Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Don't Be That Turkey (July 11, 2021)

One of the many blessings (and sometimes challenges) of living where we live is the abundance of wildlife.  It is not unusual to see some type of creature roaming around near our house.  We see some fairly common ones like deer, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, raccoon, possums, skunk.  If you’re looking just a little bit harder, you can see some water-loving creatures like frogs, toads, newts.  There are tons and tons of small crawly and flying things like mosquitos, bees, wasps, hornets, praying mantis, ants, beetles.  We’ve also seen some bigger, scarier things around like bear, coyote, bobcats, snakes.  And of course, we see birds.  Lots and lots of birds.  For me, it is awesome to see so many animals roaming about (unless they are choosing to do some damage to the property).  Though I typically don’t go out of my way to find them, when I do see an animal I like to watch and see if they might be teaching me something about myself, about God, or about God’s creation.

The other day as I was driving home, I came across a small family of turkeys.  A mom and her young‘uns.  There were 5 or 6 of the little ones (I couldn’t quite tell) following the mom, all in the middle of the driveway.  In my best estimation they were either looking for a bite to eat, they were taking a site-seeing road trip, or they were playing a quick game of parcheesi.  I’m not 100% sure as I’m not an expert on turkey behavior or parcheesi for that matter.  Regardless, there they were, minding their own business, enjoying life as a family of turkeys when my giant SUV approached.  I’m sure it was quite startling.  Large.  White.  Dirty.  V8 engine rumbling.  Roof rack on the top for summer kayak trips.  Tires kicking up gravel as I dodged any potholes I would encounter on the way home.  To those turkeys in that instant, I’m sure I appeared to be an apex predator on my way to Thanksgiving supper.   I expected the turkeys to flee.  To run.  To fly.  To hide.  To get out of there as quickly as possible.


That’s not what happened.


Momma Turkey did make that snap decision.  She saw me coming and quickly went into the brush, safely away from the approaching danger.  I’m sure she expected her little ones to follow, but they didn’t.  (Well, maybe one did…that’s where I’m not sure if there were 5 or 6 of the little ones.)  Five little turkeys didn’t follow, didn’t hop off the driveway, didn’t hide, didn’t flee.


Do you know what they did?


They decided to see if they could out-trot the SUV.  They started their own, little turkey trot race.  5 little turkeys vs. me.  They turned, single file and began trotting down the driveway in front of the car.  For a looonnnnggggg time.


Can you picture it? 


A large, white, SUV creeping down the drive with five little turkeys trotting right in front of the passenger side tire.


It was quite comical…and a little bit sad.


There I was, telling the little turkeys, “Just turn!  Duck off the road! (To borrow a term from another bird.)  Your mom went into the bushes.  Why don’t you?  Go in there.  Be safe.  The path you are taking isn’t a good one!  What is the matter with you?”


Clearly, their turkey logic had failed in that instant.  Instead of choosing the quickest path to safety, they chose the longest path of peril with death and destruction breathing down their necks.


Fortunately for the little turkeys, I was not the apex predator that they likely feared.  I wasn’t hungry.  It’s not November.  I had no intention of running over the things.  Even though they felt like they were trotting away from death and destruction, no harm would befall them at my hands.  The turkeys could trot the whole way to the house, and I wouldn’t let them succumb to my tires.  Had I wanted to squash them I imagine I could have gotten a whole row of them without much effort; however, that was not my intent…even if the turkeys thought that it was.


So there we were…5 little turkeys, trotting down the driveway with me in my giant SUV following them.  They weren’t getting away.  If anything, I was getting closer. 


Eventually, two of the little ones at the back of the line had a light bulb moment.  They said to one another, “What if we ducked into the brush?”  “Yeah.  That might work.”  “Let’s try it.”  Off they went, escaping the giant, white monster that was in pursuit.  


The other three continued on with their plan.  “Let’s out-trot this thing.”  It wasn’t working.  I stayed right with them until eventually the two in the back of the line had a similar idea as their siblings.  “What if we ducked into the brush?”  “Yeah.  That might work.”  “Let’s try it.”  Off they went, escaping the giant, white monster that was in pursuit.


Finally, there was one little turkey left.  The leader.  The one who was leading the entire turkey trot from the beginning.  It looked like it was bound and determined to trot the whole way to the house, but then something unexpected happened…


Just as I was thinking “I guess I’m doing this the whole way home,” the turkey did something drastic.


It flew.


Flew!


Flew.


It had spent that whole time trotting away from me in my giant SUV when it could have flown to safety at any point!  


“You’ve got to be kidding me.”


That was all I could think.


How could this bird choose trotting over flying?  How could this bird refrain from following its mother into the woods, lead four of its siblings down the driveway, squawk and yell, and be in fear for its life from me in my SUV and it never chose to fly before this point?  Really?  Trotting?  Over flying?  Away from a car?  A big one at that?  Seriously?  


Yet that was the reality.  That bird could have fled from danger in multiple ways at multiple points, and yet it chose the second worst option (the worst would have been a Kamikaze style attack, running straight under my tire).  It could have followed its mom right away.  It could have ducked into the weeds at a variety of points.  It could have FLOWN.  Flown!  Instead, it chose trotting right down the path that I was headed.  Trotting.  Not flying.  What a bird-brained choice.


It made me wonder…


How often do we do the same?


How often do we get a glimpse of imminent danger and choose a terrible path?  Maybe it’s because of our shock, or our ignorance, or our unwillingness to change direction, but it still happens.  Danger approaches.  Darkness comes after us.  A monster with a V8 engine is nipping at our heals and we choose to trot down the same path.


