Psalm 119:64 "The earth is full of Your lovingkindness, O Lord; teach me your statutes," continues to ring in my ears (along with the mild case of tinnitus). Part of the reason this post is a day late is that over the past several days we have had friends come visit us from out of state. They have been our friends in times when things were good and when things were extremely difficult. This past weekend was the first time seeing them in roughly 2 years and at first I had a fleeting worry that our limited time together would be consumed with talking about the difficulties we walked through together, though those times are solidly in the past. You know what? Hardly a word was said. We exchanged a sentence or two of acknowledgment of what happened, but the rest of our time was an unending conversation of all the ways the Lord has blessed us since then, filled with laughs and inspiring stories and our travels and sharing what our adult children are up to.
The Lord is lovingly kind to all of us. Even in our tribulations, even in our afflictions (which we will learn about next Sunday). When we go through difficult times, the lovingkindness shows itself not just in relief and revitalization, but also in a closer dependence on Him, a better understanding of the Word (that we were hopefully driven to in our time of need), and a closer walk in the Spirit. It is also shown through the encouraging words our friends might share with us or even just sitting quietly not saying anything.
His lovingkindness also expresses itself in the laugh of a baby, a gentle breeze through the trees, rain on crops that need it, and cold weather that is also needed and sure to come (though I may not be so ready to give up the warmth just yet). His lovingkindness is expressed in the fellowship of other brothers and sisters in Christ who know how to smile, laugh, and encourage. It is my earnest prayer that you are able to be that for someone this week.
No questions for you this week... just go on out and be a friend to someone.
The freedom that comes with appropriate confidence was the main thrust of the sermon yesterday. A freedom to speak the gospel into the lives we come in contact with everyday. A freedom born from our confidence in what Scripture teaches us and a faith in Christ that the Word testifies to. There are times in life when we put on a mask, a false sense of bravado, to get us through one certain situation or another. In those times, we aren't free to act. Quite the contrary, usually we are fearful that someone may pull off our mask and reveal who we really are in front of others. In the world of the Church, we know it happens with folks... playing church on Sunday and living a totally different life during the week.
I would mention 2 things about this. A) It is quite easy to point the finger at other church's or even people in our own congregations, but therein lies the problem. That indictment that would be cast on others that you or I might be quick to point out, simply points a few fingers back at ourselves... We are all called to come alongside people and help them through what they are going through, to bring them into a closer walk with the Lord, to be in fellowship in a place where we can help them be real. There is no excuse good enough. The Lord has clearly told all of us that discipleship is an ordinance that He expects to be followed. B) Discipleship is a blessing for the one learning AND the one teaching. For the one being discipled, learning and gaining a better understanding of what the Word has to say is an obvious place for spiritual growth and maturity. With doing that rather than donning some "mask" of righteousness, they get to walk with a reverence for His Word and with freedom and confidence in His righteousness! For the one doing the discipling, it is a great way to make sure our own spiritual life is in order; that any disarray is dealt with, cleaned out and replaced by holy living. This too gives the discipler a way to set the bravado aside and humbly walk with confidence and freedom as well.
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Questions for you:
1) When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone? If you think you aren't able to, why? What is preventing you? What do you need to ask your local pastor for to better equip you to do so?
2) If sharing the gospel is something that seems too big a risk, what about scripture... can you share a scripture with someone this week? What about church... how about inviting someone to church?
3) One way to actively begin these sorts of relationships is to be part of a midweek Bible study. Pray about starting or being a part of a small group at your church.
It's Monday. For many, the typical reaction to a Monday is something akin to needing a weekend to recoup from the weekend. Which somewhat plays into the hands of the sermon yesterday: being revived and reverent in our lives. As we look to the Lord for rest, we should also be looking to be revived and ready to worship His name in all situations throughout our day.
The Word is the best source for our encouragement in this endeavor. As a matter of fact, Psalm 119 in all of it's lengthy glory teaches us over and over again the absolute treasure the Word of God can be in our lives. As we apply the Word (and all the majesty contained therein) we should be brought to a place that helps us to have a more coherent understanding of who God is, what His holiness means in our lives, and the mystery of Christ within us. Psalm 119:38 says, "Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You." Here the psalmist calls to the Lord, who gives good things, and asks Him to establish the Word of God in his life so that no matter where that might lead, it will always produce reverence for God. Again, there is something overtly comforting and secure when God establishes something, isn't there?
