Tuesday, March 8, 2022

It's the Most Wonderful Time... (March 6, 2022)

If I started off in song right about now with the above lyrics, I’m betting the majority of you would be able to finish them…well at least the first line.  Just in case you can’t come up with them right away, let me remind you:

It's the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids jingle belling

And everyone telling you be of good cheer

It's the most wonderful time of the year

There.  Happy now?  More likely than not, I’ve successfully planted a Christmas tune firmly into your ear.  If it’s not there yet, you’re welcome to go back and sing it aloud this time.  That will surely do it.  (No thanks necessary.)  As you might know, this song has made the rounds for years.  With everyone from Andy Williams to Johnny Mathis to Garth Brooks to Harry Connick Jr. to Jennifer Lopez recording versions of the hit, I am certain that you have heard the tune at least once in your life.  And now, at this point, you’re wondering, “Why on earth did you get me humming Christmas songs at the start of March?”  Well, that’s a fair question, and I will set your minds at rest…it wasn’t just to torment you.  (For that, there are other songs that are much, much worse.)  It also wasn’t because I had that song stuck in my head and I wanted somebody else to share in my “joy.”  Nope.  There’s a better reason for it, and that is for us to focus on the season and the time of year that we are entering into at this present moment.

You see, we have just started the season of Lent which will lead us into Easter.  Although Edward Pola and George Wyle (the composers of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) would disagree with me, I would like to argue that the current season is actually the most wonderful time of the year.  In fact, I’ve composed a little re-write of the lyrics for you.  Here goes:

It's the most wonderful time of the year

With the daffodils blooming

And people A-chooing ‘cause allergies are here

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I know.  My version is much more catchy.  Anybody know someone in the record industry?  I could work out the rest of the lyrics, and we’d fill a gap in the market.  Spring-time music.  It would be an instant hit. 

All kidding aside, this is a wonderful season, this season of the approaching spring.  There are reminders of life popping up all over the place.  Birds are chirping.  The air is warming.  One can venture outside without worrying about slipping on ice or scraping off the car or trudging through piles of yucky, brown, snowy slop.  Though I would stop short of calling the spring my “favorite season” (I like to be impartial, and I don’t want to make the other seasons jealous.), there are many benefits to springtime, the weather and the new signs of life after a dead and dreary winter are just a few of them.   

What makes this season truly wonderful is the opportunity that we have to prepare for Easter and all of the things that we celebrate around that day (and no, I’m not talking about the Easter Bunny or the Cadbury Easter Lion or even how much I enjoy the occasional Peep & Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg.).  No, the thing that makes this season special is that we are presented with an opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds and spirits and lives to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

Without being trite, Holy Week is like no other week in history.  From the celebration of Palm Sunday to the tears of blood shed in Gethsemane.  From the victory promised by a King riding on a donkey to the victory that was realized with a King being raised from the dead.  From the friends that betrayed to the Friend that promises to never leave.  From a crown of thorns to an eternal throne.  On and on and on the events of that week forever changed the course of all eternity, and this season, the one we are currently living through, this season called Lent is an opportunity for us to once again prepare our hearts, our minds, our spirits, our lives to worship Jesus and celebrate his life, death, and resurrection at Easter.  Yes, friends, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

And so, I must ask you:  How are you going to prepare?

How are you going to prepare for Easter?  This year?  2022?  During this time, during this season, right now in this moment, are you prepared to prepare for Easter?  Are you willing to participate in Lent?

Now, I recognize that Lent can get a bad rap.  We can think that it boils down to a time when we’re asked to give up chocolate or eat fish on Fridays or somehow deny ourselves in some other way.  All of these things aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, it might be beneficial to us if we were to give up chocolate, or eat fish on Fridays, or deny ourselves in some other way.  None of those practices are inherently wrong; however, they should not be the point.  Instead, this is an opportunity for us to grow in Christ, to draw closer to the Father, to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to prepare for Holy Week and for Easter celebrations.  With that in mind, is there something that you can do for this season, for Lent, that will strengthen your relationship with Christ?

Have you been meaning to have some quiet time each day?  Lent is a great time to start.

Have you been wishing that you read the Bible in the morning?  Lent is a great time to start.
Have you been hoping to see an increase in your prayer life?  Lent is a great time to start.

There are so many things that we might try or do or adopt or give up, and now, right now, is the perfect time to do them.  

Join a small group, invite friends over for fellowship and prayer, give up that chocolate and donate your candy money to someone who is hungry, spend time volunteering at a food bank, set an alarm on your phone for 1pm each day and spend 5 minutes in prayer, call people who are lonely, memorize a Psalm that speaks to you, try fasting for one meal once a week, read new devotional material…take the opportunity to be drawn closer to Jesus during this season.  It is a great time to do so!  In fact, it is the most wonderful time of the year to do so.  I’m not asking for you to do the whole list, in fact I’d advise against it, but I am asking if you’d be willing to take one small step, make one small change, do one thing differently for this season and see what happens.  No magic formulas.  No do ____ and you are guaranteed ____.  Nothing like that.  Just a small step of faith during Lent to see if that helps promote a deepening of your relationship with God.  

Are you in?  Will you do it?  Will you participate in Lent and take that small step with me?  I hope and pray that you will!

