In a sermon recently we looked at the story of the wise and foolish builder from Matthew 7:24-27 (also Luke 6:47-49). That passage has been special to me ever since my wife had it engraved on the gift she gave to me for our wedding. I have taught this passage many times before, and I’ve always recognized that the storms of life happen to both the wise and the foolish builder. But one thing really stood out to me this time: the abundant, fulfilling life that Jesus promises His followers is not “storm-free”. His promise is that we will withstand the storms if we build on the right foundation. But the storms will come, nonetheless.
One of the implications of this truth relates to something Jesus said to His disciples. “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NASB). Too often I mistake God’s blessing with a life of ease. And then when my life isn’t easy, I complain to the Lord then focus on the difficulty (storm) rather than the promise of God’s blessing to get through the difficulty. In this world we will have tribulations, whether or not we are walking closely with the Lord. What we need is the peace and courage of Jesus and His victory over the world. And for that, we must build our lives on the right foundation!
So, rolling into 2023, I can say with relative confidence that this coming year will have storms for each one of us. They will vary in intensity, and some will be self-inflicted (obviously, we want to try to minimize those). But some, like the rain, floods, and winds in Jesus’ parable, will be outside of our control, and they will slam against our lives with relentless fury. And I can say with absolute confidence that if our lives are built on the solid rock foundation of obedience to Jesus’ words, then we will survive each storm.
So let it be our theme in 2023 to prove (ourselves) doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves (James 1:22). Let us both listen to and obey the words of Jesus this coming year and thereby build our lives on the strong foundation. And then our lives will be able to withstand the storms that will surely come our way.
In Christ our living hope,
All of us have defining moments in our lives individually. Graduations, painful breakups, the loss of a loved one, achievements in our work to name a few. Generations have defining moments too. One example: 9/11 forever marked my generation of Americans.
My parents’ generation was also marked by a horrific tragedy. When he was 84 years old my dad began to describe it to our son Steve and his then fiancée Misty and me as we sat in a restaurant. We got to talking about memorable events in our lives and suddenly my dad started describing it as if it had happened only yesterday. And his portrayal of exactly what he was doing that day took every one of us back to the very moment. His word pictures were so vivid we could almost feel what he was feeling that winter in the early afternoon of his senior year at Riverside Poly High School.
It was Sunday, the worship service at First Baptist Church Riverside was over and like most teens he did not enjoy hanging around after church while his parents talked with their friends. So, he asked for the car keys and went out to the parking lot, sat down in the car and turned on the radio. Somehow, he had managed to ditch his little sister temporarily (that would be my Aunt Beverly) so he could listen undisturbed to some good music. Nothing unusual really; the way Dad told it this was pretty much standard procedure on Sundays. Only on this particular Sunday when he turned the radio on, he heard the words, “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special bulletin…” No music, just news. The year: 1941; the date: December 7th. What Dad was describing was where he was when he first heard the news of the infamous events of the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He would always remember the details of that: the date, the impact it had on his life, that look on his mother’s (my grandma’s) face six months later when he left home to go to a war started on 7 December 1941.
Certain events change the course of history for whole generations. Pearl Harbor was one such event; impacted the world, impacted America, impacted my dad, and so we remember December 7, 1941. This year we remember the 81st anniversary of that beginning of our involvement into World War II. The remembrances aren’t quite as many or as somber as they used to be since so few of my parents’ generation are still living. But its impact on our country is still profound none the less.
And speaking of historic events, isn’t there another one in December? Oh yeah, Christmas! While the remembrance of Pearl Harbor is of a more serious nature, Christmas is nothing short of a celebration. While the theology behind the event is almost imponderable, the content is relatively simple. You see after sending His messengers to mankind for the first few thousand years of humanity’s existence, God came in Person. And that Person is Jesus the Messiah (the Christ). In the Christmas celebration we remember His entrance into the human race, being born to Mary and Joseph.
The Christmas holiday is also one of those ‘value-added’ events. In addition to the incredible spiritual significance, it’s also a time where we reemphasize the value of family. It’s an opportunity to take time to communicate with our immediate and extended families; and it’s a time of good will toward our neighbors and the rest of the humans with whom we share planet Earth. And it’s a time to settle accounts with the ones we love. To extend forgiveness, to receive forgiveness, or just agree to put bygones behind us and move forward in love for one another.