Perhaps we think “surely that thing will duck into the woods.”  Or maybe we reason “I’m the best trotter I know.  That won’t catch up to me.  I can stay a step ahead of it.”  Maybe we see our Mom dart away or hear someone say, “You really ought to get off of that path,” but we don’t listen.  “What do they know?  How can they help?  I like this path.”  We just keep trotting along as if we know that the driver of the SUV won’t hurt us, but in reality the driver is bent on obliterating us and doing everything in its power to tear us apart.


Too often, many of us choose trotting when evil approaches.  We think things like, “How much is really too much?  How much of ____ or ____ can I get away with before it harms me or my relationship with God?” Or “I’ll just get a little bit of the juicy news and share it with just this one person.  That’s not really hurting anyone.”  Or “If nobody else knows, it isn’t really a problem.”  We maybe try to cut back on our sin, limit our evil, or hope that on some giant cosmic scale that our good outweighs our bad.  Instead of seeing the real threat, the real danger, we minimize, ignore, or think that “It won’t happen to me.”  We trot away down the same path when we should have fled long, long ago.


Romans says it this way:


Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Romans 12:9


David said it like this:


Turn from evil and do good;

Psalm 37:27


Other translations use words like “abhor” or “flee”.  Hate/abhor/despise/detest that which is evil.  Flee from it.  Run from it.  Avoid it at all costs.  Cling to what is good.  Do that which is good.  Seek after that which is good.


Granted.  This is not possible on our own, but then again, we are not on our own.  For those of us who have offered our lives to Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of God living within our hearts, the very Spirit and power of Jesus at work within us.  You remember Jesus, right?  The One who would not turn rocks into bread, even while hungry.  The One who would not pitch himself off of a cliff to prove that he was loved.  The One who would not worship the devil to receive all of the material blessings that the devil had to offer.  (See Matthew 4:1-11)  That same Jesus.  You have his Spirit.  With you at all times.  He has enabled you to do much more than trot.  He has enabled you to fly.


Friend, do not be like that turkey, leading others down an ill-chosen path, failing to follow the advise of those wiser and more experienced, choosing to trot when God had given it the ability to fly.  Instead, flee from those things that are evil.  Heed the advice of spiritually mature believers in Christ.  Lead others down the path of salvation.  Rely on the Holy Spirit within you.  Fly.  


Fly/flee/run/sprint/do whatever you can to to escape that which is evil and bent on your destruction.  Cling to that which is good.  Don’t be that turkey.  After all if that turkey continues with the same pattern, it will one day come across someone who is in the mood for a turkey dinner, willing to run it over.  You don’t want to end up the same way…devoured and learning that your trotting had done you no good.


Fly, friend.  


Fly.


~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Your Worth is in Your Worship (July 4, 2021)

“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


Perhaps the idol was made of wood.  Maybe it was cast out of bronze.  Perhaps the idol was crudely made.  Maybe it was the most intricate statue that a skilled craftsman could render.  Perhaps it was the tchotchke type, mass produced for the tourists who would make a site-seeing trip to the city.  “Get yer idol here!  Only available today at this price!  You won’t find one like it outside of Samaria!”  Maybe it was truly one-of-a-kind, a treasure.  Gold with ruby eyes and other precious stones adorning it.  The specifics don’t really matter.  Compared to God, they were all of equal value.  Worthless.


The material didn’t matter.  The craftsmanship didn’t matter.  Whether it was 1 of millions just like it or if it were completely unique.  Made of gold.  Made of silver.  Made of bronze.  Made of wood.  Made of straw.  None of these details were important.  They were all worthless.  Worthless idols that could not and would not compare to the one, true God.


The Israelites knew better.


They were the chosen ones.  The select.  They had the proper lineage.  Descended from the right people.  Abraham was among their ancestors.  Isaac too.  Jacob as well.  They knew of Joseph and how their family line was rescued from extinction and starvation.  Even though Joseph had been mistreated, wrongly accused, and imprisoned, they saw how God brought blessing and prosperity to a whole nation through him.  They knew how the Egyptians had turned.  The heard the stories of slavery of captivity in Egypt.  They knew how God had delivered them from their oppressors.  Moses.  The plagues.  How their direct ancestors had been spared.  The blood.  The Passover.  The lambs.  They knew of the escape and the sea.  Crossing it on dry ground.  Walls of water standing on either side.  They heard the lessons of the discontentment and complaining.  How their forefathers had moaned about manna and longed for meat.  How they even griped that they would have been better off in Egypt, in slavery.  They knew how the lack of faith had kept them out of the Promised Land.  How only two believed in the power of God to deliver the land into their hands and how the people wandered through the desert for 40 years as a result.  They knew the commandments that had been given.  The tablets in the Ark of the Covenant.  They knew the guidelines, the expectations.  They knew about finally entering the land flowing with milk and honey.  Joshua.  Jericho.  Walls tumbling.  They saw God’s faithfulness.  God’s provision.  As they grew and wanted a king, they knew about Saul.  How pride had got the best of him.  How he had turned from God.  They remembered David.  His heart.  A heart that was after God’s own.  Solomon.  His wisdom.  The Temple.  Story after story after story.  Lesson after lesson after lesson.  They knew.


And yet…


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


They followed worthless idols.  

They became like that which they had followed.

Worthless.


It’s amazing to think about.  It’s amazing to ponder.  I didn’t even cover everything that God had done in the history of Israel.  I didn’t share all of the stories that had happened prior to this point.  There wasn’t a mention of Elisha above or his predecessor, Elijah.  No mentioning of any of the judges.  Samuel wasn’t in that brief synopsis.  Still, even if this is all they had known, even if they hadn’t heard all of the other stories that I left out, wasn’t this enough?  Wasn’t this sufficient?  How could they possibly follow after idols?  Even if they didn’t remember the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, even if they didn’t remember the fire from God that licked up the water on the altar versus the complete silence from Baal, hadn’t they learned enough?  Hadn’t they known enough?  How could they have done such a thing?