At this point of the devotional, I’d typically turn to our Scripture passage for the day and highlight how it connects with all of the things that I have been writing about thus far.  I’d love to do that this time as well; however, there is another problem that I need to address.  Here it is: Lent isn’t a Biblical command.  There is not a Bible passage that I can reference.  There is no example of an Apostle practicing Lent.  Jesus didn’t say anything about it.  In fact, if you spent the season of Lent looking for the word “Lent” in your Bible, you’d not come up with anything.  Plainly and simply, the practice of Lent is not found in the Bible at any point.  

Why do it then?

Well, for all of the reasons mentioned above, as well as for the reason that the Church (big “C”, Body of Christ, faithful followers of Jesus) has historically found this to be a significant practice.  From the time of the early church, many disciples of Jesus have found the season of Lent to be productive, fruitful, life-giving, enriching and holy.  There is room for us to learn from sisters and brothers in Christ who have experienced Jesus during Lenten seasons, and we might seek to do the same.  Additionally, the 40 days of Lent (you don’t count Sundays) have plenty of Biblical parallels (think 40 years in the wilderness for the Israelites or the 40-day fast of Jesus).  Even though Lent is “not in the Bible”, it is still a biblical practice to fast, to pray, to prepare, and to seek God.  No, it is not mandated.  There is not an explicit demand to refrain from chocolate bunnies; however, there are plenty of reasons to engage in Lenten practices.

Alright.  I’ll digress.  I don’t want to badger anybody, but I do want to encourage you.  My heart as a follower of Jesus is to grow to be more like Christ.  My heart as a follower of Jesus is to also see other followers of Jesus grow to be more like Christ.  Bottom line…I am trying to encourage you to take an opportunity of the season to do so.  Who knows?  Perhaps by the end of Lent, 2022, you too will be singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

~ Pastor Chris

As a bonus, here are some passages for further reflection as we journey through Lent:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

~ Hebrews 4:14-16

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

~Matthew 4:1-11

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Love Hurts (February 8, 2022)

Alright!  It’s February!  You all know what that means.  As the commercials will tell you and the stores will try to sell you, it is the month of love.  That’s right.  February is the month of love!

Now, as we have entered the “month of love” I figured I would go along with the theme and start us off with the lyrics from a classic song about love.  Here it is…“Love Hurts” by Nazareth.

Love hurts, love scars

Love wounds and marks

Any heart

Not tough or strong enough

To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain

Love is like a cloud

Holds a lot of rain

Love hurts

Ooh, ooh, love hurts  

If that isn’t enough to make you want to go out and buy a bunch of chocolate and a bouquet of flowers, I don’t know what will!  It makes me feel all warm and gushy inside! 

Love hurts.

(Just as an aside, if you have some internet access, go ahead and go to YouTube and watch the music video for this song.  Now, that hurts!  It caused a lot of personal pain in my life.  I couldn’t make it through the whole thing.)

Back to the point, love hurts.

How do I know this?  Do I know this because a band from Scotland in the 70s (Nazareth) named themselves after a line in a song called “The Weight" written by a group called The Band that referenced a town in Pennsylvania called Nazareth decided to write a rock ballad and told me that was the case?  (Do you follow all of that?  The song “Love Hurts” was written by a band in the 70s called Nazareth.  They got that name, Nazareth, out of the line in a song entitled “The Weight” that was written by a band called The Band.  That song referenced Nazareth, PA.  Whew.  That’s some unimportant and confusing mess right there!)  But back to the point, do I know that love hurts because some 70s band told me so in the form of a rock ballad?  Do I even believe this to be true?  Is what they sang and what I’ve quoted legitimate?

Let’s see…Nope.  Yep.  Yep.

Nope.  I don’t believe it because I’ve heard the song, because I’ve suffered through a portion of the music video, or because I’ve been directly influenced by this band called Nazareth.

Yep.  I still believe it to be true.  Love hurts.

Yep.  What they sang about is legitimate.

Love really does hurt.

It is true.

I’m betting that if you have had the joy of experiencing love within your life, you know that fact to be true.  Love hurts.  Let’s look at some of the ways that love can hurt.

  1. It hurts when you love someone and they disappoint you.  When they let you down.  When they don’t live up to your expectations or do what they had promised to do.  Love hurts when those you love come up short.  Love hurts in disappointment.
  2. Love hurts when the person or thing that you love is no longer present.  When a loved one passes and is no longer there in your day-to-day life.  When their seat is empty.  When their place at the table is no longer filled.  When the phone no longer rings and the letters are no longer mailed and the flowers or chocolate that you used to buy now just sits in the store.  Love hurts in loss.

Love hurts in disappointment, it hurts in loss.  Those are both true, but they are both inward looking.  Love hurting in those ways focuses inwardly, on ourselves, how we are hurt personally because of something missing or lacking in our lives.  That is true, but love hurting is more than that.  Love hurts beyond just inward pain from loss or disappointment.  Doesn’t it?  

  1. Love hurts when we see the people whom we love hurting.  When we witness our loved ones get injured, or when they are disappointed, or when they are grieving, or when they suffer, or when they go through hardships.  Love hurts then, too.  If you love another and they go through tragedy, it hurts you right along with them.  If their family is a wreck or their body is falling apart or they have been mistreated or overlooked or undervalued or any number of negative things that might happen to people, one finds out in those situations as well…love hurts.  Love hurts when others are hurting.

So, why even bother?  If love hurts, why even love?