We live in a fallen world and both Pearl Harbor and Christmas remind us of this. The one an expression of mankind’s dark, wicked and aggressive heart; the other an expression of God’s light and His deep and abiding love for humans such that He came and paid the ultimate price for our sin. May His grace awaken in you a deeper appreciation for the God who saved us when we could not save ourselves! And may His forgiveness flow through you to all the people around you this blessed season.
In Christ our living hope,
Greetings from beautiful Yucca Valley on this crisp fall morning. I was reading recently in my devotions about a famine of the word of God. That’s what the Old Testament prophet Amos described as something that was going to come upon the world.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. “People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will roam about to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it."
(Amos 8:11-12 NASB)
I don’t know exactly when this prophecy lines up in God’s future plan for human history. But I certainly see evidence that this “famine” is happening in our day and time. People are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives. There is a ‘hunger’ for hearing the words of the Lord. And people seem to be looking all over for it except in the one place that it can be found, the Bible.
I somewhat understand that those who are apart from Christ, unsaved people, are duped into neglecting the Bible as the word of God. They are under the control of the prince of the power of the air, a deceiver. But what I don’t understand is that this “famine” of the word of the Lord is affecting some church people. What I mean is that they live their lives as if God really hasn’t spoken, as if we have no idea what His intentions are. And that knowing His will for our life is a dark, hidden mystery.
I’d like to suggest a few verses from the Bible that can help us understand its importance a little better. First is from the Psalms.
I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You. (Ps. 119:11 NASB)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps. 119:105)
The word gives us support so that we can know what sin is and it helps us to keep ourselves from sin. And God illuminates His will for our lives through His word. Like a lamp, His word reveals the direction in which we should go.
Another verse to consider is in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews.
For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the
division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Bible is indeed a living word that can help us understand our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts. Why is that important? Because we learn from Jeremiah,
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
Most of us don’t want to admit this, but we all experience the reality of it. Once again, it is the words of God that help us understand our heart.
Then consider what Jesus said about His word.
“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:34-35)
It (God’s word) will never pass away, it is eternal. So, we jolly well better make sure we know what it says!
Are you looking for help in ministry, in being a positive
influence in someone else’s life? Look to the word of the Lord.
All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial
for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for
training in righteousness; so that the man
or woman of God may be fully capable,
equipped for every good work. (2Tim. 3:16-17)
As you learn and do more of God’s will for your life, the word is His training manual to help us do His will effectively.
Finally, in Jesus’ response to the temptation of the devil, we learn that our very life’s sustenance depends upon the word of the Lord.
And the tempter came and said to Him, “If
You are the Son of God, command that
these stones become bread.” But He
answered and said, “It is written: ‘MAN
SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON
EVERY WORD THAT COMES OUT OF THE
MOUTH OF GOD.’” (Matt. 4:3-4)
There does seem to be a “famine” of the word of the Lord today. But there doesn’t need to be! The Bible is available to virtually every person on the earth, regardless of their language or nation of origin. And most certainly there is an abundance of the word of the Lord for the English-speaking world! Make it your goal this day, this week, this year to spend more time reading God’s love letter to the human race.
In Christ our living hope,
OCTOBER A key principle for Christian living is found in the words of Jesus in the last phrase of John 15:5, “…Apart from Me you can do nothing.” When I think about this, I am always amazed at the truth of it in every area of my life. So, this month I want to encourage you to ponder this truth in your own life as I share some of the areas of my life where I apply it.
First, as a husband. God called Tina and I together and then married us in 1977. Up to that point, my life priorities were God first, His mission for my life second, and then my birth family third. But those priorities changed when we were joined together as wife and husband. The proper order was still God first, but now my mate became my second priority. My responsibility as a husband is a tall order. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” While I am strongly and deeply attracted to Tina, to love her in the same way that Christ loved the church demands that I let Jesus love her through me. Thus, to fulfill my obligation to my spouse, I can do nothing apart from Jesus.