This isn't always easy. Sometimes it requires a fresh look at scripture, or an honest look at our opinion as it relates to how we have interpreted things for years. It might require effort and work on our part, but a better understanding of the Lord is worth the effort and hopefully should lead to a renewed sense of spiritual vision in our lives.
We would also do well to remember the quote we closed the service with from Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” His yoke (His instrument to direct us to do the work He wants) is easy. His burden (the weight of faith, hope, love, grace, mercy, etc) is light. As we come to grips with these two things, it will serve us well to be revived by His Word regularly and often.
Questions for you:
1) What can you think of that regularly drains you physically and emotionally, or even perhaps spiritually? Is any of it "unnecessary," as in it is unimportant and/or shouldn't have the impact that it is having on you? Is there any scripture that you can find that speaks directly into that given situation?
2) What can you do today to be revived through the Word? Is there anything you can do to your quiet time to better balance the pragmatics of getting it done with the emotional connection/inspiration that should be taking place as you meet with the Father?
This past Sunday, we tried our best to have a send off service for 3 of our missionaries that began 40-50 years ago from this very congregation. Two weeks ago, things were set in motion and we went to work planning, preparing, and working out the kinks in our technology. Last Thursday, things were looking pretty good. Sunday morning came, and the wheels came off the track with last second illnesses and technical issues. It seemed like things were just not meant to be and that there was every reason to be disappointed.
But our hope is not in technology and or anything else. Rather our hope is in an eternity spent with the Lord thanks to the gospel of Christ at work in our hearts. Yesterday was a spiritual battle. The enemy tried to snatch the joy and encouragement from us in every way possible. But we are not deterred! We rejoice that decades ago, several of our folks decided to change their lives forever and be workers in His harvest! They became people who spent their lives actively trying to engage the hearts of others with the gospel message, in safe places and other places not so safe.
Now we look to a new generation. What do you need to let go of, so that you can look forward and be a similar kind of worker, called to a mission field either here or abroad?
Jesus said in Matthew 9:36-38 “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
Questions for you:
1) Is there any physical, emotional, or spiritual "stuff" in your way of being more "agile" in your response to God's call in your own life? What steps can you take today to alleviate those burdens?
2) Are you willing to humbly submit to the call of God in your own life- influencing those outside of your own family for the sake of the kingdom, or maybe to take you away from family and friends, so that you might make brothers and sisters in Christ?
When we look through binoculars, our vision is only as clear as our equipment and how well we are able to focus. And if we need glasses to see, well that just adds another whole level of complexity to the situation. As I have gotten older bifocals have become a necessity for me and as an archer, this took some getting used to. Long gone are the days when I could simply look downrange at my target and see things clearly. With out my glasses, targets are all just a blurry mess (and frankly even with my glasses, things can get squirrelly trying to look through sites and pins to the target 40 or 50 yards off). In archery, sometimes we use binoculars to sight in our targets, see where arrows hit, and make adjustments accordingly. I have to admit, my own binoculars aren't very good quality, barely getting the job done under the best conditions. But sometimes, when the lighting is just right and the focus is correct, the image reveals to me things that either bring a large smile to my face, or it reveals that I have some changes that I need to make.
Time in the Word is no different. We need to come to it with a willingness to accept the truth it will reveal. In it are the wonders of wisdom, grace, mercy, and righteousness. And as we make time for the Word, equally important is our focus. To see things clearly for what they are, we need to set aside all else and let the Word speak directly to our hearts and minds, unimpeded by distraction and worry. One of those ways is to set your mind and heart ahead of time to the decision to act on whatever it is that you are about read about. Admittedly, this can be difficult, but not insurmountable. Let me encourage you to dig in to your time with God. Fully commit and be prepared to act. Be found faithful and fruitful!
Psalm 119:18, 30-32 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law... I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart.
Questions for you
1) What tends to distract you from ever starting time in the Word each day? Are there patterns that need to be changed so you can be more consistent with your time?