Some have asked this question and have chosen to wall themselves off.  They argue, “I tried love before and I was hurt.  Badly.  Deeply.  I will never recover.  I will never love again.”  With a certain perspective, it’s a reasonable argument.  After all, why love if it causes so much pain?  If it hurts in disappointment, if it hurts in loss, if it hurts when others are hurting, why bother?  Couldn’t we just avoid the pain?  Couldn’t we just avoid love?

I suppose that you could, but I hope that we all know somewhere deep inside of us that that option isn’t really a healthy choice.  I hope we all have at least some understanding of the fact that we need love and that walling ourselves off from experiencing love is actually more hurtful to us than going through the hurt of love in the first place.  Though it is hard, I believe that Alfred Lord Tennyson had it right.  “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  The hurt of love is much better than the hurt of no love whatsoever.

Not only that, but take a look at this quote which comes from an authority that I value much more than Tennyson:

“We love because he first loved us.”

~1 John 4:19


Why do we love?  Especially if it hurts?  Well, if we get down to the nuts and bolts of it, we love because we have experienced love.  We love because God loves us.  We love because we have felt the love of Jesus.  To wall off love, even though it is painful, means that we wall off Jesus.  We would be shutting God right out of our lives as we attempt to shut the hurt from love out.  Just take a look at what comes a little prior to this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

~1 John 4:16

God is love.

There you have it.  Plain and simple.  If we shut out love, we shut out God.

Whoever lives in love lives in God.

If you live in love, you live in God.  Not only that, if you live in love, you live in God, and God lives in you.

Why love, even though it hurts?  Because God first loved you.  Because if you live in love, you will live in God.  Because if you live in love, God will live in you.

Love hurts.

I know.  I have experienced love, and I have hurt because of it.  I have hurt because of disappointment.  I have hurt because of loss.  I have hurt because those whom I love hurt.  I have hurt because of love.

But even though that is the case, I hope and I pray and I long and I seek to grow in love, to expand in love, that my love might increase even if it means that the possibility of me hurting increases right alongside of it.  Why?  I have experienced the love of God.  I have witnessed and experienced and accepted the love of God through Jesus who bore his own hurt by loving me.  I know that Jesus has experienced the hurt of disappointment when I have not behaved in a manner that would honor his name or the gifts that he has given me.  I know that Jesus has experienced the hurt of loss as he painfully cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)  I know that he has wept when he saw suffering (John 11:35).  I know that Jesus mourned and grieved and suffered, and that is just the start of it.  The nails, the beatings, the thorns, the abuse, the ridicule, the spitting, the mocking, the pain, on and on and on and on and on.  Jesus hurt because he loves so I will love, even if it hurts.

It’s a funny thing how a 70s rock band from Scotland was named after a town in Pennsylvania that was mentioned in a song by a group called The Band stumbled onto part of a truth lived out by a shepherd from a place with the same name, Nazareth, almost 2000 years before.  Love hurts.  Love scars.  Love wounds.  Love marks.

For now, that is true.  Within this world, at this time, in this present age, that is completely true of love.  Love hurts.  Just look at Jesus or ask Thomas about seeing where they nails left their marks (John 20:27).  But even though Jesus knew it would hurt, he knew he would suffer, he knew the pain that would happen, even though he knew that love hurts, he pressed on.  He pressed on into love. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Friend, in this “month of love”, I pray that you experience love, even though it hurts.  Experience love because God is love and because God first loved you.

~ Pastor Chris

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

A Fresh Start (January 2, 2022)

Happy New Year!!!!  It’s 2022!!!!!

Even as I type those words, it is hard to process, believe or imagine.  I know that I say this often, and I’m guessing that you have felt this way too, but whew!  Time flies!  Part of me is still feeling like we’re back at Y2K.  Do you remember that?  Some of me feels like we should still be back there, still at that time.  But no.  Here we are 22 years later.  Once again looking at a fresh new year.  A great opportunity for a fresh start.

Now this isn’t something that I think about often, but have you ever asked the question, “Why start the new year when we do?”  I mean, why January?  What is the significance of beginning then?  More importantly, why in winter?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to start the new year out in June?  Think about that for a moment.  New year.  Right at the start of the summer.  Right when the kids are getting out of school.  Right when vacations are happening and life is seemingly thriving.  Or I could see an argument for beginning a little sooner, like in the spring.  We could try starting the new year in April.  Why not start the new year then?  Spring rolling in.  Signs of life beginning.  April could be a good place to start, but nope.  Winter.  January.  In the cold, in the quietness, in the stillness, in the dreariness, in the brownness of winter.  That’s when we begin the year, and though it may seem to be an odd choice it honestly it works out rather well.  After all, there is no better time for a new beginning than right when things are looking their bleakest.  Perhaps the folks designing the calendar had it right.  Maybe the winter, right at the start of January, is the perfect place to locate the beginning of the year.  In this way, the new year falls just when we need to be reminded that there is always the chance for a new beginning, and winter provides the perfect object lesson for such a reminder…snow.

Ok.  Some of you may have gasped just now.  It was bad enough that I was talking about winter, but now I’ve really gone and done it by mentioning snow.  I know there are those among us who equate even the whispering of that word with swearing.  For some, saying “snow” is just like using some type of curse word or worse.  Still you have to admit, snow is beautiful…especially when it’s fresh.  (Not that salty, brown gunk that gets sprayed about from the roads.  That stuff gets pretty yucky looking for sure.)  

