How Far Can You Throw?

James 1:21 – “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

When I was in elementary school I was fascinated with the punt, pass, and kick competitions that the NFL hosted. The idea was to see how far a child under the age of 12 could punt a football, throw a football, and kick a football. The record is 317 feet which is almost the entire length of a football field including the end zones. That is a long way, but the participant could still go and retrieve the ball. It wasn’t thrown and kicked so far that it was un retrievable. The word for “put away” that is used in James 1:21 is a word that means to put something so far away that we can’t retrieve it.

James then is telling his readers to take their sinfulness and moral uncleanness and throw it away so far that they cannot retrieve it. That’s impossible isn’t it? No matter how far we can throw something aside or how far we can cast something off we can retrieve it again. We do this a lot of times with our worry, we may put it aside for a little while but then we pick it up and begin to wring our hands again. We do the same thing with sin. We may decide I’m going to change, I’m not going to participate in that any more. I’m going to cast that aside. We might even do it at New Year’s when we make a New Year’s resolution. Soon however we have went right back to the thing that we did before. We cannot throw our sinfulness away far enough. We may cast it off but it’s always close enough for us to pick it back up.

James says thrown it so far away that you can’t pick it back up, but that is impossible. The Bible says that many things are impossible with man, but “all things are possible with God.” We cannot do it but God can. We cannot rid ourselves of our sins and our sinful attitudes. We cannot change our moral depravity, but God can. He can throw our sins so far away that we cannot reach them again. So what do we do? We need to quit saying I’m going to change and starting saying with humility and meekness, “God change me.” We pray for His strength and we live for His glory!

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Not Just Occasionally

Ephesians 6:18 – “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for the saints.”

Someone wisely said “prayer should be our first line of defense not our last gasp of desperation.” That is certainly Paul’s message to the church at Ephesus and to us as well. Prayer should be what we do first. It should be our heartbeat as we follow Christ in this world. Paul is talking in this context of standing against the temptations of the devil and he tells us in verse 14 to “stand firm” and now he follows that up by telling us to “keep alert” and to “pray at all times”. In other words we stand firm by prayer, and we keep alert by prayer. If we are not in communion with God it becomes very easy to lose focus and not to stand firm but to sink into sin. If we are not talking to God and listening to God in prayer we quickly go from being alert to falling asleep. We quickly go from persevering to giving in, from being passionate to being apathetic. No wonder Paul tells us to pray at all times.

What does he mean when he says that however? We obviously can’t pray continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So what does he mean when he says “pray at all times”? The word that is used for times there is used in other places to speak of occasions. So Paul is actually telling us to pray in all different occasions. One theologian of old puts it this way, “When everything flows on prosperously, — when we are easy and cheerful, we seldom feel any strong excitement to prayer, — or rather, we never flee to God, but when we are driven by some kind of distress. Paul therefore desires us to allow no opportunity to pass, on no occasion to neglect prayer; so that praying always is the same thing with praying both in prosperity and in adversity.”

We are to pray when things are good, when things are bad, when things are excruciating, and when things are in between. We are to pray at all times, in all occasions. What does that look like? When a new day begins, pray. When you come to a time of decision, pray. When you come to a time of sickness, pray. When you come to a time of health, pray. When you meet new people, pray. When you need rest, pray. When you eat, pray. When you whatever, pray. Pray in all circumstances and opportunities. Pray in all different kinds of occasions.

Why? Because prayer helps us to stand strong. Prayer gives us wisdom. Prayer keeps us alert. Most importantly prayer leads us into the Presence of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Prayer humbles us before Him and cries out to Him that we need Him. That we need His wisdom, His strength, His healing, His grace, His love, His mercy, His peace. When we pray we are acknowledging that we need Him every hour, every minute, every second of our lives. When we pray we are saying “God I am nothing without you, and I need you for all the circumstances of life.”

So let us pray without ceasing for the glory of God.

RULE!

Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts…..”

There is a credit card commercial that begins with a lady saying, “I’m nervous about things I can’t control……” I suspect all of us resonate with that. We are nervous or anxious about things that we can’t control. Today is January 1, 2018 and as the days roll by in this new year we will encounter many things that we cannot control. I don’t know what 2018 will hold but I know it will give us many opportunities to worry and be anxious. There will be many opportunities to be nervous, or there will be plenty of opportunities to let the peace of God rule in our hearts.