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


Perhaps it was their success that got in their way.  Perhaps the very blessings that God had bestowed upon them turned out to be their downfall.  They became too comfortable, too confident.  Or maybe they didn’t believe what they had been told.  Old wives stories.  Fairy tales.  God didn’t really do that.  That’s just a way that uneducated folks explained how we got here.  Or maybe they just thought that God wouldn’t follow through.  “Sure, sure.  God wants us to follow after him and him alone, but everyone else has the limited edition Samarian idol.  God will understand.  It won’t be a big deal.”  Perhaps they just forgot.  They went a week without observing the sabbath.  Then two, then a month.  The next thing you know they weren’t going at all.  Prayers had ceased.  Stories had stopped.  Maybe they just forgot about God.  


Ultimately, the reason, though helpful, isn’t the most important part.  The fact remains.


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


Despite their long history.  Despite knowing all the times that they had succeeded and all the times that they had failed, they no longer followed the Creator.  They no longer served the Lord.  They no longer feared God or kept God’s commandments.  They no longer sought the Lord’s council or asked the question about what God might desire.  Instead, they turned to other “gods”, to other idols, to things that had no ability to offer them anything of worth, and they became like that which they served.  Worthless.  


What a sad state.  What a depressing line of Scripture.


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


This week we are celebrating Independence Day in our country.  As we do so, we have the opportunity to look back over the history of our nation.  The good things.  The bad things.  The things that are in between.  We have the opportunity to remember the sacrifices, the cost that has been paid, the lives that have been offered.  We have a chance to remember those who were selfless, those who served, those who pointed to a better way to live, those who lived for God (sometimes alongside our country and its agenda and sometimes in spite of our country and its agenda).  We also have the chance to remember those who acted selfishly, who were oppressive, who took instead of gave, who served things that were not from God’s hand or according to God’s plan.  Let’s be honest.  Within the history of our nation, just like within the history of Israel and their nation, there are things we can celebrate and things we can mourn.  There have been successes as well as failures.  Positive as well as negative.  Good as well as bad.  Every swing of the bat has not been a home run.  Nor have they all been a strike.  It’s important and good that we look back and remember it all.  Even more important?  That we remember and that it makes a difference.


The Israelites had every opportunity to see God at work through the history of their nation.  They had every opportunity to learn from their ancestors and from what God had done in the past.  Even so, they chose to forego what had come before to serve idols of zero worth.  In so doing, they, themselves, became worthless.


Friend, you and I have an opportunity to learn from their mistake.  We have an opportunity to look back on the history of our nation and to learn, to remember, to discover, to grow.  Not only that, but we also have an opportunity to look back on a much broader scale, to behold the ways that God has worked throughout time, to consider the ways in which God has moved in other countries, other nations, other circumstances.  As we look back and as we remember, let us not make the same mistakes as the nation of Israel.  Let us not forget where worth is found and Who we should be following. 


As many have sought to find worth in status, in social media followers, in financial portfolios, in housing plans, in vocation, in location, in ______, let us not do the same.  Let us not give our hearts or follow after any other idol.  For anything that we pursue above God, apart from God, or outside of God’s plan has the same amount of value.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  In terms of our worship, in terms of our hearts, in terms of Who or what we choose to follow, there are two categories.  God & everything else.  One is of infinite value.  The other?  Not so much.


There’s a saying that I’m sure you have heard.  “You are what you eat.”  That’s not precisely true.  I can eat Brussels sprouts until the day I die and never turn into one.  There’s another saying that I’m still trying to work out, but it goes more like “Your worth is in your worship.”  If you worship the one, true God, the Creator of all, the Alpha and Omega, the one who is worthy, you, too, will find your worth in God.  However, if you choose to worship, to follow, to give your heart to anything else, your worth will be defined by that as well.


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


Worship that which is worthy.  Find your worth in God.  Follow after God all of your days.


Fortunately for the Israelites, hope was still to come through them and for them.  One was still to be born within their tribe, along the line of David.  The Messiah, the Savior, Jesus was on the way.  Even though they messed up, even though they became worthless by following worthless idols, God did not forsake them.  Instead, God offered a way.  That way was Jesus.  God has done the same for you.  As we approach Independence Day and we remember all that our country has done, collectively, as well as all that we have done individually, know that God has still provided a way.  Even if you feel worthless or have followed after that which has no worth, know that you may still find your value in Jesus.  Turn now towards God and follow Him.


“They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”

~2 Kings 17:15


Your worth is in your worship.


Make sure you are worshipping the One who is worthy.



~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Thank God for Puppies (Babies) (June 26, 2021)

Have you ever seen a puppy (oops, I mean baby) that just made you overflow with emotion?  

There you are, minding your own business when the cutest puppy (baby) you have ever seen crosses your path.  Soft cuddly fur.  Big floppy ears.  Tripping over its own feet.  Excited about everything.  You just can’t help it.  You drop everything just so that you can be with it.  Hold it.  Pet it.  Scoop it up and let it kiss your cheeks.  Maybe you even catch a whiff of that “puppy (baby) breath” that is sweeter than the sweetest smelling perfume.  The puppy (baby) has filled you to the brim with joy, with wonder, with awe.  You suddenly speak “puppy (baby) talk”….you know that high-pitched excited voice.  “Who’s the good wittle fella?  Who’s such a good boy?  You want a treat?  Oh, I’d give you so many treats if I had any with me!  I just want to hold you and squeeze you and love you!  You’re sooooooooooo cute!!!”


Ever experienced that?  Do puppies (babies) make you act that way?