Picture it with me for just a moment…a clear, blue sky, the sun shining, the light of the sun sparkling off of the many flakes of some freshly, fallen snow.  The brown and yuck of the dead grass is covered.  The barren branches of the trees are full of the weight of winter, and a red cardinal alights at the tip of a branch, singing its song of enjoyment and delight.  It’s like I’m describing a Christmas card.  Snow can be absolutely beautiful, and I’m not kidding.  There is something about the freshly fallen snow that can be breathtaking and glorious, that can point us to God and remind us that Jesus makes all things new.

For me, if I get down to it, snow is the thing that I like the most about the winter, especially fresh snow, especially fresh snow paired with the idea of starting over.  It’s not the snow itself per se, but it is the promise of a fresh start, a new beginning, a time to reset and for life to cover over the deadness and dreariness of the past.  Snow becomes the perfect object lesson, teaching us that we can begin again, that we have an opportunity to start over, that we don’t need to be defined by our previous failures or the ways that we haven’t measured up in the past.  There is a chance for a new beginning, and we’re reminded of that hope right when we need it the most.  Right at the beginning of a new year.  Right during the winter.

You see oftentimes our lives can feel a bit like it looks outside during the middle of a dreary winter’s day.  Dead.  Dormant.  Brown.  Yucky.  Not a lot of green.  Not a lot of life evident.  Not a lot of light.  We can get bogged down in our sorrows, weighted down in our sin, overwhelmed in our shortcomings.  We can look around at our lives and not see a lot of cause for hope.  The leaves have all gone.  Most of the birds have left.  The grass has withered and the flowers have faded.  There are times in our lives when we feel like nothing good is happening and there is no cause for hope.  But then, the snow comes.  The snow comes and makes everything look bright and crisp and new.  The snow comes and covers over the brown, the mess, the yuck.  The snow comes and things are brighter once again.  There is reason to rejoice and hope and look forward to our future.  It is as if the past is washed away and a newness settles on the land.  The snow comes and there is the hope that the shortcomings will be washed away, that we can have life once more.  

Yes, friend, perhaps the winter is the best place to put the new year because just as a new year can cause us to consider beginning once again, the snow can come and repeat that message, letting us know that there is opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning.

There’s a promise in Isaiah that comes from the Lord regarding new beginnings and snow.  It reads,

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” 

~Isaiah 1:18

This promise comes at at time when the Israelites were in desperate need of a cleansing and of a new beginning.  They had rebelled against the Lord their God.  Their guilt was “great” (vs. 1:4), and they were called a “brood of evildoers, children given to corruption.” (vs. 1:4)  In fact, their sin was so bad, that the Lord says their feasts, their sacrifices, even their offerings were worthless in His sight.  Not only that, but look at this dismal statement in verse 15.

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

~Isaiah 1:15

The Israelites had completely forsaken God, and God was not pleased!  Their worship was mere ritual, a set of steps performed without their heart being offered.  Their sacrifices, their offerings, their festivities, their celebrations, all of the same.  They had come to the point where even their prayers were just an act, not a true reflection of them seeking the Lord.  Empty words.  Just lip service with no heart towards God and certainly no actions that would please the Lord.  Their hands, full of blood, full of murder and wickedness and idolatry and evil, were lifted up to God as a mere gesture instead of a sign of need or repentance.  So, God let them know just what he thought of their state.  He would not hear such prayer.  He would not honor such worship.  He would not be impressed with such offerings.

And yet…

There was still the hope of a new start, a new beginning.  

Right into this mess is where we hear that promise.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” 

~Isaiah 1:18

God promised to cover over their blood-stained hands and allow them to start again.  God promised to erase their past, and let them begin once more.  Though their sins were like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.  Snow.  The good stuff.  Freshly fallen.  Pure.  White.  Not tainted by the salt trucks.  Not polluted from the toxins in our air.  Crisp.  Clean.  Pure.  Light.  So bright that you almost need sunglasses to gaze upon it.  Completely covering all that came before.  Though you were like scarlet, you will be as white as snow.

That’s what we need to be reminded of in the winter.  That’s what we need to be reminded of at the beginning of the new year.  We need to be reminded that God isn’t looking for mere rituals or just words, that God isn’t impressed with the size of our offering or if we manage to do no work on Sundays or if we made it to church on Christmas Eve.  What God wants is our hearts.  What God wants is our lives.  What God wants is our hands lifted up in worship, in surrender, in praise…not just lifted up in some type of meaningless ritual, and certainly not lifted up, covered in blood.  

But what if we find ourselves where we have fallen short, where we have just gone through some motions, where we are in need of repentance, where we have blood on our hands and no way to wash it off ourselves?

Even then, there is hope for a change, hope for a cleansing, hope for a fresh start.  What had been promised to the Israelites is now given to us.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” 

~Isaiah 1:18

What do we need to do to receive this promise?  To begin again?  To be as white as snow?  

Here we find an answer:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

~1 John 1:9

It’s not sacrifice or church attendance or giving or even lifting our hands up in the air while praying (although all of those are good things).  It’s repentance.  Recognizing where we have gone astray and turning away from those things.  But even more than that, a new start requires clinging to Jesus, trusting in the One who is able to make us new, make us right, make us pure, even purer than freshly fallen snow.

