Taste and See

October 18, 2015

As I have been thinking about I John 1:1 (I’ll talk more about that in my sermon today), I was reminded of Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” In both places the writers invite us to know for ourselves, to experience in our own lives the reality and existence of Jesus and of God. It is an invitation that I want to extend to you too.

John tells us in his letter that he and the other apostles proclaim what they have experienced personally. In other words, they know what they are talking about. That is the reason he is writing this letter we call 1 John. He is telling us what he experienced so that we can experience its reality too.

The writer of Psalm 34 extends a similar challenge to us, taste and see for ourselves. He knows that the Lord is good and he wants us to know it too. In both cases the message begins with a personal experience. It starts with ME before it can be spread to others. What has been YOUR personal experience with God? In John’s words, have you reached out to touch Jesus?

For some of us, we need to think back to times when we have indeed tasted God’s goodness to us. He answered prayer. He brought us through hardship and trouble. He guided our steps with almost miraculous timing and intricacy. He gave us wonderful gifts that we did not deserve and did not appreciate until we looked back later in life. How long has it been since you have looked back on your life and noticed God’s hand in it? If it has been too long, take time this week, maybe in private, to savor again the taste of God’s goodness, to feel again His touch.

For some of us, we have no experience upon which to look. We have not tasted of God’s goodness, we have not touched His presence.   If that is true of you, then I would issue this challenge… ask God to touch your life, ask Him to show you His goodness.

But I need to give you a warning too. When you ask, ask with humility and with sincerity. Ask, not because you deserve such a taste. Ask not because you dare Him to touch you. He is the creator of the universe. You cannot order Him around like some kind of spiritual servant. He knows your heart. He sees your motives. If you will humble yourself, if you will sincerely desire Him to work in your life, then open your heart and ask for His work. Ask that you, like the writer of Psalm 34, might taste for yourself His goodness.

After you ask, open your spiritual eyes and be ready. I do not know what the Lord will do, but I suspect He will surprise you. In fact, you may never be the same.

Feeding the Poor

October 11, 2015

Feeding the poor is something that has been on God’s heart since the beginning of Israel. When God delivered the descendents of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them laws upon which to build their nation. Among those laws were provisions for the poor to collect food from the fields alongside those who owned and worked the fields. (Remember the story of the book of Ruth?) As the nation matured, giving financial help to the poor and disabled was an important part of their life of faith.

Among the first generation of Christian believers, remembering the poor was an important part of living out their trust in Jesus (see Galatians 2:10). In fact, Paul’s final missionary journey among the churches he helped to establish was in part to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were poor (see Acts 24:17). This journey to bring money to the poor ended up in Paul’s arrest and eventual trip as a prisoner to Rome. Helping those who are poor has been important in God’s economy from the very beginning.

There could be lots of other biblical references that underline this principle, but if we assume its truth, there is still a vexing question. How do we do it?

At first glance, it might seem that we just hand over some of our money (or food or other resources) to those who do not have enough. Is not that what Paul did, took up an offering and then delivered it to the people in Jerusalem who needed it? I am not so sure.

While it might seem to be a nice gesture, just handing someone some extra money is not as helpful as it might look like. Like many things in life, really helping people is not so simple. Even God’s gracious forgiveness is not just handed out, it was purchased by Jesus on the cross. Forgiveness was costly. Its cost helps us to understand its great value. We do not take our forgiveness for granted when we think of the cost.

In fact, if we look a bit deeper, we see that even Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem was not just handed out, it was delivered to the church leaders. Paul put the gifts from Christians all across Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia into the hands of church leaders. They were the ones who knew best how to use it to help the poor.

We can do that too. Our Global Hunger Relief funds will be used by missionaries and other church leaders all around the world to help the poor. While I am not wise enough to go to Southeast Asia or Africa and distribute financial help to relieve hunger, we have missionaries and churches who can. They are on the scene. They know what to do. They see the need first hand. This money goes 100% into the hands of church leaders who are in place to serve. It is our chance to equip them to meet those needs.

Global Hunger Relief is important. Let’s do it!

A Unique Friendship

October 4, 2015

Many of you know that a dear childhood friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unless the Lord touches his life, Wes has only a few months to live. In fact, he is already spending most of his day in bed. Although I have experienced the death of many good friends and family, I was not prepared for the emotional impact that Wes’ cancer has had on me. I can hardly think about it without tears and sometimes I cannot speak because of the emotional grip on my vocal cords.