(Ok.  For the astute reader, you might recognize that this is the exact same beginning as last week’s devotional.  I figured I owed you two weeks of cute and cuddly as we had experienced two weeks of creepy and yucky.   This week I have just inserted the term “baby” for “puppy.”  You also might notice that some of the descriptors don’t exactly fit for a baby.  I know.  I thought it was funny to leave some of that stuff in there.  Now, the astute reader might also be wondering how far I will continue with this trend.  After all, I admitted that I don’t really gush all over puppies in last week’s reading.  Plus, I put kittens down.  Can I possibly be so cruel when it comes to babies?  Is this really where I’m about to go with this devotional?)


Alright.  Here it comes.  I don’t go wild over babies either.  In all reality, I really don’t go wild about much.  For the most part, I’m a pretty low-key guy.  Yes, I find babies cute.  Yes, I will make silly faces and will try to get them to laugh at me.  Yes, I enjoy babies more than puppies (and way more than kitties).  However, if you’d compare me to some other folks I know…my reactions are pretty tame.  That is not a reflection of my heart for babies.  It is just the way I roll.


Again, regardless of whether or not you would hear me squeal from down the street when a baby enters the room, I thank God for babies.  I thank God for the joy that they bring, for the way that they can brighten a room.  I thank God for the hope of life that is contained within them and for the way that God loves each one of them dearly, completely.  I thank God for their curiosity, for their expressiveness, for their dependence upon others to take care of them.  Yes, I thank God for babies (and I hope that you do too)!


Here’s a thing about babies, though.  They grow up.  They don’t stay in babyhood forever, especially when they are your kids.  You blink your eye a few times and you have a toddler.  The next second they’re off to kindergarten.  Before you know it, a teenager is upon you.  A couple of blinks after that and they are out of school, employed, and having their own family.  Babies don’t stay babies.  They grow up.  That cute little bundle of slobber and drool will not stay that way forever.  One day they will be like you and I.  A full-grown adult human who is likely far less cute than their baby version.  Guess what?  I, for one, am thankful for this fact.  As much as we can enjoy babies, I’m thankful that they do not stay that way.  I’m thankful that they grow, develop, that there is more to their life than sleep, eat, poo, repeat.  (Although that description can also be used for many of us adults as well.)  Yes, I’m grateful that babies do not stay babies.  You should be too.


Here’s why.


I do not wish to rob any baby of the experiences, of the life that lays before them.  


I do not wish to take away the sunsets, the laughter, the relationships.  I do not want to remove the chance for family bonds or life-long friendships.  I want for babies to get the chance to move past puréed peas and have the opportunity to taste grilled asparagus.  I hope that they get the chance to move beyond those little puffs that dissolve in their mouth and get to experience a nice, greasy slice of pepperoni pizza.  I want for them to learn to walk, to run, to swim, to jump, to skip rope.  I want for them to get to feel the breeze blowing through the window of a car, to hear music that inspires them, to sing, to dance, to shout.  I’d love for them to get to see the ocean at least once, to feel the sand in between their toes, to feel a wave crash on their back.  I want for them to find out what makes them laugh, what brings them joy.  There is sooooooo much life that I want for each baby that I would never want for them to stay a baby and miss all of that (even if they’re cute and it might seem nice if they would stay that way forever).  Yes, I know that I’ve skipped over the bad stuff.  I’ve bypassed the suffering that might lay before them, the heartache and the pain.  Still, I wouldn’t want to keep from them the opportunity to experience the love of the Lord that reaches beyond life’s hardships.  I want for babies to learn, to grow, to experience life.  I want for them to grow into the people that God has planned for them to be.  Babies do not stay babies, and I am grateful for that fact (even if there are occasions where I wish we could take a return trip to visit Silas in babyland if for but a moment).


Hopefully, at this point, you agree with me.  Hopefully you recognize that it would not be the best thing for a child to stay as a child, for a baby to stay as a baby. Instead, it is better for them to grow, to experience life.  This is God’s design, this is God’s plan, and it really is a good one.  If we really want what is best for people, our desire should be for them to grow out of babyhood and enter adulthood.  In the course of a baby’s life, it really is best that they grow, that they develop, that they live to experience life as an adult.  To try to keep a person in an “infant” state would be to deprive them of all life has to offer.


The same can be said for our spiritual lives as well.


It is a wonderful thing to see someone who is new to the faith, someone who has just realized the forgiveness that Jesus has offered and has accepted that gift of life by giving their lives to Christ.  It is great to see commitments of faith, and we should certainly celebrate new believers.  However, we are not meant to continue on as spiritual infants.  The design is similar to the design of our physical bodies.  There should be growth.  There should be development.  There should be new life that we experience in our Christian walk that we would have missed out on if we remain as spiritual infants.  Though this is the case, too often we find ourselves arrested in our spiritual development, stuck in babyland without even knowing that there is more to be had. 


Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, addressed this issue.  Look at what he said.  


Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

~1 Corinthians 3:1-3


To paraphrase, Paul says, “I can’t talk to you like spiritual adults.  I couldn’t address you as if you live by the Spirit.  You are still worldly.  Mere infants.  So, I had to give you a bottle.  Milk.  Not meat.  Barely warmed.  Not hot enough to scald.  Nothing chewy.  Nothing substantial.  Why?  You fight.  You quarrel.  You act like Jesus is not in your hearts.  I have to address you with baby-talk.  You live according to worldly means, according to worldly measures.”  


The implication here is that this should not be so.  Paul expected for believers in Jesus to be growing in their faith, to be guided by the Spirit, to cast aside worldly desires and be filled with heavenly ones.  For the audience in Corinth at that time, this was not the case.  Paul still had to feed them baby food.  They were so caught up in worldly issues that they weren’t able to digest spiritual ones.  


Friend, what about you?

What are you able to eat?