Friend, I encourage you now, right here at the start of 2022, right here in winter, to take this opportunity to cling to Jesus.  No matter your past, no matter your history, no matter what things have gone on before in your life, He is presenting you with a fresh start, a new opportunity.  Please don’t waste it!  Confess your shortcomings, confess your failures, look back on what you have done that is not pleasing to God and turn from those things into the arms of Christ.  Trust me!  It will be even better than the freshest fallen snow.

~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Cold Turkey (December 5, 2021)

“Something sounds weird.”  

Those were the words that Silas said as he came into our room in the middle of the night.  He had woken up, and as he was trying to go back to sleep, he heard an unusual noise.

“It sounds like some type of siren.”

First things first.  I will admit that I have not always responded well to these types of situations when I’m tired or sleeping.  Oftentimes, my first response is to just want to go back to sleep.  There’s usually a good chance that I will respond with the classic “Everything’s fine.  It’s probably the walls creaking, or maybe it’s the wind outside.  Just go back to bed.”  I know.  I need to work on that.  This time, though, my response was different.  Instead of my normal incoherent grunting and pleading for more rest, I decided to get up and see what was going on in the house.  I crawled out of bed to check the furnace…what Silas suspected was having the issue.

He was right.

It wasn’t acting correctly.

It would start and stop, start and stop, start and stop, but there was no flame.  No heat.  The furnace was broken.  I had to turn the system off so that the noises would stop and we could get some rest…thankful that I could return to my slumber but uncertain of what the next day might hold for the furnace.

Thanksgiving can be a funny thing (at least it can be for me.)  We had just celebrated the holiday less than a week before the furnace quit, and it was relatively easy to give thanks on that day.  Most of the family was together.  More food than we could eat was provided.  Games were played.  Laughter was shared.  Fellowship was had.  Pies were sampled.  The turkey and ham were delicious and warm, and a lot of things went well.  Though life wasn’t free from worries and cares by any means, it wasn’t that hard to see the evidence of good things.  It wasn’t that hard to give thanks.  Thanks to God for his blessings.  Thanks to God for family.  Thanks to God for food.  Thanks to God for a safe place to sleep with protection from the elements and a furnace to keep us warm.

Yes, thanksgiving is a funny thing because it is something that is asked of us at all times…even on days when we aren’t stuffing our faces full of turkey and mashed potatoes.  You remember this classic from Paul, right?

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

As many times as I’ve looked at this verse, it never seems to change.  It never seems to say something like “Rejoice when life goes how you want it to go.  Pray when you need it.  Give thanks when God answers those prayers exactly how you want them to be answered.”  To me, that would be much easier.  A modified statement like that would more accurately reflect my day-to-day behavior, and I could say “I do that!”  But, no.  That’s not what God asks of us.  That’s not what is said.  Instead, we get “Rejoice always.”  “Pray continually.”  “Give thanks in ALL circumstances.”  

Giving thanks is easier when life is “good,” but what do we do when the turkey gets cold?  (This is no comment on the literal act of eating cold turkey.  I, for one, love a nice, cold turkey sandwich.  Little bit of garlic salt.  Some Miracle Whip.  Delicious.)  What do we do when the furnace breaks in the middle of the night or the car won’t run or the pain lingers or we receive that call from the doctor’s office that confirms our worst fears?  What do we do as we face persistent hardships or situations that never seem to change?  Do we still give thanks then?  Do we still give thanks in the midst of the struggle?  When life gets more challenging?  Are we still able to thank God when the house is empty and the party is over and the pie is gone and we’re faced with some of dark realities of life?  Can we celebrate Thanksgiving then?

I’m reminded as I type this letter that thanksgiving is a directive, and it is also a choice.  It is a directive in that God directs us to give thanks.  God asks for us to engage in the act of thanksgiving, regardless of the extenuating circumstances.  At all times, in all places, no matter what may be happening in our lives, we are told by God to give thanks.  That is the directive.  Give thanks.  At all times.  Even though it is a directive, it is also a choice, giving thanks to God is a decision that we make.  Though it may be more difficult to give thanks when things don’t go as we hoped or planned, it is still a choice, a decision.  Will we choose to give thanks, or will we do something else?  Will we choose to heed God’s directive or will we ignore it and go down another path?

Even now, I am presented with that opportunity to give thanks or to complain.  To praise God or to grumble.  To me, the opportunity is always there to do either.  There are ALWAYS things for which we can be thankful, and there are ALWAYS things about which we might complain.  To me, life consistently presents the opportunity for either option.  The question is more of a matter of how we respond.

For instance, right at this moment in my life there are things that are less than ideal, less than how I wish they would be, but there are also things for which I am incredibly grateful.  That is reality.  How will I respond?  That is the question.

Will I choose to grumble because my fingers are cold, that the furnace isn’t fixed yet?  Or will I be thankful that I still have a place to rest my head, that there are people in my life that care about our family and that even now someone is working on getting that furnace situation rectified?  Will I choose to focus on the fact that my car is once again sitting in need of repair, or will I be thankful that we have another one to drive or that we have vehicles in the first place?  (And just to be clear, that furnace and car business are minor.  There are other, more difficult challenges that we are facing that present the same type of choices just on a larger scale.)

Will I choose to give thanks?

Or won’t I?

Will I follow the directive of God?

Or won’t I?

The Thanksgiving Holiday has passed.  Just like that.  In the blink of an eye, it was over.  The Advent season is here, but the directive remains.  Give thanks.

