heeding God’s call

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord.

Amos 7:14-16a

There is a sense in which any of us who are in Jesus have some sort of calling from God. And the gift to go along with that. It really matters not what friends or even academics might think of that, although we should be humble and teachable, and learn what we can from their critiques. But in the end, we are answerable to God alone. We must pay attention, and be obedient to God’s call.

This doesn’t mean for a second that we’re infallible, or always get it right. Or that we think we’re something special, or a cut above anyone else. No. We’re all different, and everyone’s gift from God is a God thing and therefore a good thing. You shouldn’t compare as in putting against apples, oranges, pears, trees, etc. to each other. They’re all different, but all good in their place.

That’s what I attempt to do. I want to be accountable to the church, to others, and I’ve tried to be. And again, I know there have been flaws in what I’ve done, and that in some ways I’ve refined myself over the years. And yes, I have a hard time with some of what I do, as well. I don’t care at all about my own opinions, for example. But they are one person’s considered thought, weighing, as well as influenced by the thoughts of others, one who has lived a pretty good number of decades.

But in the end, what matters is God’s calling. And our answer to that. Let’s be faithful to the one we will answer to in the end. Together. In and through Jesus.

saying all you would like to say

I know that wisdom makes us keep our mouths shut, and not say much of what we might think at the time. Proverbs, and perhaps the most proverb like book of the New Testament, James, makes that clear.

There is much one would like to say though, which might be good, even indeed wisdom gathered over a lifetime, including from one’s failures, falls, and about the grace God extended. Of course our lives are never done until our last breath. As long as we have sound mind, and up to the point we have, we should be learning right up to the very end. And we want to pass on what might be good, and what indeed is good from God on to others, especially to our loved ones, our immediate family.

One thing for sure: All I would like to say becomes more refined and limited over time. On many issues over which I might have some strong opinions, I won’t necessarily say much, because I don’t want any of that to mute what I consider to be of “first importance.” And actually that thought can help refine my own thinking on secondary matters. The gospel is first and foremost, and while centered in Jesus, in his death on the cross, and his resurrection, its outcome and concern from that is as big as all life. So that, while we need to tread softly and wisely, we do need to speak gently and humbly concerning important issues like abortion, racism, the environment, and with ever a ready ear to listen well.

The big thing for me though is to help others with what gift I have in trying to communicate what I’ve learned over a lifetime. Even as I seek to continue to learn well from and in and through Jesus.

why do I write?

Periodically, ever since a trusted pastor asked me why I write, I check myself on this, trying to understand better, myself. In 2004, I began to visit blogs, the first couple years on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, which I still go to to this day. Around 2006, I started my own blog at the suggestion of one of the Jesus Creed  readers and contributors. I was surprised to find that I could actually write a post. And even Scot took to liking my blog. So I thought I must be on to something.

Back in those days, blogs and blogging was hot. Almost everyone was reading a blog. Nowadays, it has cooled off quite a bit, except at some quarters, like where I work, Our Daily Bread, where their ministry blogs get exponentially more hits than the few my blog gets. At the beginning I was on Blogger and didn’t know how many hits I was getting since that wasn’t what I wanted to be in it for. I lost my original blog for a year and a half, until it mysteriously returned. On the day I lost it, I went to WordPress. And (on Blogger) probably a year and a half into blogging, I started to do it daily, as that was recommended for the best impact for readers and blog followers at the time. Besides, I do better whatever I do, regularly, probably daily. And getting back to the point on stats, WordPress simply has that in your blog, whether you want it or not. I don’t think I have to worry about getting a big head considering the number of hits I get.

I think the most basic answer to why I write is simply because I am a writer. I am one who thinks, and thinks and thinks some more. And it’s mostly been in and about scripture. I’ve been in God’s written word, the Bible for more than four decades now. And in the past, year after year, I’ve listened to it being read from the New International Version. That is an accurate and highly readable translation. I still think it’s the best at combining those two traits. And so I learned my English in writing from hearing that. And that word more and more penetrated my mind, heart, and life. Not that I lived up to that, and of course we need grace every day to have any hope of growing in that direction.