Next, as a father. God blessed us with three children. My responsibilities to them have changed over the years. As small, growing children, it was to protect and provide, to love and nurture, and to teach and train. Now that they are all grown and on their own, it is to pray for them, support their families and be a godly example to our grandchildren. I am still here for them, even though as we get older, they are more-and-more stepping up to love and support us. To be the best loving, supportive, godly examples, we can do nothing apart from Jesus!
Then, of course is my personal walk with God. He is first priority in my life, by a long shot! I want to grow in His grace and knowledge. I want to resist (flee) temptation whenever confronted. I want to pray fervently. I want to share my faith with others. I want to continue to be passionate about this ministry to which He has called me. And so much more. For all that to happen, there is no time to be apart from Jesus!
I hope you are getting the idea for you own life. Consider your priorities, the people in your life, and the lifestyle you want to live that is pleasing to the Lord. And remember Jesus’ words, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” But also remember the words of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God has already supplied everything we need to do and be everything to which He has called us. The rest of John 15:5 states, “I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Let us be sure to remain in Jesus each and every day of our life!
In Christ our living hope,
Back when I was leading worship, an important task in determining which songs we would sing in our worship services was to evaluate the song through the lens of the Scriptures. What I was looking for was strong biblical content that was musically beautiful and lyrically poetic. Some songs were rich with content but clumsy in their wording. Other songs were a little light on content but creative and beautifully expressed a simple truth. My most important tool in the evaluation process was to see how many of the lines and phrases in the lyric I could match with verses from the Bible. So, I decided for this newsletter article I would apply this to a favorite song of mine that Eric introduced us to some time back. The song is titled “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham.
The song begins, “How great the chasm that lay between us.” A reminder that apart from Christ we are separated from God. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your wrongdoings have caused a separation from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” This is our lot apart from Jesus. The song continues, “How high the mountain I could not climb.” Our situation, apart from Christ, was insurmountable in our own efforts.
As the song’s first verse continues, “In desperation, I turned to heaven and spoke your name into the night.” When we put our faith in Jesus, He saved us from a truly impossible and desperate situation. Ephesians 2:4-5 says it this way, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” We were spiritually dead. We needed life; we needed to be born again. The next lines of the song, “Then through the darkness Your loving kindness tore through the shadows of my soul.” We needed light, the light of Jesus. John 8:12, “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
And so verse one concludes, “The work is finished, the end is written Jesus Christ, my living hope.” It speaks to the completed work of Jesus. In fact that’s just what Jesus said in John 19:30 as He hung on the cross, “…It is finished…” Everything necessary for our forgiveness, for our salvation was completed by Jesus, nothing lacking. Thus Jesus Christ is, indeed, our living hope. And that directs us to what I believe is the theme verse for this song, First Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
The phrases of the chorus and the other two verses of the song are likewise reflected in the pages of Scripture. It was really quite fun and enriching to connect the Bible to the various themes of this song that is so rich with content. When it comes to worship and worship songs, it is vitally important that we remember the words of Jesus spoken to the woman at the well, “But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
In Christ our living hope,
Does God come to us or do we come to God? I’d like to consider four passages of Scripture that help to answer this question.
The first is in the Book of Hebrews.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him. (Heb. 11:6 NASB 2020)
This indicates a responsibility for the one “who comes to God.” Of course, the focus of the verse is the belief or faith of the person who comes. This verse puts the responsibility on the seeker to come to God.
The second passage is found in James chapter four.
Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (Jas. 4:8 NASB 2020)
James puts the responsibility squarely on us to “come close to God.” The Book of Revelation invites us to come to God, to take freely of His offer of life (Rev. 22:17). So once again we see our responsibility here to come to God.
The next two passages indicate that God came to us.
The first is in the Gospel of John.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 NASB 2020)
Clearly God is involved in drawing us to Jesus. Whether He simply ‘clears the path’ for us to come to Him at the right time, or, whether there is an almost irresistible attraction that brings us to him, it’s not clear. What is clear is that God is
actively involved in “drawing” us to Jesus! And we can’t come to Him unless God draws us.
The final passage to consider is John 12:32.
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” (John 12:32 NASB 2020)
Jesus is actively involved in bringing people to a saving knowledge of God. He draws us to Himself.