Give thanks for the goodness of God that may be found in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

Give thanks for the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.  (Philippians 4:6)

Give thanks for the joy of God that is our strength.  (Nehemiah 8:10)

Give thanks for the hope of God that will not disappoint.  (Hebrews 11:1)

Give thanks for the love of God that sacrificially paid the debt that we owe.  (John 3:16)

Give thanks for the power of God that is perfected in weakness.  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Give thanks for the wisdom of God that is higher than our own.  (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Give thanks for the ways of God that are not like ours.  (Isaiah 55:8)

Give thanks for the nature of God who alone is holy.  (Revelation 4:8)

We could go on.

Give thanks.


At all times.  In all places.  Whether you feel like it or not.

Give thanks.

Friend, I don’t know the troubles that you are facing.  I don’t know the hardships in your life.  I don’t know the difficulties that you are walking through, the pain that you are feeling, the heartache that comes on especially strong during this time of year.  I don’t know what is broken, or what needs mending, or what hopes have faded away.  I do not know any of those things, but I do know this.  God asks for you to give thanks.  Even in the midst of all of those challenging times.  Would you heed his directive and choose to respond in that manner?  Would you choose to give thanks?

At times, this decision may seem counterintuitive.  It may seem like the incorrect choice.  We might ask, “Why should I give thanks now?  After all, nothing is going how I’d like for it to go.”  Even so, give thanks, and trust that God knows what He is doing in making this request.  We may even find out that there is some personal benefit in following God’s advice.  

Paul says it this way in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

~Philippians 4:6-7

I don’t know how you feel about that passage, but that sounds like a pretty good payout to me.  The peace of God transcending all understanding, guarding my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  That sure seems like something that would be helpful to experience in my life…especially whenever the turkey is cold and the furnace is broken.  Peace even in the midst of those situations?  Sign me up!  Still, there is participation that is asked for on our end, there is a part of us to play, and at the heart of it is choosing to give thanks.

Give thanks.

Give thanks.

Give thanks.

~ Pastor Chris

P.S.  If you haven’t spent some time thanking God, why not spend a moment to do so now?  Say a prayer and thank the Lord.  Go over the list above, look up those Bible passages.  Thank God for those things.  You can do it!  Give thanks.

P.P.S.  Though the furnace and car were broken as I typed, they have now been fixed!  Yes, I am thanking God for those blessings as well!

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Fall-ing (November 7, 2021)

Fall is upon us once again!  Believe it or not, we are in full swing.  November came quickly!  (At least that’s my impression.)  Like it or not, there’s no stopping fall…or winter at this point.  It is getting dark at a much earlier time.  The air is crisp and cool.  Birds are beginning to bail out and head down to Florida or somewhere warm.  Some “snowbirds” are doing the same…you know those folks, the fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your perspective) people that migrate just like the birds and head down south for the winter.  The leaves are changing colors.  Pumpkin spice is available and everywhere.  Football is on television.  Some people, including myself, are wondering, “What on earth happened to the summer?”

Now I don’t know if you are a fan of the fall season or not, but there are a lot of things that are remarkable about this time of year.  Let me just name a few:  Pumpkin pies.  Pumpkin rolls.  Pumpkin cake.  

Sorry.  I got a little sidetracked for just a minute.  Let me branch out and name a few more:  Apple pies.  Apple tarts.  Apple cider.  There, you see?  I’m open to some diversity in these writings. 

Though I am a fan of yummy food, that actually isn’t what I am hoping that we would focus on today.  Instead, I want for us to consider the leaves.

Remarkable, right?

Fall is the time of year when the leaves really begin to show off their splendor.  Vibrant reds.  Bright golds.  Yellows.  Oranges.  So many different shades and colors.  Walking or driving through an area where the fall leaves are on full display is truly a sight to behold.  For me, the leaves, especially during this season, are a visual reminder of the beauty and majesty of God.  They point me to a remarkable Creator who designed the trees in such a way that they would produce a marvelous display.  I’m grateful for their beauty, and I’m thankful that they point me to God, the Creator of all of their wonder and majesty.  I hope they do the same for you.

Not only do the fall leaves point me to God because of their beauty, but they also point me to God because of their death.

During this time of year, leaf after leaf after leaf is in the process of dying.  Some take a little bit longer and hang onto their branches for just a bit more, but each of these leaves that had turned such bright colors are in the process of death.  They will fall from their branches.  They will turn brown.  They will die.  Sure, some might get raked into a pile for kids to jump and play in for a while, but that’s it.  They will be no more.  Decomposition is coming.  That’s the end result of fall for all of these leaves.  Winter.  (Otherwise known as death.)

Kind of depressing isn’t it?  

Such remarkable beauty.  Here for a moment and then gone.  Such vibrancy.  Burning brightly and then snuffed out.  Such wonder and splendor.  On display for just an instant and then never to be seen again.

And yet, that’s the nature of the season.  That’s the nature of fall.  That’s the nature of the leaves.  They are in the process of dying.  Some are already dead.

Now, if this process stopped right there, it would almost be too depressing to even mention.  Fortunately, we know that the process continues.  Fortunately, we know that decomposition isn’t actually the end.  Instead, it is part of the beginning.  In dying, in decomposing, the leaves are actually contributing to life.  In their death, they offer themselves to life, to be used for the nourishment of the trees through the soil.  Yes, even in their death, we can see life.  Even in their brevity, we can see the hope of eternity through Jesus.  Even in their decomposition, we can see the provision for the future.