I also write, because I’ve sensed a calling on my life right from the beginning of my Christian journey, and perhaps a bit, before. To share God’s word with others, and be a pastor. To this day I go to a nursing home on Sundays to do a worship service which includes teaching the word, along with visiting afterwards. So that is my passion, as well. In my heart of hearts, I’m a pastor. So part of my writing is sharing my heart that way. Trying to help people in all the ways a pastor should.

And I’m a thinker. I’m forever and always thinking on something. That can drive me nuts, and those around me if I don’t keep my mouth shut. Thankfully my wife is used to it, and listens. And just like anyone who knows a few things about the subject they’re engrossed in, be it sports, music, politics, or whatever, I have learned, and more precisely am learning, mainly from the Bible itself, but also through the tradition of the church, especially the evangelical tradition I’ve been a part of for so many years. And thinking on scripture makes one think on life. You become a student both of scripture, and of life. You try to read both.

Bloggers are a dime a dozen, mostly just reading each other’s blogs nowadays. Of course there are many good ones out there. And anyone can write a book if they want to. If the Lord gives me the time and health to do it, I would like to write a book or two myself. But we’ll see. It would be like along the lines of my blogging. Hopefully helping someone, maybe a few along the way. And helping me sort out some things myself.

Blessedly, not everyone is like me. That without question would be a boring world. We need each person, and the gift from God that person is, with the gifts they have. But I try to do my part, and a big part of it, it seems, is in and through my writing. And as I always like to say, all of this always in and through Jesus.

 

we need all of it, that is, scripture

Yesterday I shared the life change I’m embarking on in simply slowing down, and Jesus’s call to be yoked together with him in his work as recorded in Matthew 11. And that day, one passage brought life to me.

But the next day was a difficult one in that I was probably experiencing one of the flaming arrows of the enemy, and experienced darkness most all day. Not the normal gray with sunshine, but clouds, I usually experience. Not that we’re to be focused on our experience, though it’s not like it’s unimportant, either. Combined with the hard work, it wasn’t easy. Add to that, being tired, and that in itself can be a challenge, and in fact, can set us up for difficult days. Of course there is always God’s grace to sustain and help us overcome such, but just the same, we’re still human. We certainly have our limitations.

So I realized in that darkness that while of course I always need the Lord, and frankly felt abandoned, which I’m sure is not the case, though sometimes God might possibly withdraw a sense of his presence for a reason, but most often, it is we who have moved, but I realized anew and afresh that we really need all of scripture. So a few passages came to mind on which I meditated: Philippians 4, James 1, and at last the great spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6, verses 10-20. All of that helped me, but meditating on that last passage through saying it again and again, begin to help lift me out of my darkness.

I have found along the way that it seems God impresses certain passages on my mind for my life, such as Proverbs 3:5-6 a couple years back. And I can see why, especially later on. And then the Matthew 11 passage for me on Monday. But the point here is that whether we can understand it or not, and often we won’t, we need all of scripture. And we do well to memorize certain parts. I used to memorize years back, but have avoided the practice in recent years. But now am doing it again, since I choose to no longer refer to my small Bible during work time, since there’s a new rule against phone use. And I’m finding this surprisingly, rather rejuvenating.

Of course to be in all of scripture means we need to be reading it, and/or hearing it being read. There’s much good in both. For listening, I would recommend Max McLean for a good straightforward reading of scripture, and it’s available online through Gateway. But there are other good options online and elsewhere. And there’s no substitute for reading it yourself. Actually both can have a special impact, but when you have the text in front of you, you can stop at certain points, and ponder a bit, or reread when needed.

And then there’s the good old fashioned, what some would call evangelical practice of memorizing scripture. And the more, the better, but key passages such as those I mentioned above.

The point here is that we need to be in all of scripture. We need all of it for a reason (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 15:4).

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Romans 15:4

May God help all of us to be more and more in his word, imbibing and living in that, receiving all we need for life, in and through Jesus.

life change: slowing down

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I have worked in an environment for years, even decades in which you have no other option but to move fast, especially at times, and to keep moving. And within a time frame when I could do that. And I have always believed in hard work, and that doing that is a part of living with a whole heart: one’s heart completely into something, hopefully in serving the Lord.