So, did we come to God or did God come to us? It is an amazing moment when we realize that it is both/and. We come to God, and God comes to us. We don’t find God until He first finds us. And God doesn’t have us until we first come to Him. As a new Believer, I thought it was all on me. That I finally came to my senses regarding my need for God and so I
exercised my will and deliberately prayed to invite Him into my life to save me. At the time I didn’t understand the active role God played in my coming to Him. Because of passages like these (among others), I do understand it now and I am so glad that He saved me!
In Christ our living hope,
These are turbulent times in which we live. Many of us are looking for some degree of certainty, predictability, something we can depend on. We know, by faith, that the promises God makes to us, He will keep. But we sometimes forget the importance for each of us of a promise kept. For my article this month I would like to reprint an article I came across back in 2009 by Lewis Smedes that talks about the power of promises and how we become more like God when we keep ours.
Somewhere a father is telling himself, "I wish my daughter would pack up, leave home, and never come back; God knows she has driven us crazy." But he remembers a promise he made when she was baptized, and he sticks with her in hurting love.
Somewhere a woman is telling herself, "I want to get out of this marriage and start over with someone who really loves me; God knows the clod I married has given me reason for cashing him in." But she remembers a promise she made when she married him, and she sticks with him in hopeful love.
Somewhere a minister is telling himself, "I want to chuck this job and get into something with a better payoff; God knows my congregation has given me second-degree burnout." But he remembers the promise he made when he was ordained, and he sticks with the church in pastoral love.
Some people still make promises and keep those they make. When they do, they help make life around them more stably human. Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.
Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.
What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.
When a person makes a promise, she stakes a claim on her personal freedom and power.
When you make a promise, you take a hand in creating your own future.
(Citation: Lewis Smedes, "The Power of Promises," A Chorus of Witnesses, edited by Long and Plantinga (Eerdmans, 1994))
May we each grow in our knowledge of the promises of God and their certainty. And may we each commit to be like the Psalmist’s description of the person who fears the Lord, “He takes an oath to his own detriment, and does not change” (Psalm 15:4 nasb).
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
My high school graduating class is planning another reunion. In preparation, they sent out a questionnaire for all of us to fill out. I found one of the questions quite intriguing and thought it a good subject for this newsletter article. The question, “How do you want to be remembered?” So, I’ll ask you, “How do you want to be remembered?” Most of us think of how much we hope people like us. We hope that our family and friends in particular, think of us with great fondness. Some entertain the idea that they might leave a lasting impression on the world. Most of us just quietly hope that we leave this world a better place than we found it.
Of course, I wanted to think of this with a spiritual perspective, so I started with a more general answer. I want to be remembered as a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. I was taught early in my Christian experience to invest my life in things that would last, eternal things. And that there are only three things that are eternal: Jesus, the word of God (the Bible), and people. Thus, these three should be included as my first priorities.
That moved me to wonder who might actually remember me. I realized that what people remember about me is not nearly as important as what God remembers about me. So, if I am to be remembered as a faithful follower of Jesus then that has to be more than just in my words. These priorities have to be true in my motivation and my behavior as well. It would be lovely if people remembered me that way.
But how people remember you means very little from the perspective of eternity. It’s God’s assessment of my life that counts for eternity. The Holy Spirit says as much through the Apostle Paul.
But to me it is an insignificant matter that I would be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself; however I am not vindicated by this, but the one who examines me is the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 4:3-4 nasb20)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21 nasb20)
It seems like a good starting point in creating my legacy (how I will be remembered) would be to align my priorities with the values of heaven. I conclude with this. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about the end times and not only what we are to look for as indicators that His return is near, but also (maybe more importantly) how we are to live and act as we anticipate His Second Coming. He taught them using a parable, the Parable of the Talents.
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. (Matthew 25:14-15 nasb20)
Jesus, like the man who went on a journey, when He left, He entrusted us with His possessions and expects us to invest them for His benefit. He goes on to say,
Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have earned five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:19-21 nasb20)
There’s the punchline to how I want to be remembered. When I get to heaven, it is my earnest desire that I will hear those words from my Savior, “Well done, good and faithful slave.” Ultimately it is the assessment of Heaven that matters. And the only lasting legacy I can leave here on this earth is that I invested my life in things that are eternal. May God grant us all a passion for Jesus, His word, and for people.
In Christ our living hope,