful that we are precious to God!  His mercy towards us is from everlasting to everlasting!  You are precious to God!

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Wisdom or Fear?

Wisdom or fear?  This has been a question flowing frequently through my mind, like the planes that regularly flow along our house as they coast into the nearby airport.  A package comes from Amazon…should I allow no one to touch it except me and then wash my hands really well after opening it?  Some grocery items are at Costco and others at Wal-Mart…do I only go to Costco and forgo the other items so as not to have double exposure by going to two stores?  Is that trip to Home Depot an essential trip or a trip for a project that could wait?  Should we continue with our vacation plans for May or should we post-pone?  I need to floss…when did I last wash my hands?  Be honest…I know I ‘m not the only one who has had these questions go through their mind!

Questions that seemed silly or unnecessary three weeks ago are now questions that regularly flow through our minds.  We find ourselves facing questions that can seem like an endless hole.  We exit a store and use the hand sanitizer when we get into our car…but we touched our keys, our phone, our pocket, our door handle, our ignition, and our console before we got to the hand sanitizer.  Now what?  Do we need to purchase a fumigator?  In fact, I saw an article today by a doctor who said keeping Covid-19 out of your house is easy.  Just walk in the door, go straight to the bedroom, undress, throw your dirty laundry in the hamper, take a shower, brush your teeth, put on clean clothes, and then go wipe down every surface you may have touched.  Right!  No problem!  But what about the car I got out of, the shoes I untied, the jacket I took off, and the car keys I put on the counter?  How are we as Christians to think rightly about these things?

First of all, we need to remember that our hope is in the Lord, not in remaining healthy.  Health, though a good thing, can quickly become an idol in our lives.  Many serve it far more than they realize.  Could you still have joy and hope in the Lord if you remained in a place of unhealth, such as diabetes, cancer, or severe arthritis?  God is the Lord who reigns and thus we must sovereignly entrust ourselves into His loving hands.

Second, we must understand biblical fear.  Paul Tripp helpfully describes the three forms of biblical fear.  First is “Fear of God” which is holy reverence for the Creator of all.  Second is the “Rapid Response Fear” which is our instinctual ability to react quickly in a dangerous situation.  The third is “Appropriate Concern”, which Tripp defines as that which, “Allows us to be sobered by what we are facing, and with our God-given ability to analyze, we make wise and planned choices to protect ourselves and those we love.”  These are the biblical fears God has built into us.

Third, we must understand unbiblical fear.  Unbiblical fear is dwelling upon that which concerns us or makes us afraid.  It is allowing ourselves to be controlled by fears and forgetting that God is sovereignly working in the midst of it all for His glory and our ultimate good.  The more your mind dwells upon a concern, the more fear will grow in your mind.  Specifically, in the Covid-19 situation, it is being consumed with everything going on, reading article after article, over analyzing every decision, checking the news 10 times a day, and making decisions more from fear than from wisdom.

Fourth, we must understand God has told us not to be filled with unbiblical fear.  Apparently, Timothy was a young man who struggled with fear.  He served as a pastor in a difficult environment at Ephesus and faced the hardship of ministry.  In the midst of it all, he struggled to not give way to fear and thus Paul wrote to him, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7).  Instead of fear, we are to flee to the truths given to us in the Gospel!  Consider what Paul said in light of the Gospel.  What is more powerful than having the chains of sin and death destroyed?  What is more loving than the love God has for us in sending Christ to die for us?  What is stronger for a sound mind than the truth of God’s Word?  Fear must not control us but rather the truth of the Gospel and God’s Word must control us.  You are loved and kept by the all-powerful God who is the eternal truth!  “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5).

Fifth, we must not lose sight of love for others.  In times like these, it can be tempting to just look out for yourself and try to keep yourself and family safe.  But that isn’t all God has called us to!  Jesus said in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  Let love for God and love for others fuel your decisions!

So, in putting this all together, as decisions are before you, ask yourself the question: “Am I making this choice out of fear or out of wisdom?”  Let’s go back to the example of getting in your car after being in the store.  You look at your hand sanitizer sitting there in the console.  What you do next may be wisdom or it may be fear.  It may be wisdom to squirt some on your hands and use it.  But it may be fear if squirting some on your hands, then your keys, then your phone, then your door handle, then your steering wheel, etc. is what gives you peace as you drive out of the parking lot.  Wisdom or fear?  Why am I doing what I am doing?