Paul tells the church at Colosse as they are facing unknown days, “to let the peace of God RULE in their hearts.” The word choice is significant, he is not saying let it be in your hearts, let it occasionally show up, but let it rule. The word in the Greek is used to describe a referee in a sporting contest, someone who is responsible for not letting things get out of hand. Our minds and our worries can sometimes get out of hand. They become like a snowball rolling downhill, they pick up momentum and they grow and grow very quickly. It may start as just a little spark of worry, but it very quickly becomes a raging wildfire of fear. Paul says don’t let it happen, instead let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Let God’s peace control your mind. Don’t let things get out of control, but instead have peace. Let the peace of God rule.

Let it rule over worry, and over fear. Let it rule over nervousness and anxiety. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts. Paul means more than just that however, let the peace of God rule over all sinful thoughts and desires. These things lead us to chaos and disorder. So let the peace of God rule over your sinful desires. Let the peace of God rule over disagreements, quarrels, and secret grudges. Let the peace of God rule over the corruption of the world. Let the peace of God rule over unforgiveness.

The corruption of the world is hard to restrain. The desires of our flesh is hard to restrain. Our grudges and unforgiveness are hard to restrain. In fact those things can quickly spiral out of control as well. We cannot handle them, God however can. His peace is powerful enough to restrain those things. His peace can control us so we must cry out to Him in prayer, knowing that when we pray He hears us. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way, “It is not possible that God should refuse to hear prayer; it is possible for Him to bid the sun stand still and the moon to stay her monthly march. It is possible for Him to bid the waves freeze in the sea – possible for Him to quench the light of the stars in eternal darkness. But it is not possible for Him to refuse to hear prayer that is based on His promise and offered in faith.” So let us pray for the peace of God to RULE in our hearts and in our lives, for God will hear us when we do.

2018 will present us many opportunities for worry, for fear, for selfishness, for sin, and for corruption. It also gives us the opportunity everyday to trust God and to let His peace RULE in our hearts as we live for His glory.

REST!

Matthew 11:28 – “Come unto me all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

Many people of a certain age remember the Calgon commercials with phone ringing, kids screaming and the demands of life all hitting at one time. The actress in the commercial then screams out “calgon take me away,” and the next scene shows a bubble bath being prepared, so that she might enjoy a moment of rest. Rest is something that people of all ages are searching for, but it is something that is very elusive. We want rest, but rest doesn’t come easy.

Jesus however issued us a command in Matthew 11:28, “come unto Me and I will give you rest.” Many times we read that verse as an invitation, Jesus speaks in a still, small voice and says very sweetly “come to me and I will give you rest.” That is not accurate however, rather than a sweet invitation, this verse is a strong command. It is an imperative in the Greek language. Come to me. It is the same word Jesus used when He called His first disciple, “come to me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is not just an invitation, it is a command. Come to me, right now, stop wasting your time, come to me and find rest.

Why does Jesus command us to come to Him for rest? I think it is two fold. He is sick of seeing us waste our lives and our time trying to find rest and peace in the things of the world. He is tired of seeing us pursue the world with passion only to come up empty. For you see worldliness and sin always lead to emptiness even if we catch what we are pursuing. So Jesus says, Stop! Quit pursuing the things of the world. He is tired of seeing us wear ourselves out of things that don’t matter.

Secondly He knows that He is the only source of true rest. It is impossible to truly rest if you do not have peace. That is why when the angels appeared announcing the birth of Jesus they cried out, “peace on earth”. Rest is not possible apart from peace and Jesus knows that. He knows that if a person does not have peace with God they will never find true rest. He knows that if a person doesn’t have peace within themselves they will never find true rest, and so Jesus doesn’t say with a sweet tone, “come unto me,” but instead it is a word of command, “COME to me and find rest.” Quit chasing after things that will never give you rest or peace, because peace and conversely rest is only found in Jesus. Rest comes from having peace with God, and peace within yourself at knowing your sins are forgiven. So come to Jesus and find peace and rest. It is an invitation, yes, but it is a command as Jesus calls those who will follow Him to a life of obedience.