If you’re new to your relationship with Jesus, it is great to be bottle-fed.  It is important to drink the milk, to learn the beginning steps of what a life of faith looks like.  However, it is also important not to stay there.  No, I don’t mean that we must get some theological education and learn impressive sounding words.  It is OK to keep our language simple and to continue to ponder the profound truth that is found in statements like “God is love”.  I’m not talking about trying to sound impressive.  Instead, I’m talking about actually becoming more mature in our faith.  Putting aside the things that draw us away from Jesus.  Becoming less concerned with worldly measures, with worldly success.  Seeking God in all aspects of our lives.  Learning the Scripture, becoming familiar with the Word of God, incorporating the truth of the Gospel in our daily affairs.  Being sensitive to the Spirit, displaying the Spirit’s fruits.  Seeking God in prayer. 


There is a lot of life to be found in our Christian faith.  There is steak to be grilled and eaten.  Not only that, but there is fresh corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, baked potatoes, and warm brownies with ice cream as well.  There are depths to our faith that we have not yet reached.  There are heights to our journey that we have not yet scaled.  There is a path before us that we have not yet taken.  Life to be lived.  Faith to be discovered.  And yet, many of us are content to be rocked, content to be cradled, content to sip on our bottles, content to stay right were we are…in babyland. 


How about you?

Have you grown in your faith since you first met Jesus?  Are you closer to him this year than you were ten years ago?  Are you maturing as a believer in Christ?

Or are you still drinking milk with people coming by and saying “ooohhh how cute!  What a cute wittle baby!”?


I hope that you are growing.  I pray that you are maturing.  I want for you to experience all that Jesus has to offer, the depths of his mercy, the richness of his love, the joy, the hope, the peace, the life that He brings.  I want that for myself as well.  I do not wish for us to stay as spiritual infants because I know that is not what is best for us.


So, would you pray with me?  Would you ask God, “Please deepen my faith.  Please draw me closer.  I want to grow in my relationship with you, Jesus.”?  I pray that you do.  I pray that we would never have to eat puréed peas again, but that we would enjoy all of the fullness that God has to offer.


Yes, I thank God for babies, but I also thank God that they grow. 



~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Thank God for Puppies (June 20, 2021)

Have you ever seen a puppy that just made you overflow with emotion?  

There you are, minding your own business when the cutest puppy you have ever seen crosses your path.  Soft cuddly fur.  Big floppy ears.  Tripping over its own feet.  Excited about everything.  You just can’t help it.  You drop everything just so that you can be with it.  Hold it.  Pet it.  Scoop it up and let it kiss your cheeks.  Maybe you even catch a whiff of that “puppy breath” that is sweeter than the sweetest smelling perfume.  The puppy has filled you to the brim with joy, with wonder, with awe.  You suddenly speak “puppy talk”….you know that high-pitched excited voice.  “Who’s the good wittle fella?  Who’s such a good boy?  You want a treat?  Oh, I’d give you so many treats if I had any with me!  I just want to hold you and squeeze you and love you!  You’re sooooooooooo cute!!!”


Ever experienced that?  Do puppies make you act that way?


Not me.


Not at all.


Call me names.  Question my character.  Judge me.  But in all honesty, I don’t get terribly excited about puppies.  Sure, they’re cute.  Sure, they can be a blessing to people.  Sure, they are way better than kittens (personal opinion here…again I recognize that I am opening myself up for some criticism).  Still, they just don’t evoke such emotions for me.  They don’t get me all excited.  I see the puppy.  Maybe I pet the puppy.  Maybe.  Probably not.  Then, I move on…thankful that I’m not the one who will be responsible for teaching the puppy how to refrain from doing its business on my carpet.  I’m not anti-puppies.  I don’t harbor some deep-seated angst concerning puppies.  They just don’t cause the same emotional response in me that happens for others, and that’s OK.  As far as I can tell, there is no Biblical mandate that we all must become oooeey-goooeeey when a puppy is introduced.  Personal preference in this matter is permitted.  Puppies are puppies, and in my opinion they are fine.  I know.  I’m a cold-hearted monster.


Still, I will say that I thank God for puppies.


I thank God for the way that puppies can bring people joy.  I thank God for the way that puppies can bring people hope.  I thank God for the way a puppy can brighten up someones day who would otherwise be rather down in the dumps and depressed.  I thank God for puppies, and I appreciate them…even if I don’t do a backflip each time I see one.  I thank God for puppies because they are a small reminder of the goodness of our God.  They are a small symbol of the hope we have in Jesus.


Recently, I’ve written a couple of devotionals that have focused on things that maybe aren’t the cutest of creatures in God’s creation.  You know.  Rodents and parasites.  Not the most pleasant of topics, but they made a point about our spiritual walk.  We are in a spiritual battle, and there are things that can attack us and attach to us that seek to sap our spiritual strength, that seek to drain life from us.  This is reality, and we can’t just ignore it.  It is far better to be prepared and to face this reality head-on with the truth.  It is good for us to know that we are in a battle.  It is good for us to recognize things in our life that are detrimental to our spiritual health.  But do you know what is even better?


Knowing that the war has been won.

Knowing that there is victory.

Knowing that there is hope, even in the face of despair.

Knowing that the light triumphs over the darkness.

Knowing that we serve such a great and mighty Lord that even death could not contain Him, the grave could not hold him.

Knowing that life wins, and that we are offered this life through Jesus.


Yes, the battle is real. 

Yes, the struggle is legitimate.

Yes, there is ugliness that reminds us of the brokenness of creation.

Yes, there are dark and evil things that seek our destruction.

No, we cannot escape the fight.

No, everything will not always be easy.

No, the ugliness has not completely covered that which is beautiful and good.

No, the dark and evil things will not always win.


There is hope.  There is truth.  There is light.  There is faith.  There are puppies.  There is Jesus.


I thank God for puppies.


Puppies can serve as a reminder of goodness, of light, of truth, of hope.  Puppies can enter into a situation that is dark and gloomy and can turn that situation right around. 

Puppies can point to the loving and caring nature of our Creator.