I have been thinking a lot about the Apostle Paul these days in regard to wisdom and fear.  Consider how he could have functioned.  He doesn’t go to Ananias after his conversion because he is afraid what a Christian Jew will think of him.  He doesn’t preach in the synagogue of Damascus because he is afraid the Jews who once loved him will now hate him.  He doesn’t go to the Jerusalem church because he is afraid of what the church there will think of him.  He doesn’t go Cyprus because the sea is scary and the boats so primitive.  He doesn’t go to Galatia because there is persecution there from both the Jews and the Gentiles.  He doesn’t go to Greece because it is a dangerous place full of idol worshipping people.  He doesn’t return to Jerusalem because people at Ephesus told him the Jews would kill him if he returned.  He doesn’t submit himself to go to Rome because it is the same government that killed Jesus.  He doesn’t write to the churches from Rome because he is afraid his imprisonment will bring shame to the Gospel.  And that is just a sampling!  Yet, where would the New Testament be if Paul made every decision based upon fear?

So Christian, make wise decisions to the best of your ability.  Make decisions out of love for God and love for others.  But flee the temptation to give way to fear and continually meditate upon the concerns of the day.  Instead, follow the example of Christ who faced constant fear through entrusting Himself to God (I Peter 2:23).  Use the hand sanitizer but do so knowing your hope is not in a solution of 60% alcohol!  Your hope is in the Creator God, who is 100% in control of all things we face!

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Deep Waters

It was one of those hot August afternoons that found Jess and I fly fishing on the Blackfoot River.  When one needs childcare for such activities, one can’t be as picky as one would like!  Thus, we were fishing on a day that was more suited for swimming or floating the river.  There was little surprise in the fact that we were catching nothing.  Finally, as we stood by a particularly deep and slow pool of clear, cool water, Jess could no longer take it.  She put down her fly rod, kicked off her shoes, and dove into the inviting water.  She sighed in relief as she came up out of the water refreshed and rejuvenated.  Little relief would have been found from a small trickle escaping from a barren rock!  It was the deep waters that gave relief!

Likewise, we are at a time in history when it is only the deep waters of God’s Word that give relief.  We are at a time in which all other words are but a small trickle from a barren rock!  I have been very much reminded of this as all the cute little sayings and memes that so characterize our day have stood out to me all the more as shallow and of little value.  I shared on Sunday the Yogi tea “word of wisdom” that stated “Let things come to you.”  Hardly sound advice in these times!  Today, I encountered yet another one on the inside of a chocolate wrapper.  It was supposed to impart wisdom to me with the phrase, “Laugh it off”.  Again, hardly appropriate for the day!  These “words of wisdom” which seemed shallow to me before only appear all the more so now!

We have been living in a time of great intellectual shallowness for many years now.  Sadly, this has not left the church untouched.  The Christian community is often relying upon things such as 5-minute devotionals and, for lack of a better term, “cute Christian phrases”.  The problem in all of this is now deeply exposed in the face of the hardship many are now facing.  Trying to deal with major issues like the effects of Covid-19 with a phrase from a Christian meme is like to trying to jump into a trickle of water for refreshment on a hot day!  Times such as we are in remind us of our need for the deep waters of God’s Word!

Consider how the Psalmist wrote of God’s Word in Psalm 119: “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” (92-93).  “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Through Your precepts I get understanding.” (104).  “I am afflicted very much; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your Word!” (107).  “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your Word.” (114).  “Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, Yet Your commandments are my delights.” (143).  “Great are Your tender mercies, O Lord; Revive me according to Your judgments.” (156).  “Consider how I love Your precepts; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness.  The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” (159-160).  Do you see how the Psalmist understood his need for God’s Word?

God’s Word is the deep water we desperately need!  Only the Word of God can bring true refreshing and rejuvenation.  Only God’s Word can stir our souls with deeper affection for Him and one another.  Only God’s Word can truly give us perspective for the God who is True and knows all things authored it.  Only God’s Word can show us the beauty of Christ and the hope of the Gospel.  Only God’s Word can give us peace in times of turmoil.  Only God’s Word can revive the downcast heart.  No wonder David wrote in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul!”  Dive into the deep waters of God’s Word and find refreshment for your soul!