As I thought about it, I realized that Wes as been a very close friend of mine for all of my life. We first met in the Nursery Sunday School class in the church we both grew up attending. We were youth together in that church, including participating in many church activities and ministries. We went to high school together (although Wes was a year younger than me). We attended college together, carpooling the daily drive for most of those years. I worked on the family farm of Wes’ family and we even worked the same part time job together, cleaning the shop floor of an Oldsmobile dealer.

Wes and I were both married about the same time in life and both felt called to be pastors. We both attended seminary (although we went to different schools) and our kids are about the same ages.

About two years after I was called to pastor in Devils Lake, ND, Wes was called to pastor in North Dakota too (an Evangelical Free Church in Wilton). Then, when I came here to be the pastor, it was not long before Wes moved his family to a rural church near St. Cloud. Wes was the pastor there for 24 years before resigning about a year ago.

In all those years, Wes and I shared many phone calls, visits, letters, emails, sermons, and most of all the common challenges of pastoring similarly sized churches. It is no exaggeration to say that Wes and I have shared life for 60 years. We have shared life more closely than most brothers ever have a chance to share life. When I thought about it this past week, I realized how truly amazing that gift from God was for me.

I went to see Wes on Friday. Our 2½ hour visit flew by. We talked about the life we have shared. We talked about heaven and the amazing life that heaven promises to us. I read to him at his request and as he grew tired, I read to Wes from the Bible, II Corinthians 4 and 5. “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As I finished that last verse, Wes said AMEN. You see, that is the Good News, Jesus took our sin, so that we might receive His righteousness and the hope of an eternal home in Heaven. What a hope! Amen, thank you, Jesus!

Satisfied

September 20, 2015

As I wrap up preaching through Proverbs, chapter 30 has several themes. I suppose I could address each theme individually, but instead I will preach from the verses that describe the four small things that are “extremely wise.”

Still, there is another description that causes me to pause and think.

Proverbs 30:15-16

The leach has two daughters.

Give! Give! They cry.

There are three things that are never satisfied,

Four that never say, ‘Enough!’

The grave,

The barren womb,

Land, which is never satisfied with water

And fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

While I realize that it is possible to be satisfied with things that are not as they should be and that dissatisfaction does motivate us to healthy and beneficial change. Still, it would seem that Agur (the writer of Proverbs 30) is encouraging us to be satisfied. He promotes satisfaction by pointing out four things that are NEVER satisfied. Four things that none of us would consider admirable and desirable: the grave, a childless woman, the thirsty desert, and a blazing fire. I really do not think any of us would want to be like either of those four examples.

It draws me back to the beginning verse, “The leach has two daughters. Give! Give! They cry.” In my mind, it begs the question, Am I always wanting God to give me something? Is my connection with God about getting from Him? Getting forgiveness. Getting abundant life. Getting things I want. Getting my way in relationships. Getting help with my problems. Getting, getting, getting.

When I stop and think about it, it is not a very attractive picture (and neither are Agur’s four other pictures). Do I really want to be a spiritual leach?

How about turning that around. How about asking God a very different kind of question. What can I give? Who can I serve? Where am I needed? How can I help?

The more I think about it, the more Agur’s words sound like Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) Agur gives us a warning, Jesus gives us an invitation. Both show us the path to the kind of life God intends us to live.

Denominational Alphabet Soup

September 13, 2015

Every group has its own “inside” lingo. That is to say, all groups talk about things in a kind of linguistic shorthand. We talk of the US (United States) and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). More locally we refer to the F-M RedHawks (Fargo-Moorhead) and NDSU (North Dakota State University).

Church groups do that too. Our church belongs to the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), the DBC (Dakota Baptist Convention), and SVBA (South Valley Baptist Association). Within the SBC we have two national boards that lead out in missions and evangelism; NAMB (the North American Mission Board) and IMB (the International Mission Board).

The alphabet soup gets even more complicated when we refer to annual offerings taken to support these important mission boards and outreaches. Sometime in early spring, churches are encouraged to promote and receive the AAEO for NAMB (Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for the North American Mission Board). This offering supports church planting and ministry across North America (including staff, church planters, and ministries in our DBC (Dakota Baptist Convention). Then around Christmas, SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) churches are encouraged to promote the LMCO for IMB (Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the International Mission Board). Here the money is used to support international missions and missionaries around the world.