Lately that’s changed, and with getting older, and actually slowing down just a bit a few years back as our team leader then encouraged me to do, as of yesterday, I am on a life change. Challenging for me, but I think necessary, and I’m already getting a glimpse of it being good. And encouragement from at least one other, so far.

My job has high demands and pressure, and the option of doing plenty of extra things during specific intervals in time. I still intend to work that way. But slowing down means I won’t be able to get to as many things as I did before. And for me, that’s hard.

What prompted this change is actually a current change in our work schedule, which allows little time for much of anything else during the actual days we’re working, except to work, eat, and sleep. It has its good points with the time off, though I’m not a fan of it, myself. So I was wondering if this change is actually a rebellious reaction to it, that a little bit of that, at least, might be in me.

Actually, it seems like my life is on a theme of the Lord wanting to slow me down. Recently I didn’t see a flashing light in a school area, so that even though I wasn’t exceeding what I think* is the normal speed limit, I was picked up, and cited, since the lower speed limit was then in effect. So I’ve been driving slower ever since, yes, on the right hand side when I have to. So the thought of slowing down at work, which actually correlates with helping preserve my health seems to fall in line with that.

Just the same, although I had stated this new change at work, and was beginning to do it, I felt strange, out of place, and just couldn’t tie what I was doing to putting my whole heart into it. Until the above passage came to mind, which I began to repeat again and again.

Every bit of that passage is so important for me in this, for us all in life, actually. Yes, I’m weary and burdened. Yes, I need to come to the Lord for rest. He is gentle and humble in heart, so humble to work with the likes of me. And oh yes, I need that rest, for sure. And the thought that his yoke is easy and his burden light, and that he’s right alongside us in this. Wow. Wonderful. And just exactly what I need. So that, yes, I continue to serve God with my whole heart, of course not that I ever did that perfectly. But in a new, deeper way, which is actually more in line with God’s will in that it’s more oriented to Jesus, and less to myself.

So this is a new path I’m on as of yesterday. Soon after I embarked on it, I was tempted to go back for good reason, but stayed the course. And then, blessedly, the Matthew 11 passage came to mind. Something I intend to follow and grow in, in and through Jesus.

*Actually I just found out that I was 10 mph over the normal speed limit, and therefore 20 over with the flashing light. But the officer did reduce it to 10 mph over, so that my fine wasn’t as high. All the more reason to slow down. (3/10/2018)

 

Billy Graham’s funeral

I watched/listened to Billy Graham’s funeral yesterday. Like with countless others, God had a profound impact on my life through the ministry of Billy Graham. And his life, though peculiarly gifted, is an example for us all.

I thought the funeral was fitting, but also squirmed some when I kept hearing accolades and praise heaped on Billy himself. I was thinking that to simply hear him preach a message as in one of his mission (previously called crusade) programs would have been better. His life was all about pointing people to Jesus and the gospel/good news of God in Jesus through his death on the cross. And yet he was a man deserving of special honor, to be sure.

Songs/hymns which Billy chose, and well done. Good words from his children, and a good closing word from Franklin Graham, echoing his father, and what his father would have wanted and appreciated.

I will forever appreciate and be thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham along with myriads of others. To God be the glory. In and through Jesus.

what we’ll forget

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

Isaiah 65

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21

There is no shortage of things in this world we would just as soon forget. I have a tendency to forget the names of people who I think don’t like me. I have a list of cares about the house in which we live, and about what I can actually do about that myself. Then there are the past decisions or consequences of life that we have to live with. There are the many concerns which become especially pointed when we’re older. Of course the burdens we carry for loved ones can be more than we can bear. And there’s the world with all of its problems. The inevitable troubles we have in living in the brokenness and fallenness of it all. The problems in the world’s governance, our own nation with the upcoming presidential election at the forefront of the news. But with the global tragedies continuing, such as in Syria, and in other places. There is no end, really, to difficult, even horrendous bad news, for sure.