To me, this is even more remarkable than their initial beauty.  It is even more amazing than their appearance of splendor.  Life out of death.

Life out of death.

Sometimes, I say or think about that phrase so often that I fear that it loses some of its power, but when you consider it, that concept is truly remarkable.  

Life out of death.

Jesus (who is the epitome of life coming out of death…just consider the miracle of Easter for a few moments) talks about this process.  Look at what he teaches:

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

~John 12:24

Ok.  He’s not talking about the leaves.  He’s talking about a kernel of wheat, a seed.  But the idea is there.  Life out of death.  The seed must die to itself in order to produce many more seeds.  This is pretty simple to understand.  A seed that is never planted will never turn into anything other than a seed.  Those pumpkins that I like made into yummy things would have never become pumpkins without a seed dying.  Same deal goes for the apple.  If I want to have apples turned into a pie, I first need some apple seeds to die at some point.  We get this idea.  (It’s a longer route, but we can also see this idea evidenced in the leaves decomposing to nourish the soil that nourishes the tree that produces more leaves.)  But just so we don’t think that this idea of life out of death is restricted to seeds or to wheat, Jesus continues:

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

~John 12:25

Uh oh.  That continuation stings a bit.  Apparently Jesus isn’t really talking about seeds after all.  Instead, he’s talking about me, about you.  If we really wish to see life, life eternal, we’re called to drop to the ground and die.  We’re called to die to ourselves in order that we might experience life through Christ.  Jesus even says we must hate our lives in this world so that we might keep them for eternal life.  (This is not a call to be joyless.  Nor is it a call to walk around saying that we hate everything.  Instead, it is a call to put Jesus and others above ourselves.  Paul says it this way:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  Philippians 2:3-4)  

We must die so that we might live.

Life out of death.

We must embrace the idea of “fall-ing.”  Just like the leaves, we must release our grip on the branches and fall.  We must release the grip that we have on this world and fall to our deaths.

This is an incredibly difficult thing.  I don’t think that we’re naturally called to die to ourselves.  Like the leftover brown leaf that stubbornly hangs on through the winter, some of us want to cling to the branches of this world until we can cling no longer.  And yet, we are called to do something different.  The plan, the process, the design put in place by our Creator asks for something more.  We are asked to fall like a leaf or a kernel of wheat and die so that life might spring forth.  

For me, the leaves stand out as a vibrant reminder of what God has asked of my life.  Value Jesus above myself.  Put the needs of others before my own.  Lay down my life in this world so that I might truly live.

It’s a hard ask, a difficult reminder, but I’m thankful that I am not asked to do this on my own.  (I honestly couldn’t.)  Instead, I have not been left by myself but have been given help and a promise.  

Christ in me.  

After all, Jesus made this promise:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.

~John 14:16-17

We have the promise of the Holy Spirit who will lead us into truth, who will help us and be with us forever, who will enable us to die to ourselves.  The very Spirit of God helping us, assisting us, being with us forever!  We are not asked to complete this task alone.  Not only that, but we have a further promise of life found in Romans.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. 

~Romans 8:10-11

Life out of death.

Not because of my strength, not because of my abilities, but because of the righteousness of Christ.  The Spirit of God living in me, allowing me to be in the process of “fall-ing”.  Dying to myself.  Living for Christ.

Friend, this fall, would you embrace “fall-ing” in your own life?  Would you embrace this call of Jesus to die?

No, it won’t be easy.  No, it doesn’t sound fun, but you are not alone in your efforts.  The Spirit of God has been promised to you as well.  The Advocate who will help you and lead you into all truth awaits your answer.  Would you die to yourself that you might truly live?  Would you fall into the arms of Christ and trust that He will raise you to life?

I pray that you would and that in doing so, your death might produce life that is even more abundant, even more vibrant, even more remarkable than you could ever imagine.   

~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Cubing (October 10, 2021)

Are you familiar with a 3x3x3 puzzle?  Or how about cubing?  Speedcubing? 

Not ringing a bell just yet?

How about Ernõ Rubik?  

The Rubik’s Cube?

With over 450 million cubes sold since its invention in 1974, the Rubik’s Cube is a well-known, often loved (often hated), iconic puzzle.  Simple looking yet incredibly difficult to solve the Rubik’s Cube has challenged and frustrated millions of people for over 40 years.  What started as an object lesson for architecture students turned into a mind bending challenge for young and old alike.  Who would have guessed that this cube, once deemed to be unsolvable, would produce the likes of Yusheng Du (the current world record holder, solving a cube in 3.47 seconds)?  Or a robot that solved it in 0.38 seconds?

The Rubik’s Cube and those who solve it truly are remarkable.

Now, let’s be clear.  I’m no Rubik’s Cube expert.  (The majority of the above information came from the Rubik’s Cube website and a quick google search on how many have been sold.)  In all honesty, I can only remember solving a Rubik’s Cube a handful of times in my youth…and that was with a book that told me how to do it…and it took quite some time.  I wasn’t even in the same county as Mr. Du let alone the same ballpark.  It has never been one of my strengths; however, it has recently become one of Silas’s.  Within the last couple of weeks Silas has taken up the idea of solving the Rubik’s Cube.  In fact, he has watched some videos, memorized some different approaches, learned some algorithms, and he can solve them.  It’s very impressive.  Hand him a cube all mixed up, and he will hand it back to you solved…without a book, without referring to a video again.  He knows enough to solve it, and it is awesome.  Not only that, but he has set a personal best of a little over a minute.  He may never go to world record speed (honestly…I don’t want for him to do that.  It takes an insane amount of time and dedication), but we are proud of him, and it has gotten me to think about the Rubik’s Cube once again.  