If you are quite observant (or familiar with SBC traditions) you will note that there is one other annual offering. This is a special offering for the ministry of each local state convention (in our case, the DBC – Dakota Baptist Convention). Usually received in September, this offering funds ministries that are more local. This offering for the DBC is the Baker State Mission Offering (BSMO).   (See today’s bulletin insert for more details about the Baker State Missions Offering and how it is used across the Dakotas.)

It has been the tradition of SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) churches to promote prayer for these ministries as well as the offerings. This is also true for our DBC (Dakota Baptist Convention) BSMO (Baker State Missions Offering). So, along with an opportunity to give to the BSMO, you are encouraged to pick up a prayer guide (at the bulletin table). The prayer guide will make DBC ministry more personal. (The date for the Week of Prayer for the BSMO was Sept. 6-13, but it can be used anytime.)

Pick up a copy of the prayer guide, pray for DBC (Dakota Baptist Convention) ministries and ask the Lord what He wants you to give to the BSMO (Baker State Missions Offering). And, along the way, we will try to keep the “alphabet soup” of insider talk to a minimum and God’s Kingdom talk to the maximum.

Labor Day Theology

September 6, 2015

I suppose there are few holidays less “spiritual” than Labor Day. If you, like me, know little about the history of Labor Day, here is information from the US Dept. of Labor (http://usgovinfo.about.com/bllabor.htm).

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. In l884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in l885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.

Although this history is very man centered, I am convinced that all work is indeed spiritual activity. I am often reminded that in His creation of mankind, God gave Adam work to do. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:12) This work was not a curse, nor a punishment, but a blessing and an opportunity to co-labor with God. God creates, mankind cares for His creation. In fact, this principle can still guide our actions and plans.

This is not just an Old Testament insight. Colossians 3:22-24 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

The Bible tells us that believers should do their work directly for the Lord. HE is the one who will reward us in the end. Whatever my job; be it chosen, forced, paid, or volunteer it can be done so that the Lord Jesus is honored by my work.

I think we need a revival of sorts in our jobs – whatever our job may be. We must ask the question, “When Jesus looks into my heart as I do my job, does He see an offering to Him, or toil grudging given to my earthly boss?”

All of our labor, from the Bible’s point of view, is holy, sacred and an offering fit for the King of the Universe! Now that is worth celebrating on Labor Day!

H’s Visit

August 30, 2015

I knew H’s visit would be helpful, but I am surprised at how helpful it has already been for me. (H is one of our IMB partners working in Southeast Asia. He is here because he knows Steve and Janice and because some of us are planning a Christmas trip to Southeast Asia to work alongside Steve and Janice for a week. H is giving us an orientation to ministry there and some training to help us be more effective when we go.) Here are some of the things that have impacted me so far.

God is at work and our prayers have been part of His work. More than 10 years ago, Pastor Lon led our church to adopt an unreached people group, the Khmer of Vietnam (also called the 3K people). For several years, Lon and Kheng led our efforts, our prayer and went several times to Southeast Asia to share the Lord with some in our adopted people group (they were even arrested once) . Sometimes I felt like we were just a very tiny influence in a huge mass of people. We knew of others also reaching out to the Khmer of Vietnam, but mostly we just prayed and supported Lon and Kheng. As H shared his journey, I could see how his ministry is indeed an answer to our prayers.   We did not know his name or his family, but the Lord knew and was preparing him to be an answer to our prayer.

I was encouraged to continue 3 Story Evangelism. (I hope you know what I mean, if not, ask and I will tell you more.) As H taught last night, I was challenged again to listen to other’s spiritual story. We need to learn where other people are spiritually. Knowing that will help us recognize what the Lord is doing in their lives. He always meets us where we are. He comes to us. He does not expect us to reform our lives in order to find Him. (Life reformation comes AFTER we meet Him.) I need to do better at listening to others and understanding their spiritual condition.

I was challenged to help others move in their spiritual journey. What can I do to help others take a step closer to Jesus? Can I answer a question? Can I share something the Lord has done in my life that would motive them to seek Jesus? Can I share a Bible story or biblical truth that they need to know? If I pay attention to my walk with Jesus, He will prepare me to help them take a step closer to Jesus too.

In the end, point people to Jesus, not to me. Yes, I am a pastor and yes, I want to help people. But in the end, I am not a savior. Jesus is the Only Savior. They need to find Him. If my pride, my selfishness, or my insecurity gets in the way, I can distract their focus on Jesus. I need to be sure that my witness points to Jesus, not to myself or even to our church.

I am glad that H was here. I was greatly challenged. How did his message and his life challenged you?

How does this happen?