Puppies can be bringers of joy, of laughter, of love.


So, I thank God for puppies…even if I never speak in “puppy voice.” 


In one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, look at what he says:


We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

~2 Corinthians 4:8-10


Or, how about these words from Jesus:


“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

~John 16:33


In both of these passages, there is a recognition of the reality of this world that we inhabit.  There are problems.  There is pain.  There is heartache.  There are troubles.  This is part of life, but this is not the entire picture.  Hard pressed…yes, but not crushed.  Perplexed…yes, but not in despair.  Persecuted…yes, but not abandoned.  Struck down…yes, but not destroyed.  Troubles in the world…yes, but Jesus has overcome!


Within our lives, God leaves reminders of His goodness, reminders of his grace, reminders of his blessings, reminders of the hope that we have in the Lord. 

Puppies can be such a reminder.  (So can kittens…even if I don’t like them as much.)  Sunrises, sunsets, blooming flowers, soft breezes, singing birds, babies laughing, waterfalls, forest trails, fall leaves, gently falling snow, blue skies, fluffy clouds, friendly smiles, on and on and on and on.  There are so many reminders that God places around us to whisper to us that He is good, that He is with us, and that the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus.


Sometimes, we just need to remember to stop, to rejoice over the puppies, and to thank Jesus.


Sometimes we get so caught up in the battle, so bogged down by the struggle, so occupied by the things that aren’t going well that we completely bypass those things that are good.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the fight that we forget about the victory.  Sometimes we get so focused on the parasite that we forget about the puppies.


So, friend, I encourage you.  Be aware of both.  Remember the battle, recognize that we are in a war, but know who has achieved the victory and remember that the battle belongs to the Lord.  Fight off the parasites but don’t forget about the puppies.


We’ve spent some time in the past talking about some of the ways to battle against the icky stuff.  Today, I want to encourage you to take the battle a step further by focusing on that which is good.  Yesterday may have been about the parasites.  Today is about the puppies.  So, take a moment, today, to focus on the blessings of God.  


Catch a sunset.  Set an early alarm for a sunrise.  Take a stroll down your favorite path.  Call up an old friend.  Listen to some good music.  Enjoy a cool glass of unsweetened ice tea.  Pet a puppy.


Take a moment today to realize that though we may be hard pressed, we are not crushed.  Though we may be perplexed, we are not in despair.  Though we may be persecuted, we are not abandoned.  Though we may be struck down, we are not destroyed.  Though we may have troubles in this world, Jesus has overcome!



~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Parasites (June 13, 2021)

Have you ever experienced a parasite?

They can be pesky and quite scary little buggers.  Just the mention of the word “tapeworm” is enough to give me the creeps, a good old fashioned case of the heebie-jeebies.  NO THANK YOU!!!!!  I really didn’t need to know that there are 6 different types of tapeworms that commonly infect people.  You probably didn’t need to know that either.  But now we do, and we can hopefully agree that they are undesirable at best.  Sure, some might think that having a tapeworm would offer weight loss benefits, but at what cost?  Disease.  Weakness.  Pain.  Deficiencies.  Again….NO THANK YOU!!!


Unfortunately, tapeworms aren’t the only type of parasite out there either.  If they weren’t enough to make your skin crawl by themselves, there are other types of nasties as well.  In fact, there are three major categories of parasites.  


  • Protozoa:  Microscopic, single-celled organisms.  Think tiny.  Really tiny.  Little tiny parasitic cells that live off of other cells and create all kinds of chaos.  
  • Helminths:  Large, multi-cellular organisms.  Think worms.  Threadworms, hookworms, pinworms, tapeworms.  They typically live inside a host and do their damage internally.
  • Ectoparasites:  Organisms that attach or burrow into the skin.  Think skin mites, lice, ticks.  They typically live on the outside of a host, burrowing just a bit into the host’s skin.  Again, damage is done.  These things just prefer to operate on the exterior.


There.


Feeling sufficiently yucky?


I know I am.


We should feel all kinds of yucky when we read such a list.  After all, we know that parasites can have negative effects.  Severely negative effects.  From the teasing that can take place at elementary school when someone has lice to the death that can occur from a brain-eating amoeba, parasites are not something that should be taken lightly.  Though there is reason to study them and know about them, I cannot see a reason why we would desire to have one.  In general, parasites are bad.  Really bad.  Like “drop whatever you’re doing and get rid of these things as soon as possible” kind of bad.  (At least that is my non-medical, internet & common sense informed opinion.)


Last week, I discovered that I had a parasite.


I was standing in front of mirror as I often choose to do, and I was flexing my muscles.  You know, admiring the pipes.  Kissing the old biceps.  Getting super impressed with my middle-aged strength.  (Not really.)  It was then that I noticed it.  Something looked different.  I had a new spot, a new black mark that hadn’t been there before.  Further investigation was required.  I needed to see closer.  I grabbed my phone to zoom into the spot and take a picture.


It was as I feared.

An ectoparasite.

A tick.

Burrowed into my skin.

Getting a free lunch…and lunch was me.


Now, what do you think that I did in that moment?  What do you think was my response?


I did like any rational, middle-aged, grey-haired man would do.  I shrilled in a high-pitched voice, danced around waving my arms frantically, and called for my Mommy.  (Ok.  I didn’t do any of that either.)


What I did do?  I went about getting it out.


First thing.  No hesitation.  No time to lose.  That tick was being shown the door.  No long-term-meal-plan on me.  I wanted rid of the thing as quickly as possible.  So, out came the “Tick Twister,” a genius little piece of plastic that helps to twist the little pests right out of the skin, and away went the tick (with the help of my wife as I couldn’t quite reach it).  


Gone.  Flushed.  Never to return again.  Hasta la vista, baby.


To me, that was the only appropriate response.  Immediate removal.  I wanted no part of that thing.