Rest is possible because of Jesus. Yes the journey of life is difficult sometimes and filled up with struggles of many kinds. We can quickly grow weary and weighed down by the burdens of life, and yet Jesus says, “stop, come to me, don’t be burdened, don’t be weary, lay aside those things that weight you down and find rest.” That invitation, that command is made even more powerful by the fact that it is spoken by the King. Come to the palace, lay your burdens down, come into the presence of the King and find rest. Find rest, find strength, and be renewed. Let your weariness fade away because you are now in the Presence of the King!

Come to Him, a person, not a list of rules, not red tape, not a program, not a false hope, not something of the world that fades away, but to a person, to Jesus. He is the King who personally cares about you and loves you. He will give you rest. That is grace in action.

Bitterness and Letting Go

Luke 17:6 – “If you had faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree (sycamine tree), ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea and it will obey you.’”

People don’t plant trees in the ocean, at least not trees that are designed to live on land. Why? Because the salt water will in effect kill them. It would be a waste of time to plant a tree in the ocean. Yet Jesus talks about planting a mulberry or sycamine tree in the ocean in Luke 17. It is a passage of Scripture that talks about the power of faith. If you just have a little bit of faith…..faith the size of a mustard seed you can do great things. But is that really what this passage is all about? To an extent yes, but I believe there is more.

Words matter, and the words of Scripture matter supremely, so you have to ask the question, why did Jesus talk about something being “planted in the sea”. He could have said “placed in the sea” or even “thrown into the sea”, but He didn’t. He said planted in the sea. Why? Well if you plant something you are going to leave it there most likely. If you place something or throw something you can come back and get it, but if you plant something that is a different story. So Jesus is saying this tree needs to be placed in the sea permanently.

Placing the tree in the sea will kill the tree however so why is Jesus talking about killing a tree. In reality a sycamine tree has very bitter fruit, so bitter in fact that you had to eat it slowly one small bite at a time. Many times it would take a person almost an entire to eat this fruit. It was very common, but not very good. The bitterness was horrific. So why is Jesus saying take this bitter tree and plant it in the ocean? Context is important, He had just taught His disciples about the power of sin, and about forgiving other people, and now He teaches them seemingly about the power of faith. But again that isn’t all He is saying. The sycamine tree was very bitter, and so is unforgiveness, and for that matter so is sin. What Jesus is talking about is taking a hold of bitterness and unforgiveness and sin, through your faith and planting those things in the sea so that they die.

He isn’t talking about Jedi rock moving faith, but instead He is talking about life transformation. Your life will be transformed by your faith. Your faith should take your bitterness and uproot it and plant it out of your life. Your faith should kill your bitterness. But not just kill it, it should uproot it. A sycamine tree has very deep roots and so does bitterness. Bitterness is regret and fear, bitterness is unforgiveness and anxiety and bitterness has deep roots. Bitterness is rooted in sin and in selfishness. Jesus is telling His disciples then and His followers now that your faith should transform you, it should kill the bitterness in your life, but not only your bitterness, it should be uprooted and kill even the roots of sin and selfishness. The grace of God is life transforming. Faith is powerful, so powerful that it changes us from the inside out, permanently for the glory of God.

Do you have regret? Anxiety? Fear? Unforgiveness? Does life have a bitterness to it? Those things are rooted in selfishness and sin, so allow Jesus to transform you, to uproot those things through your faith in Him. Be made different through the grace of God and for the glory of God. Solo dei gloria.

Am I Blue?

Am I Blue?

Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

Stoic philosophers in the first century taught that the way to happiness was to be disengaged from other people. You had to live among people, but you didn’t have to get too involved in their lives. If you did their rejoicing might provoke you to jealousy and their weeping might actually cause you to weep, so the best thing you could do, they taught, was to stay out of people’s lives.

That thought is still somewhat prevalent today. We no longer spend time visiting with our neighbors, or even talking on the phone. Life now in many instances is reduced to interaction over social media, or the occasional text messages. Most people don’t know a lot about the struggles that their friends and neighbors are going through because even though we are surrounded by people and can have constant internet interaction we actually live pretty isolated lives. It is the great irony of our world in an all the time connected society, we actually are isolated from one another.