August 23, 2015

I was shocked to read in the newspaper yesterday a story about the arrest of a RedHawks baseball player early Friday morning. He apparently admitted to drinking, marijuana use and performance enhancing drug use without a prescription. The newspaper reported that the RedHawks management would investigate the matter and take action they deemed appropriate. In the end, the player arrested was released from the team yesterday.

Although I did not know this player personally, I was stunned by the situation. I have great respect for the management of the RedHawks and for the players I know personally. This sad situation affects a lot of people and I know some of them quite well. I prayed for them through the day, asking God to guide them in their responses and words as they deal with these matters.

In a more detached way I also thought about the traps of sin that all of us face. As you probably remember, my “favorite” definition of sin is “trying to make my life work without God.”   How does a baseball player get caught up in illegal drug use (or even legal drug abuse) and the lure of performance enhancing drugs? The short answer is that he is trying to make his life work without God.

If we decide that we do not have a place in our lives for a Heavenly Father, then we will grab on to those things that will give us what we think we need. Alcohol and marijuana give us a feeling of peace and block out the stress and disappointments of daily life. Do I need a Heavenly Father if I have alcohol? If baseball is my source of significance and wellbeing, then is there any doubt that performance enhancement will draw me into its web?

BUT the good news is that we do not need to try to make our lives work without God. In fact, if we will turn back to Him, He promises to receive us. If we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us. If we believe in (trust) Him, he promises to give us eternal life. We do not need to try to make our life work without God, we can invite Him in and He will bring with Himself the life that we are looking for.

That life is not found in baseball performance, the best jobs, the perfect family or marriage, the successful business or a big bank account. Life is found in Jesus. As John tells us, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:3-4)

We were never meant to try to make our lives work without God. Instead, we were created for a connection with Him. Have you found life in Him?

What we believe makes a difference

August 16, 2015

For some reason (I don’t know the reason) I was awake a 2 AM this morning. As I lay in bed half asleep, something I had read and memorized many years ago came strongly to my mind. I recited it over and over thinking about what it says and the deep, biblical meaning in each phrase. I decided I would give it to you today, a gift of truth that can guide and change your life too.

It was written by H.C.G. Moule, a New Testament Greek scholar and Anglican Church Bishop who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. In his “Morning Act of Faith” he captured important truth from God’s Word.

A Morning Act of Faith

I believe on the Son of God, therefore I am in Him,

having redemption through HIs blood and life by His Spirit.

HE IS IN ME and all fullness is in Him.

To Him I belong by

creation, purchase, conquest, and self-surrender.

To me He belongs for all my hourly need.

There is no cloud between my Lord and me.

There is no difficulty inward or outward which He is not
ready to meet in me today.

I believe I have received not the spirit of fearfulness,

but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

The Lord is my keeper.

It is so important that truth should guide our thinking and our choices. This must not be a “personal or individual truth” but truth from God. Truth that will be a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (see Psalm 119). Truth that will keep us on the right path when many around us are walking the wrong path (see II Tim 3). Truth that will calibrate our conscience and teach us right from wrong (see Exodus 20). Truth that will set us free. Free from the guilt and burden of our sin and free to serve and glorify our Creator (see John 8).

Here is a suggestion that I give you from my own years of wanting to follow Jesus… take these words from the Handley Moule and memorize them. Speak them to yourself as you begin a day. Let each powerful, biblical idea impact your life that day for God’s glory. And, it is a great summary of truth to think about at night when sleep seems to be just beyond your grasp.

Journey Off The Map

August 2, 2015

Our adult VBS class will look at the book of Daniel and see how trusting God helps us face the unexpected future – Our Journey Off The Map. Today’s Baseball Chapel Handout also comes from the book of Daniel and emphasizes the integrity of Daniel and his Jewish friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. These men obeyed God even when their lives were at stake. Here are a few of the highlights from their story.

When they were served the royal food, they were determined not to compromise. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (1:8).

They did not cave in to peer pressure. “…but the official told Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you’” (1:10).

They respectfully dealt with their overseer and offered an alternative. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (1:11-13).

They were wise and tactful. “When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact” (2:14).

They praised God and gave Him the credit.   “I thank and praise You, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, You have made known to me what we asked of You, You have made known to us the dream of the king” (2:23).

When threatened to be thrown into a furnace, they had faith that God could save them, but understood that He might choose not to. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:16-18).

In the end, it is always best to obey God. Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30b).

Join us for VBS this week and learn more about trusting God as we Journey Off The Map.