Why?  Well, who wants Lyme disease or Powassan virus or some other kind of crazy tick illness?  


Not me! 


The risk of infection increases as you keep the tick in your skin for longer periods of time.  The sooner you can get that sucker (literally) out, the better.  Parasites are bad and they can lead to worse things.  


Whenever I encounter a parasite in my life, instant removal is my only course of action.  I see no other path.  No other plan.  Everything else must stop until the parasite is eradicated.  Stop flexing, stop typing, stop eating, stop _____.  Take care of the parasite.


But what about parasites in other areas of my life? 

Specifically, what about parasitic thoughts? 

Have you ever had one of those?

A thought that bores deep inside of your brain and lives by taking the life from other, healthy thoughts.


Whispers about worth and value.

Nudges about identity and purpose.

Suggestions about meaning and importance.


Parasitic thoughts can cycle through our minds like a never-ending soundtrack, asserting themselves over and over and over again.


“You’re not good enough.”  “You will never get out of this mess.”  “Nobody loves you.”  “Nobody cares about you.”  “You have to do everything all by yourself.”  “Even God doesn’t forgive you for that.”  “Even God has abandoned you.”

We can let these thoughts and others like them go on repeat without ever doing a thing about them.  We can listen to them again and again and again, little knowing the damage that they are wreaking, little knowing the harm that they can cause.


These negative thoughts that we entertain, these negative messages that we allow to play, these negative ideas that we tell ourselves (sometimes even vocally) are not helpful.  They are not from God.  In reality, they are harmful.  Perhaps they are even more harmful and wicked and “heebie-jeebie-inspiring” than the physical parasites that were mentioned above.


Why?

Parasitic, negative thoughts are bad (because they aren’t true), but they can lead to things that are worse (because they cause us to doubt Who we are and Whose we are). 


We need to combat parasitic thoughts as instantly and as sufficiently as we would combat a physical parasite because the effects of the thoughts can be just as bad or worse than the negative effects of hosting a physical parasite.


First, let’s remember.  Who are we?


Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

~John 1:12-13


For those who have received Jesus, for those who have believed in his name, we are children of God.  Think of that for a moment!  Reflect on the awe and the wonder of that statement!  


Children of God.


This should be at the center of our identity.  This should be at the core of our being.  When any thought would seem to counter this fact, when any thought would seem to suggest otherwise, that thought should not be welcome. 


So, let’s say a thought starts rattling around in your head.  “You’re worthless.”


Treat this like a parasite.  Immediate action required.  This thought should be up for immediate removal.


“No I’m not!  I’m a child of God!  I’ve been adopted into God’s family!”


As many times as it comes up, battle it over and over and over again with what is true.  We cannot allow parasitic thoughts to remain or they might lead us to question our identity, to doubt who we are as God’s children.  Instead, we need to remove them, to combat them with the truth.


These parasitic thoughts can also come against Whose we are.


Let’s remember. Whose are we?

We are Christ’s.  


Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

~1 Corinthians 6:19-20


We belong to Jesus.


This should also be at the center of our identity as children of God.  “I am not my own.  I belong to Jesus.”  Thoughts that suggest otherwise need attention.  Thoughts that look towards self-deprecation (or self-promotion) should be handled.  They should be viewed as parasites.  In need of immediate removal for we don’t want worse things to come.


So, when a thought comes, “You can never do anything right.”  We know that we can counter “I am not my own.  I have been bought with the blood of Jesus.”


Paul says that we are to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5)  


Like them or not, parasites are a reality.  They are a reality that we face in our outward, physical life as well as in our inward being.  Whenever we face them, we need to deal with them.  Swiftly.  Quickly.  With importance and authority so that nothing else worse is the result.  So the next time you hear a parasitic thought whisper in your ear, do just that.  Deal with it.  Pull out the Tick Twister.  (Quote Scripture…the weapon that we have to fight these types of things…see Ephesians 6:17)  Take care of the problem before a worse one can happen.  


~ Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

This. Means. War. (June 6, 2021)

We were just sitting there.  Nothing super spectacular.  Nothing really out of the ordinary.  Just sitting together, enjoying some down time, watching a movie before getting ready for bed.  Unprepared.  Innocent of what was about to happen.  Not ready.

But then we heard it.


The sound.


Like the faint call of trumpets being blown before battle or the mighty yell of a troop preparing to mount a siege, we heard it.  


The sound of my enemy.


Now, you might not recognize it as such.  You might hear the same noise and not know what was coming, but I did.  I had heard this before.  These were battle cries.

The pitter.  The patter.  The scratching.  The scampering.


I knew what these meant.  Instantly.  A fight was upon me.


Right at that moment I was taken back.  Back to a battle that I had fought in my early 20s.  Alone in my apartment, it was me against the enemy, and I came to learn that the enemy was shrewd.  Cunning.  Daring.  Not to be trusted.


You see, they had infiltrated my abode at that time, and I had mounted a counter-attack.  I had purchased some d-CON.  (This was the weapon of choice for my Grandpa in his barn.)  I had set my trap, laid my weapon out, put it into use, but do you know what happened?  Do you know what they did?  They used it against me!  The very same d-CON was moved, was placed into some of my Tupperware that I had in a drawer.  Not only that, but do you know what they put in the middle of it?  A cherry flavored Now and Later candy.  A sweet, delicious, piece of MY candy.  Right in the center of the d-CON.  


It was as if they were mocking me.  


“Here you go big fella.  This cherry Now and Later is so good and so sweet!  You can eat it.  Don’t you worry about a thing.  Go ahead.  It’s so good!  Oh yeah…try some of this green stuff too.”

Yes, from the moment when we heard the sound above our heads, I knew.  I remembered.  It was time.  The battle had resumed.  The enemy could not be trusted.  Not in the least.  This.  Meant.  War.