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Discombobulated:  What a great word!  Just saying it over and over again out loud will probably bring a smile to your face!  It is a much under-used word!  What does it mean?  Webster’s dictionary defines it as feeling confused and disordered.  Many Americans right now feel discombobulated and you probably do as well!  It is okay to admit “I feel discombobulated right now!”  The Covid-19 situation has caused much discombobulation.  Why?  As Christians, it is helpful to examine why and not just simply try to push the feeling out of the way.  Remember the Psalmist in Psalms 42-43 wrestles with his unrestful thoughts, asking “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”  As he wrestles with his thoughts honestly, he begins to bring his unrest into submission to God who is his help and hope.  Likewise, as we honestly address our discombobulation, we can bring it into submission to our God who is our help and hope!  So why do we feel discombobulated?

First, we like control and right now many of us feel very much out of control.  We can’t even get toilet paper!  We are being told we can do this and can’t do this.  We are no longer in control of where we go and the schedule we keep.  Many are being told they can’t go to work while all are told they can’t go out to eat or gather together with friends.  Not having control is very disconcerting for us and recognizing this is important.  Perhaps why it is so disconcerting is because much of our concept of control is simply an illusion.  The only one who is truly in control is God!  Thus, we must humble ourselves under His hand and entrust ourselves to Him.

Second, we like comfort and avoid discomfort as much as we possibly can.  This is an especially idolatrous area for Americans.  We have large homes, nice cars, health insurance, and a massive choice of food!  We have grown to like comfort and I am certainly no exception.  Times I have been in inner-cities or in other countries, I have been uncomfortable.  I remember sleeping in a poor area of Mexico with bugs crawling on me all night long.  I was not comfortable!  But, when comfort becomes an idol in our hearts, we sin when we don’t have it or we sin to get it.  We must remember God has not called to comfort but to follow after Christ.  Remember what Jesus said to those who wanted to follow Him!  “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9:58).  The call to follow Christ is a call to die to self (Mark 8:34-38).

Third, we want answers.  The information day we now live in has produced in us an insatiable desire for answers.  We want to know what is going on and why.  In fact, many even demand answers, as if they are entitled to them!  Yet, we must confess that the desire for answers is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.  As humans made in God’s image, we have the ability to reason, to think, and to plan.  So, we can recognize that wanting answers is part of what it means to be made in God’s image.  But we also must remember there is only One who has all the answers and we are not Him!  God alone has all the answers and therefore when we do not have the answers, we must entrust ourselves to God who does.

Fourth, we want certainty.  We want to know that when we wake up in the morning, our home will still be there, our family will still be there, our job will still be there, and the things we enjoy doing will still be available to us.  We want to know our health will stay the same and the health of those we love will stay the same.  However, nothing is certain.  In fact, this is one of the great downfalls of sinful humanity!  Peter writes in II Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”  In other words, sinful humanity thinks nothing will change!  Yet, history has proven that things are always changing.  The desire for certainty isn’t necessarily a wrong desire.  We just often desire certainty in the wrong things!  Thus, we must cling to the things that are certain; God’s Word, God’s promises, the Gospel, and love of God.  There is a reason God is regularly called our Rock!  “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

Fifth, we desire fellowship.  This is one of the most difficult things we are experiencing right now.  God has made us with a deep desire and need for each other.  This season is showing us how true that is!  Again, this is part of being made in the image of God!  The Triune God exists in fellowship!  In the Garden, God explicitly said, “It is not good for man to be alone!”. Hebrews 3 warns us that sin festers in isolation and it is regular fellowship that keeps our hearts from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  We need each other and not having fellowship readily accessible is challenging, grievous, and lonely.  Thus, in this time, we must use whatever means are available to us to continue to pursue fellowship, even if it is not in the fullness we are used to experiencing.  We also must remember that we have fellowship with God through Christ and must therefore strive after Him all the more in this time!  We are never alone!