2) What tends to distract you while you are reading the Word? In life, distractions are going to happen. How might you take steps to lessen their impact?
3) What can you do in your heart and mind to follow through with the intention of "running the way of Your commandments?"
Psalm 119 is the largest chapter, by far, in all of scripture- 176 alphabetical verses (in the original Hebrew) describing the absolute treasure having the Word of God truly is. This week we looked at the first two sections and focused our attention on Walking as a Believer and Joyfully Persisting in Scripture. To be sure, both are not as easy as it would seem; each new day presenting challenges of its own (and, if we are being real for just a moment, some left over challenges from yesterday).
I mentioned in the sermon, that verse 5 really stood out to me for several days... the idea of the Lord establishing my steps (present and future). What a great desire to pray about. It is very comforting to think that if we truly desired this, the Lord would be all about answering that prayer.
And from that vantage point, does adversity even seem so terrible if we can, like Job when he loses all his material wealth in Chapter 1 he says words that are also found in Ecclesiastes 5:15 , "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Or in Chapter 2 when he loses his 10 children he pronounces "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” To be clear, he does tear his robes and shave his head and winds up sitting in ashes over it all. There are difficult feelings that he is working through, but he certainly does not malign the name of the Lord as these things happen. What happens later in Job is another point all together, but for now, how can we come closer to this ideal of being able to worship God in adversity? That is where faith comes in.
Faith that is only evident in times of good, is incomplete. Faith is to be demonstrated at all times. It is especially powerful to those looking on when those of the faith remain faithful when others would have folded. To be better prepared, one need look no further than spending time with the Holy Spirit in quiet reflection of the Word and how it is to transform our everyday lives. Because just like the challenges each new day brings, that new day also brings His grace and His mercy- fresh, vibrant, potent, and new with each sunrise. Be sure to turn to it, gain strength from Christ, as you face whatever today has for you.
Isaiah 30:15 “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.”
Questions for you:
1) What does your typical quiet time look like? How might you "shake the dust off of it," so to speak, and be reinvigorated with your time abiding in the Lord?
2) When life seems like the Lord is distant, do you wait for Him to make the first move or do you pursue after Him?
3) If you were to use one word to describe your walk with the Lord, what would it be? Are you happy with it or would you pray for and pursue change?
Yesterday, we wrapped up our sermon series on Discipleship via Disciplines- how we might use the spiritual disciplines outlined in scripture to disciple those around us. I like to think of it as the accompanying "bookend" to the sermons that kicked off the series that also mainly dealt with discipleship. When we look at scripture, even casually, we can not help but see that discipleship- the coming alongside someone to be intentionally spiritual with them for the purpose of godliness in their lives, is something that we should be endeavoring to be a part of. We also briefly discussed how the idea of discipleship, in the church today, has garnered an air of mystery and at the same time a programmatic feel to it. I believe much of that is pent up in the hesitancy to initiate being more spiritual with people other than your own family. And I hope that our sermon series gave you some ideas how to overcome this hesitancy through the use of the spiritual disciplines.
One of the things I touched on, but maybe didn't elaborate on as much as I would have liked, was how much you will grow spiritually when you are involved in this sort of relationship. For the person who is learning, the disciplee, this is obvious. You are in a place of humbly submitting to the fact that you don't know it all and could use a hand up to get yourself at least aimed in the right direction on the right path. For the person who is mentoring, the discipler, it is also a great source of spiritual growth. It sort of like when people come over to your house... you spend the time and effort into cleaning up the place, making sure that the clean laundry isn't on the couch, and that 2-day old pizza isn't just sitting on the counter any more. And if you are anything like the Ritzes, it might just be part of the reason you invited someone over in the first place- so that you would have motivation to clean the house, or at least the rooms that y'all would be sitting in.
As a discipler, you tend to straighten out the disciplines in your own life, so you reflect that which you are teaching. You tend to get more out of your quiet time; as you look to how the scripture applies to your own life, you begin to reflect on whether or not Danny Disciple needs to hear it and if so, how you might walk through it together. If you've ever had this type of intentionally spiritual relationship with someone, you can possibly relate to what I am talking about. And if you ever find yourself in a place later on, when discipleship seems scarce in your life, it becomes a focal point in your prayer life, because you want to get back on that path, partly for the tangential blessings that cropped in your own life during that time, but also for the knowledge that you were doing what the Lord has called all of us to do.