I knew that I would do whatever it took until my enemy had been defeated, until they had been vanquished.  I’d dust off my weapons of war and engage until that battle was complete.  Even though I didn’t feel like it.  Even though I wasn’t completely ready in that moment.  Even though I would rather just watch the movie and ignore the problem, hoping that it would take care of itself.  There would be no getting around it.  I was in the fight, and I would continue until it was over.


Pitter.  Patter.  Scratch.  Scamper.


Like the sound of swords clanging in the night.


The battle was upon me.


A mouse (or perhaps mice) had once again entered into my abode.


It was time to fight.


Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t “hate” my enemy in this case.  I don’t harbor any deep-seated angst.  I’m not vehemently opposed to field mice.  I just want them to stay in the field as their name implies.  You see, I thought we had an understanding.  A line drawn in the sand.  Boundaries that had been established that weren’t to be crossed.  I had agree that I would not pursue them if they remained on their side of the line.  I thought they had agreed to the terms as well, but the noise proved otherwise.  They had blown the battle horns, fired the first shots, they had breached the truce.


Pitter.  Patter.  Scratch.  Scamper.


I knew what those noises meant.  The mice had come.  They had come to chew up my wires.  They had come to leave little droppings on my counter.  They had come to shred my papers, to put holes in my clothing.  They had come to eat my food.  Not only that, but they had come to try to poison me and my family!  They had come to take any candy that we might have and place it right into a big ol’ pile of d-CON.  I could not have it.  There would be no rest until they have been vanquished to the fields once more.  There would be no ceasing from battle until I knew that their entire ranks had been defeated.  The war would rage on until they had been purged from our home.


Maybe I’m being extreme.  Maybe I’m over-reacting.  Maybe I should just relax and accept some kind of coexistence within our household.  Mice and humans peacefully living under the same roof.  What’s wrong with that picture?


Let me think about it.


Nope. 


I’m not over-reacting.  I’m not being extreme.


Here’s how I see things.  Field mice belong in the field.  I’m content to leave them there.  There will be no house mouse for me.  No peaceful coexistence within these walls.  There is a clear boundary mark, and once that has been crossed, the battle has begun.


So long as a mouse chooses to enter into my house, I will fight against that thing until it is here no more.


That’s it.  That simple.  I am at war with any mouse that chooses to sneak in here and try to eat my candy.


Pitter.  Patter.  Scratch.  Scamper.


This.  Means.  War.


I guess it’s one of the disadvantages of living by a field.  Sometimes a mouse decides that the house might be a nice place to live, but it’s a price that I’m willing to pay.  Plus at this point, I am familiar with the signs and the sounds that the battle has begun yet again.  If some paper is shredded up somewhere, I know what it means.  My eyes are able to distinguish the difference between some bugs that have died or some fuzz that has shed or some mouse droppings.  My ears are attuned to the typical noises of the walls creaking or of Silas walking around or of a bug bumping into a window.  I know the sounds of our dehumidifier, the air conditioner and the furnace.  I recognize the noise the ice maker makes when it dumps in another tray of frozen water.  Unfortunately, I also am familiar with the sound that a mouse makes in the ceiling.  I’ve heard it before.  I will be perfectly fine if I never hear it again, but if I do I have to be ready.


Ready whether I feel like it or not.

Ready whether I want to deal with it or not.

Ready whether I’m watching TV or taking a nap.

Ready in the mornin’.

Ready in the noontime.

Ready when the sun goes down.


Ever ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.  Ready for battle the moment it begins.


I wonder.


What if we were this ready to fight our spiritual battles?

What if we were so familiar with the house of the Holy Spirit (i.e. our bodies…read 1 Corinthians 6:19) that whenever a sound was out of place, we would instantly recognize it and would be ready for battle?


  • We hear a voice whisper that we cannot trust God……..BOOM!  No thank you!  That doesn’t belong!  That’s not the voice of my Savior!  Ready to fight. 
  • We have a thought, “Surely it won’t hurt just this one time…” A suggestion to cheat on our taxes or to lust after something or someone or to do something that is contrary to God’s will…………BOOM!  No thank you!  That does’t belong!  That’s not the voice of my Savior!  Ready to fight.
  • We feel selfish or stingy or judgmental or greedy or prideful.  We feel worthless or useless or hopeless or doubt God’s love for us.  We feel like nobody would like us if they knew us deep down.  On and on and on……..BOOM!  No thank you!  That doesn’t belong!  That’s not the voice of my Savior!  Ready to fight.

What if we were even more aware of sounds of the attacks of our spiritual enemy than I am aware of the sound of a mouse?  What if we were so tuned into God that we instantly knew when something was off?  Can you imagine?

Here’s the thing, friend.  Whether you feel like it or not.  Whether you want to be or not.  Whether you think you will be successful or not.  You are in a battle.  You are in a fight.  You are in a spiritual war.  Remember what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:


For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

~ Ephesians 6:12


Do not fear the war.  Do not fear the battle, but realize that you are in a fight and be ready.  Just before this verse Paul says “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)  He tells us that we are able to be strong.  Not in our own strength.  Not in our own abilities, but in the Lord.  Then, he lets us know that we will be given victory.  He says “…after the battle you will be standing firm.” (Ephesians 6:13)  You will be given victory.  How?  By putting on the armor of God.  By being ready.  By being prepared.  By being so familiar with God’s voice, with God’s Word that we would know when and how to fight.  (Read the whole account in Ephesians 6:10-18.)


Lines have been crossed.  Boundaries have been shattered.  You are in a fight.  Be ready.  Be confident.  Be strong in the Lord.  Know that the enemy is real, but you have victory through Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for giving us this victory!


So…the next time you hear…


Pitter.  Patter.  Scratch.  Scamper.


Know what it means.  This.  Means.  War.



~ Pastor Chris