Finally, we want to know the outcome.  Questions float regularly through our minds such as, “Will I get sick?”, “How many will die?”, “What will the economy do?”, “Will I lose my job?”, or “How long will this last?”.  I have seen many headlines touting to project outcomes and I have purposefully ignored those articles.  We don’t know the outcomes and thus to try and speculate what they will be only breeds further uncertainty, false hopes, and fear.  How many times have we been told the outcomes by experts, only to discover later how far off they were in their projections?  There is only One who knows the outcomes and that is our sovereign God!  Isaiah 46 reminds us that God alone declares the end from the beginning!  Only God knows the outcomes!  And (don’t miss this) the most important outcome He has shared with us.

There is coming a day when the Lord Jesus will return (I Thess. 4:15-18).  He will gather His people to Himself, we will be given resurrected bodies, sin and death will be defeated, and we will be victorious with Christ (I Cor. 15).  We will dwell for eternity in the new earth with our Lord and Savior, free from suffering and death, in perfect fellowship with God and one another (Rev. 21-22).  We may not know the outcome of Covid-19, but by God’s grace, we know the outcome of history!  And we should note, that when Scripture reminds of the outcomes it tells us things such as, “Comfort one another with these words” (I Thess. 4:18), “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (I Cor. 15:58), and “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37).  Yes, we feel discombobulated!  But let us submit this to the Lord and hold fast to our God who is our Rock!

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Don’t Waste Your Social Distancing!

I find it ironic that my last post was called “Thankfulness and Toilet Paper”.  Fitting.  Never before have we been so thankful to have toilet paper in the cupboard!  We are living in a unique time in which the virus Covid-19 has changed the way most of us live, including the way we shop for toilet paper.  During this time, we have been asked by our government to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the new virus Covid-19.  This presents a unique challenge for Christians in the local church as the Gospel calls us to live lives together and resist the temptation to live in isolation.  So, how do we navigate these times?  Scripture calls us to do all things to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17, 23).  How do we practice social distancing, to the glory of God?  How do we not waste this time?  Here are some suggestions.

First, use the increased down time to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word.  People often say they struggle to read their Bibles because they don’t have time.  It will be interesting to see if those same people, who now have increased time on their hands, will indeed read their Bibles!  Time in God’s Word is always crucial for the believer, but even more so in times of uncertainty.  We desperately need the perspective God’s Word gives us on who He is, who we are, and where history is going.  Psalm 119 states, “My soul melts from heaviness; Strengthen me according to Your Word”(28) and “This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your Word has given me life”(50) and “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.”(92).

Second, take the time to pray.  Pray for one another.  Pray for your family.  Pray for the Lord to move in a mighty way during this time and for the Gospel to go forward.  Pray for the Lord to strengthen you and take away fear or anxiety you may have (I Pet. 5:6-7).  Pray for our church and ministry to continue.  Pray for our missionaries who are serving in difficult conditions.  Use the increased time alone to seek the Lord more diligently in prayer.

Third, be active and purposeful.  If possible, don’t just sit on the couch and eat Oreos!  Use this time to be out in God’s Creation, hiking, walking, or biking!  God has designed us in such a way that time in His Creation is good for our souls for in Creation we see the hand of God (Psalm 19:1).  Also, it is important to remember physical activity is good for our bodies.  It is also a time in which you can talk with the Lord in prayer.  Consider ways you can serve your family or someone else through doing a project or craft.

Fourth, take advantage of increased time with your children.  At this time, schools are closed and many are home with their children.  Don’t waste this special and unique opportunity!  Use the time to study God’s Word with your children, read them a book, such as “The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe”, play Legos with them, or play games with them. Think about adventures you could do with them, such as visiting a historical site, hiking along a creek, or fishing in the river.  This is a time when they could look back with fondness on the time the schools closed for a virus because they enjoyed special time with their parents.

Fifth, limit time on your phone and computer surfing social media and news outlets.  This really won’t be a helpful and beneficial use of your time.  Get the basic information you need for the day and then focus on other things.  Constantly reading article after article on Covid-19 will cause your mind to constantly dwell there and miss many other important things in your life.  As frustrations mount, I am seeing more and more unhelpful articles and social media posts.  Remember Philippians 4:8, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Sixth, when you go out, go with the joy of the Lord!  We are living in a time when people are really fearful.  Be a light to those you come in contact with through a smile or encouragement.  I was reminded of this yesterday when I went to Wal-Mart for some groceries.  An elderly woman was helping me at the checkout and she commented that she told her boss that, as an elderly woman, she should be getting hazard pay.  I smiled at her and just simply said, “Well, I’m glad you are here to help me!”  Her response was to smile and say “Thank you!”.