Our Christian culture in this day and age, has something that is built in for engendering these types of relationships, The Small Group. It is a place where people from all walks of life gather together for a spiritual purpose. You know the folks there already care about their spiritual life and some may even be there because they want to learn more about the mystery of God that is Christ within them. Part of the initial hesitancy of beginning a friendship that centers on discipleship has been dealt with, now it just takes an introduction or two, a conversation over coffee or lunch to find out if possibly the Lord might want you to come alongside that someone and begin having a more in-depth spiritual walk with one another.
If you aren't part of a small group, I would encourage you to reach out to your local pastor and ask what is going on at the church during the week, or every other week sort of schedule, where you can join in and be a part of something special. And if this sort of thing has been a burden on your heart, and you are interested in starting a small group of your own, GO FOR IT! It isn't rocket science. If you aren't sure how to start one, I put together a series of 4 short videos a while back that you might find useful:
In all things, be found Faithful and Fruitful, Fulfilling all the good works that God has prepared for you.
The irony is not lost on me that I would choose to start up a weekly blog for the church the Monday after delivering a sermon on the spiritual discipline of Perseverance. If you are any thing like me, you might struggle with this depending on the topic at hand. In other words, it is easier to persevere through something if you enjoy doing it. Some might even question whether or not perseverance is even an issue at that point, but I would say it is still important, because there are times when good routine turns into daily doldrum.
The last thing I feel like I persevered through was a daily video reflecting on every chapter in the New Testament. It started as a ministry to our church folks (at our last church) as the pandemic locked things down. Making the videos and interacting with folks made for a special "gathering" in a distinctly unique time in the life of the church. We started on Facebook live and people enjoyed the way they could interact in the comments in real time. As the weeks dragged into months, the live audience started to fall away, but the videos themselves would be watched by a good number of people at a later time. By that point, the idea of doing the whole New Testament flourished in my mind, but I was ready to move away from Facebook, so I switched over to making YouTube videos. They too were watched by a small, yet fairly regular audience, and they continued to do so even after we were meeting in person again.
Then roughly a year into the New Testament, another change would come along... The Lord had Carla and I move to serve in another church in another state. After taking a week or two off from making videos to deal with the move, the Lord had me right back at daily videos. It was still a blessing to some of our old church and also found its way to a few here in my new church (along with other random people from across the globe). And to be honest, the regularity of it was a blessing to me also.
After a year and a half, two or three weeks off, sickness, a very difficult time in ministry, a change in delivery method, a change in scenery, and a change in people I minister to, on October 7th, 2021 I completed Daily Devotionals in the New Testament. Afterwards, I needed a break; some time to rest and catch my breath. Sure, I enjoyed doing it. Sure, some days were better than others. Honestly, I can say to you that somewhere in the last third of New Testament devotional videos, perseverance had to shine brightly as I started the last leg of the journey and wondered why I was even continuing to do them.
In the last daily devotional video, I said I had plans to take a break and then to start back up differently and do other sorts of things. I dabbled for a video or two, but you know what? It never stuck. Having that daily practice, where the agenda was already known was very stabilizing for me. I can tend to be overly spontaneous and it takes all my maturity I can muster to admit that structure helps me in a variety of ways- even beyond the task that has that structure. I may just need to get to the Old Testament after all.
2 Peter 1:5-8 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Questions for you:
1) What has been something that you've had to persevere through?
2) Were there any changes that came along the way that you had to navigate? Did those have any repercussions or unintended results?
3) How did you manage your thought life to steer you away from quitting, and refocus yourself on the task at hand?
4) Was there anyone who came alongside you and helped things along? What did they bring to table? Specifically, how were they a blessing to you?
5) Why do you think the Lord put it before you? What was He trying to teach you, and more importantly, did you learn from His lesson?
Here you can find all of our Sunday Service videos, events, special announcements, etc.