To me, I find them fascinating.  The Rubik’s Cube is a unique combination of simplicity and complexity.  Simple idea.  Six colors.  Six sides.  Make the colors match.  Complex solution.  How do I move the pieces around to get them to line back up correctly?  This is especially challenging when you consider that there are 43 quintillion (that’s 43 with 18 zeros after it) possible configurations.  (Just as an aside…any cube can be solved with at most 20 moves.  20!  It took 30 years, a group of mathematicians, and some supercomputers to figure this out, but if you make every move perfectly, that is the most that you would take for any of those 43 quintillion possibilities.)

Yep!  The Rubik’s Cube is pretty neat, but I realize that I’ve reached a point in the devotional where your personal interest in these things might be waning, and you are wondering what might be the point of all of this.  Hopefully I will get to said point within 20 moves.  (Get it?)

Here’s where I’m headed for today…

Whenever I was guided through solving a Rubik’s cube, it typically started with solving one side.  This was something that I could do on my own, and then the guide would pick up from there.  I would solve the white side, and then the book would tell me how to do the rest.

The problem?

Solving the remainder of the cube always involved “messing up” the side that had been solved.  There was never a way to move the unsolved portions of the cube around while keeping the “solved” side intact.  You always, always had to move the solved side around.

In my own, unguided attempts, this was never a maneuver that I wanted to do.  Instead, I had the attitude “I solved the white!  Why can’t I keep it solved and get the rest in place?”  (Or why can’t I just pull the stickers off and just put them back to where they belong?)  I never wanted to go “backwards.”  I never wanted to mess up what I had started.  Forward progress was all that I wanted to make, but this was impossible…at least if I wanted to move beyond just solving one side.

Life sometimes is like that too.  If we go about solving all of our own problems, looking for solutions with the hopes of getting our lives “in order”, we can only get so far.  Sure, we might get one aspect lined up.  Maybe we will solve the yellow side and have it looking great.  But we will never be able to solve the whole cube that way.  We will never be able to align all of the different aspects of our life or get it all put together.  In fact, sometimes (or perhaps most of the time), true solving will require some steps that might seem to be in the wrong direction at the time that we are taking them.

Paul was a person who worked hard to achieve things.  If life were a Rubik’s Cube, Paul worked hard to solve it.  In fact, he worked so hard that he had a side or two solved (or at least he thought that he did).  

Check out this self-description that Paul gives in his letter to the Philippians:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

~Philippians 3:4-6  

He had done it.  He had solved a side.  He had lived a life that was strict, regimented, dedicated to all of the “right” things.  Circumcised at just the right time.  Born from just the right family.  Passionate about the law, the rule of God as he understood it.  Willing to snuff out any type of opposition, even to the point of persecuting those who would believe something outside of what was acceptable.  In his estimation, Paul was “faultless” in regards to righteousness based on the law.  

However, that was not enough.  That was not sufficient.  In fact, solving the cube required that what Paul had built up be torn down.

Paul says this in verse 7:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 

~Philippians 3:7

The “victories”, the “successes”, his ability to solve a side of the Rubik’s cube were now not so important.  Once Jesus entered into Paul’s life, everything changed.  No longer was he pursuing righteousness on his own power, according to his own strength.  What he had considered to be “gains” previously, were now considered to be losses.

He continues:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

~Philippians 3:8-9

Paul’s previous efforts?  His righteousness?  His birthright?  Relying on his circumcision?  All garbage.  Trash.  Christ was so far superior that he was willing to throw away anything else.  He only wanted that which was used by Jesus in building him up.  Paul was ready to have the aligned side of the cube that he had solved completely scrambled in order that the large picture might come together in his life.  Did Jesus want to mess up the white side that he had worked so long in solving?  No problem!  Twist and turn away!  Just get me closer to you, Jesus.

Sometimes in our lives we will have things that we think are “solved,” maybe this is a particular attitude, maybe this is a way of doing things, maybe this is the thought that we can make it on our own good, our own righteousness.  Then, we meet Jesus, and he seems to turn everything around.  He keeps twisting and turning and moving things around in our lives so that we can begin to wonder…is this working?  Am I moving towards a solution?  Is my life progressing?  Initially, we may even think, “No!!!!  I had that side solved!  Can’t we just move the other things?  Can’t we just remove some stickers and place them in the right spots?  Isn’t there another way?”

My prayer, friend, is that we will learn to trust Jesus, that we would learn that there is immeasurable satisfaction to be found in Christ that will not be found anywhere else.  My prayer, friend, is that we would trust that Jesus knows how to “cube”, he knows how to solve, he is an expert in cubing.

So, here’s my question, here’s my challenge.  Are you ready to begin (or continue) to submit your life into the hands of Christ?  Even if it feels like he is “messing it all up”, even if it feels like he is twisting and turning you about, even if you like how you had done things in the past?  After all, Jesus is the Master at solving life’s problems and guiding us to where we need to be.  Though it may not be “world record time”, we can trust that God will move us in just the right way at just the right time so that all of our sides are perfectly aligned in his plan.

~ Pastor Chris