Seventh, look for opportunities to share the Gospel.  I have been asked a few times how our church can be a light to the community in this time.  I believe the best way we can be a light is if we are sharing the hope of Christ with those who are fearful and anxious.  We have the hope of Christ that leads to joy and peace!  May we be faithful to share it in this time, as the Lord gives us opportunity.

Finally, if you are able, consider ways you can love and serve those at the church.  Send a card, call someone to check in, Facetime someone, and pray for others.  Invite someone over for lunch or for dinner, as long as both of you are comfortable with that, in regard to health.  In this unique time, consider how to continue to love and minister to others.

I have seen several people from different parts of the country on Facebook asking for recommendations for shows on Netflix or Amazon to binge out on.  But as Christians, we need to approach this time differently.  Consider this:  If Jesus were to come back in the midst of this social distancing time, what would you want Him to find you doing?  Finishing episode 67 of Downton Abbey or living for His glory, loving Him and loving others?  I think the answer is obvious!  Let us not waste our social distancing!

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Thankfulness and Toilet Paper

Thanksgiving as a kid meant gathering with family at Grandma’s.  It meant tons of food before anyone cared about things such as calorie counting, carbs from fat, and Ketogenic.  It meant needing a second full sized plate for dessert, all of which was homemade. It meant playing kick the can with cousins and catching glimpses of the football game between Dallas and Detroit. And most of all, it meant hunting in the morning before all the relaxing began.  Back then…Thanksgiving was pretty simple.

Now, as a 43 year old, it seems like a lot more work.  Not because I now need to get my family ready for the day or navigate the details of the holiday.  Rather, in my youth, Thanksgiving was pretty simple because life was pretty simple.  I didn’t carry many burdens or worries, aside from how I was going to finally bag that monster buck!  But now, life is filled with leaking water heaters, broken down vehicles, unending bills, failing appliances, regular exposure to pain and suffering, roofs that let in water instead of repel water, antibiotics, shoes that wear out, root canals, windows that break, grief, weariness from fighting sin, vinegar that spills, and the need to buy toilet paper yet again. Thanksgiving takes more work.

Psalm 92 helps put our life in perspective.  Consider just the first two verses:  “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night.”

Why is it good to give thanks to the Lord?  Because the only other option is to be ungrateful towards God.  We either give God thanks or we criticize Him, essentially telling Him He isn’t good enough and hasn’t been good enough towards us. When we do this, we are declaring ourselves to be equal with Him in wisdom and knowledge.  At the heart of sin is a refusal to give thanks. This is a dangerous path to start down and its end is darkness, bitterness, and anger towards God.  But, even more so, it is dangerous because it brings God’s discipline and even judgment.  Being ungrateful is dangerous business! “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.   Professing to be wise, they became fools”(Romans 1:21-22)

But, why else is it good to give thanks to the Lord?  Because He is infinitely faithful to His people and loves them with a zealous love.  This is most clearly seen in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  God, in His love and mercy, sent His Son to deliver us from wrath, judgment, and eternal suffering so we could be with Him for eternity.  He didn’t have to…but He chose to.  Yes…circumstances can be challenging.  Yes…there is real pain.  Yes…there are some Christians suffering intense persecution.  But, despite it all, it is good to give thanks because God has saved us from eternal suffering.  Sadly, many Christians do not practice thankfulness to God, seeming instead to say with their attitude they would rather have eternal suffering later and no suffering now.  What would you say if God told you He would give you what you wanted now but not give you salvation?  Though I at times truly battle being thankful, I must admit, I would rather have suffering now and look forward to spending eternity with Jesus where suffering will be no more.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving, let us be thankful people.  Let us remember it is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to His name.  The Psalmist says we can live this out in two specific ways.  First, each morning as we get up, thank God for His lovingkindness toward us, which we now most clearly see in the Gospel.  Second, as we go to bed, thank God for His faithfulness for He is faithful to save us and keep us for His Kingdom.