Jesus called His followers 2000 years ago to live lives that were radically different than that. He called His followers to be involved, to love and to care. Remember He said the greatest commandment is to “love God” but the second one was like it, “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was calling His followers to a life of active involvement with other people. Paul follows up on the teaching of Jesus by explaining it this way, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” In other words actively be involved in the lives of other people and really, truly care about them. Before Paul says to rejoice and to weep, he says in verse 10, “let love be genuine,” or “let love be without hypocrisy.” Really, truly care about and love other people, you can do that by celebrating when people celebrate and coming along side of people who are hurting and weeping with them. There is power in community.

I personally experienced this Sunday morning and I can say that it is truly humbling, yet motivating, and it feels your heart with hope and with love. Sunday was of course Autism awareness Sunday and the day that people were asked all over the world to wear blue for autism awareness. When I stood up to preach that morning, I looked around and guess what I saw? A lot of people wearing blue, a lot of people who were saying we support you and we weep with you in your struggles and we rejoice with you in your celebrations. Now to be fair a lot of people had no idea that Sunday was the day to wear blue for autism, but many of the ones that did put their blue on as a sign of saying we stand with you, and we pray for the struggles and rejoice in the celebrations of Isaac. It truly touched my heart, and the heart of my family.

Some of our friends even had shirts made that said, “I have a friend with autism, what is your friend’s super powers?” or “I love someone with autism.” We were given a card that morning that said, “the world is a better place because Isaac is in it.” My heart was moved and I was given hope, hope in knowing that Isaac was loved and that we were as well. There is power in community. It humbled me but it caused me to rejoice and to have strength for the days ahead.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. In other words love other people. Look around this week, there are a lot of people who need to be loved. A lot of people that need to see you rejoicing with them, and a lot of people who need to know that you are weeping right beside them as they weep through the struggles of life. Take time this week to love, you may not know the difference you have made this side of eternity but one day you will. Love other people for the glory of God.

A Hard, Draining, Difficult, and Wonderful Year

A Hard, Draining, Difficult, and Wonderful Year

Lamentations 3:22-23 -“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.”

Today makes one year. One whole year since Isaac has had a seizure. It’s been a good year in many ways and an extremely hard year in others. It has been a year with a lot of changes, but in the midst of all of it God has been faithful.

I will admit that sometimes during the past year I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through the day, but somehow God always gave us the strength to do so. Isaac not only struggled with seizures but he is also is autistic and one of his autistic traits is that he gets fixated on certain things. Last year, one of those things was an iPad or a video game system. They were a security blanket for him, yet every time he had a seizure during the last part of 2015 into early 2016 he had one of them in his hands. We prayed for wisdom as to what was causing the seizures and then with the last one, April 3, 2016 it because painfully obvious. They were caused by the video games or iPads. I began to research them and found out a lot about things like refresh rates and how the brain handles flashing patterns on screens. An iPad flashes 30 times per second, so does an xbox one, that is the prime number for seizures. He loved them, they gave him security but they had to go. That was obvious, what wasn’t obvious was how we were going to handle them being gone. How was he going to do?

There were hard days, trying days, and days of shaking our heads. Days of saying how are we going to do this? Days of fighting and days of wondering. Then something wonderful began to happen, Isaac began to talk more, he began to notice more, he actually began to be happier. He had lost his security blanket, but he had discovered so many other things. A big brother to play with, a little brother who got on his nerves, but who he loved to play with as well, and a family that loved him and friends that do too. The transformation was slow but it was beautiful. Now a year later, I’m thankful. The last seizure that I prayed wouldn’t happen, did happen, but if it wouldn’t have happened we would have never known the cause, and Isaac would still be clinging to those security blankets.

The last year has been tough but God has been faithful. His mercies have been new every morning, and even though my sinfulness has been obvious over the past year, God has been good, and I am learning to trust Him more and more. The Bible says, “He is working all things together for good for those who love the Lord.” I don’t pretend to understand that, sometimes when life doesn’t make sense that verse may not seem to make sense. But it is still true, God is still working for our good, whether it seems that way or not, and whether we know it or not. God is good, and He is faithful so we can trust Him. We can trust the one whose mercies are new every morning, we can trust the one who is working for good, we can trust the one who loved us enough that He laid down His life for us. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense, but even then God is faithful, and He is worthy to be praised and trusted.