What God promises his people is a complete forgetting of all that is not of the new creation, all that is of the old order of things. That means potentially that there will be plenty for us to remember. To begin with, I’ll not only remember my wife, Deb, but hopefully will be closer to her than ever, and if Scot McKnight is correct in his book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, I’ll still be married to her. For sure relationships in the communion of Jesus will not only continue on, but flourish as never before. It will be as if we hadn’t been in any relationship before at all, in comparison to what is to come, even though that is only making a point, since we indeed do have close friendships in this life, as well as good associations with others. And all of the beauty of this life, of all of this world from creation, including human creativity will be subsumed in the sense of fulfilled, or even a part of the new creation to come in and through Jesus. So those parts, all that is good and life giving will be present, while all that is destructive and death dealing will be gone.

It is the latter that we will forget, all that is bad in this life. The full redemption to come, already present in and through Jesus even in this life, will have turned creation into something of a joyous celebration of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus, when at long at last God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). And what is hardly imaginable now will be firmly in place and a part of life then.

There’s plenty we would want to forget about this life, and we believe God will in the end take care of all of those matters. But plenty as well to remember, which through the eternal gospel, the good news in Jesus, will realize its potential forever and ever, to the glory and praise of the Triune God.

refusing to worry or fret

It’s a broken record for me, and anyone reading this is welcomed to lift up a prayer for me. But as I’ve said before and hopefully won’t say too many times again, I have had a strong propensity to worry, to fret, to be anxious over the years. In fact I think that was a tool of the devil (meaning demons, though the devil is one of them, the one in charge) to hinder me and keep me from simply fitting well into whatever God would have had for me to do. Of course there were other issues swirling around that, as well. It’s not that I couldn’t have overcome all of that by faith, because I certainly could have and in some measure I did. But to a significant extent I think I failed to step into all God had for me because of that.

I remember years ago, Pastor Herb Vander Lugt, a man of God who I am grateful to know as a friend, now with the Lord, had a radio call in program. At the time I was frustrated over sin, the sin I had in mind surely must have been the sin of worry. Of course I knew that we can’t be sinless in this life, that we invariably do sin from time to time (I would clearly say now, during the course of a day). I called in and asked the naive question, which was more from the heart and not much from the head, born out of frustration- if we could simply choose not to sin in this life. I don’t think at all I meant be sinless, though I may have not explained that when I asked the question. I had more in mind what John says here: “I write these things to you so that you will not (commit an act of) sin. But when we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.” (1 John 2, partly my paraphrase)

Pastor Vander Lugt wisely and succintly gave me a good answer. Of course we stumble along the way. Even Moses who struggled with a hot temper early on, but by and by became the meekest person in all the earth, later succumbed again to anger, his actions from that keeping him from entering the Promised Land with the rest of the Israelities.

I’m back though, now after these many years from that phone call (some twenty to twenty-five years ago?), hopefully with a more mature perspective and view of things. But wanting to not only honor, but put into practice the idea of a commitment to refusing to worry, fret, or be anxious, come what may.

This has to be with the need of ongoing grace in confessing my sin of not trusting in God entirely in any given matter. There is no doubt that in this world we do have responsibilities, which may seem mundane in themselves, but are inescapable if we’re to be good stewards. We are indeed fallible, and important matter do slip through the cracks for us. We want to do the best we can.

The bottom line for me here though, along with that, is the importance of keeping faith in God in the sense of trusting in him regardless of what is happening or what I’m up against. This can be nothing short of spiritual warfare, as I’ve said again and again before. I have often went from one obsessive worry to the next, thinking in the midst of that and afterward that it was surely an attack of the enemy. They can more or less last for a day and be a distant memory completely gone. The next one being perhaps around the corner, completely unexpected and usually largely unanticipated. I assume those will continue to come. Paul speaks of confidence that God will deliver him from every evil attack and carry him safely into God’s eternal kingdom. He may well have included physical attacks to which he was no stranger, but surely he especially meant spiritual ones which we all as God’s children experience.

And so, this is one of my immediate goals. There is much more to be said around it, or at least I could say more, but I’ll stop here for now.

Does anyone have a thought you’d like to share here? Of course I’m always happy to receive that on any post, but it seems especially apt on a post like this.