But, not only this, practice being a thankful person, even in the little things such as buying toilet paper.  Just consider, buying toilet paper means you have money to buy it…you had a location you could go into to buy it…you had a way to get to that location…you have a digestive system that is functioning…you have food and water you consume for your body to process…you have a place to use the toilet paper…and you probably even had a choice of 1-ply or 2-ply, regular or extra soft.  Remember, being thankful is not optional for the Christian!  “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(I Thessalonians 5:18).  So, in everything give thanks…even in buying toilet paper!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Singing in the Snow

DSC07839It is snowing again!  When will winter ever end?  Isn’t it supposed to be Spring!  These were many of the things people were saying last week as it snowed nearly every day last week.  Unfortunately, many don’t realize that this is simply spring in Montana!

One day last week, I was coming back from a run.  There was snow on the ground and it was snowing.  Yet, as I finished my run, I did so to a surround sound choir.  No…it wasn’t angelic voices from Heaven cheering me on to finish.  Nor was it my neighbors singing to me as I plodded toward my driveway.  In actuality, both of those groups who did see me probably wondered if they should be ready to provide emergency treatment!  The surround sound choir were the birds, sitting in trees all around me, singing their little hearts out to the glory of God.

I couldn’t help but pause and consider their song on such a snowy morning.  They had recently migrated back from warmer climates and sunnier skies…yet they sang.  They were exposed continually to the elements as they lived outdoors…yet they sang.  If anyone had reason to complain it was them.  Yet they sang their robust songs as if it was 75 degrees and sunny.

We should take a lesson from the birds that sang that morning who, instead of complaining, sang.   Likewise, we should turn from our constant complaining, choosing instead to praise our God.  Do you remember Philippians 2:14?  There Paul states, “Do all things without complaining and disputing.”

In reality, when we complain, we are not trusting in God, but declaring that He has failed us.  He hasn’t done as well as He could have.  In our assessment of His actions and decrees, He has been mediocre.  He has chosen poorly.  He hasn’t been good enough for us.  Friends, this is dangerous ground we often tread on without even thinking about it.  Sadly, complaining has become a normal way of thinking and speaking.  But, if God is truly sovereign, which Scripture is clear He is, then we should take a lesson from the birds.  We should cease from our complaining, which is grumbling against Him, and turn instead to praising our sovereign God.  In all reality, we have been saved from an eternity of suffering by His love and mercy!  In light of that….what do we really have to complain about?

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I Ubered

Uber_App_Icon.svgTwo week ago from today I Ubered for the first time.  The first time I heard someone say that, I immediately thought, “Goodness!  That sounds serious!  I hope he went to the doctor right away!”  Thus, it was with much trepidation this small-town Montana boy called for a Uber.  In fact, before Ubering, I Googled it…just to be sure.  Googled.  A term that twenty years ago would have made it sound like you had a biological accident.  Yet it is now so common, spellcheck doesn’t even mark it as a misspelled word!  So, in reality, it could be stated, “I Googled to Uber”.  Now it sounds like something out of a modern day Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!  Good thing I don’t have Twitter or I would have probably Tweeted about my Googled Uber!

I Ubered at the end of a pastor’s conference where the theme was Christ’s declaration that He would build His Church.  Consequently, I was thinking about the Church in our culture.  We live in what is perhaps the fastest changing times in the history of mankind.  New words and word forms are being invented just to try and keep up!  With it comes the great temptation to change the foundations of the church as well.  After all, with all of these changes, certainly the church needs to change also to keep up!  Otherwise, it is said, it will be left in the dust to die like an antique kitchen appliance.  Sentimental…but impractical and useless.

While we live in a world that is rapidly changing, we serve a Savior who does not.  The author of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.” (Hebrews 13:8-9).  And because Jesus doesn’t change, neither does the foundation of the church change.  Nor do His commands for the church!  The church is still to be built on Him, focused on making disciples, preaching His Word, singing His praises, praying in His Spirit, and following the two ordinances He left, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

So Christian…take heart!  If the church holds fast to the unchanging Savior and His commands for her, she will never become outdated and slip into the sands of time to be buried forever.  No…the Church of Christ has seen the rise and fall of Rome, the rise and fall of monarchies, the invention of the printing press, the invention of the steam engine, the gas engine, and the battery engine.  And when Ubering, Googling, and Tweeting are old history…guess what?  The church will still be there because the eternal Savior is still there!

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