What a Hope We Have!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jeremiah sent this message to the Jewish leaders at a very difficult time in Jewish history, for as we can see in verse 1 of this chapter, it is part of a letter he sent to the surviving elders who were being held in Babylonian captivity.

This is a message of hope for a future which would have appeared to be very dark to those who received it, for they had been dragged hundreds of miles from home by the greatest military force on the planet at the time. Consequently, there was no earthly hope available to them.

Imagine how that would feel- utter hopelessness.

Yet they received a message of hope from none other than God Himself: Things would eventually change. As it happened however, that change didn’t quite take place within the lifetimes of the original recipients.

The captivity lasted 70 years. In spite of that, the change did come in the fulness of time: God kept His promise that had been made to the very people who were most responsible for the captivity in the first place, the leaders of the people who had rebelled against God.

Now there is something to think about.

Looking at this whole situation through the long lens of the New Testament, we can see something even more amazing, for it can be said that there is more to these promises than the original recipients could have understood in their time.

All of humanity has been held in bondage to sin and death since the events of Genesis chapter three. From as early as the time of Abraham, God has promised that He would set humanity free of those chains, and in fact He has already done so through the work of His Son, Jesus. In Him, our sin has been taken away, and we have an eternal future. Even so, our entire world has been going through a very difficult time for the past year and for many it has been a time of sorrow and deep loss, loss of loved ones, livelihoods, and in a sense even of liberty in their daily lives.

There is a better day coming! Yes, it will be a better when this terrible pandemic passes from the scene, but let’s not forget that pandemics are really nothing new. The great day comes when Jesus returns and takes all sin, death, pain, sickness and suffering away for good.

I don’t know when that will be, but I do know that our God has a perfect record when it comes to keeping His promises; He will never let us down, and when the times are tough, that is the basis of our hope.

And what a hope we have!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

While I Was Away…

There are times in this life when I agree to do things that surprise me; one of those things happened last summer. It all began last spring…

Throughout our adult lives, my wife and I have dealt with our responsibilities. You know how this story goes, first you are trying to get established in life, then you have parental responsibilities; later, after the kids grow up and go out on their own you might have responsibilities for aging parents, as we did. When my mother passed away a year ago at 96, right after my wife retired, we found ourselves sitting in “self-quarantine” with little to do and nowhere to go, but with the means to do most anything we wanted to do… and thinking.

We could live anywhere we want!

To make a long story short, we moved from Iowa to Florida last Fall after buying a house there in late summer.

I hate to move. My wife wants to move every 2 or 3 years. Oh yes, that’s right, she was military, and even after she got out of the Navy, she continued to work as a civilian for the military and kept the mindset of moving every few years. For some reason, I agreed to this very quickly.

From my point of view, there was a payoff, for you see all of my life I have dreamed of living in the country, but was held back by responsibilities… and the fact that I do not have the skillset for country living, having spent my life in the city. We found a place that was the best of both here in Volusia County. For one thing, we are definitely in the country, country that is full of live oaks, Spanish moss, wildlife and agriculture, mostly fern farms believe it or not. At the same time, we live in a park with mobile and manufactured housing, a nice pool area, clubhouse and work out room, and a hundred or so people, many of whom are here only in the winter.

The roads are mainly dirt, and by that I really mean sand. We live under a canopy of live oaks, we have 10 on our lot, and of course the odd palm tree, of which we have only one. When you open the windows or go out, you hear birds, not cars and trucks. Running around this area are flocks of wild turkeys and, of all things, peacocks, not to mention whole herds of lizards, and quite a few squirrels. In the evening we hear multiple varieties of owls in the trees, frogs, toads and crickets. We also have a small lake in the park that is home to at least three alligators; I’m not quite sure who thought that was a good idea. We also have periodic visits from bears, also not a great idea…

Like many homes in this part of the world, the shower is in the back yard, somewhat different than the way they do things in the city. Yet after using it daily for some months, I’d hate to go back to the other way. Well, I must admit though that the first time the neighbor lady yelled, “Good morning Don!” while I was in the shower it was a bit unnerving… even though she could only see me from the shoulders up. There’s something about being in the shower, feeling a slight morning breeze, listening to the birdsong and seeing the amazing colors of  a glorious sunrise through the tree branches that makes the routine into something very special.

There are some fairly dubious pleasures of country living, however. Phone reception isn’t very good, and sometimes isn’t even available. The internet is not reliable, and I’m told that when there is a major storm, the power can be out for weeks.

On the other hand, everyone knows everyone, and when you are out and about, people seem happy to see you and everyone has a cheerful hello. Even so, it’s an adjustment, but I think I like this place. When I really begin to question the wisdom of this move, I will just remember one thing: A week or so ago, while I was sitting out on the front porch with a cup of coffee at 5 am in shorts and a tee shirt, I checked the weather on my phone and saw that back in Iowa, the wind chill was -28 F.

I like this place!

I’ll be sharing some more of my adventures while away in the coming days, and when I finally win my battle with our new media insertion, I’ll have a little photo journey from my daily morning walk; see you then!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Why do We Act Like That?

Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 14:22

I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything, but have you ever made some sort of a plan and then realized that what you were thinking of doing was just plain wrong? Maybe you were going to lie about something, or hide something or help yourself to something that wasn’t rightly yours…

Maybe it was worse that these…

Recently my wife and I have been watching episodes of the old Dallas TV show. I must admit to you that my favorite character on the show was none other than Old J.R. Of course, that isn’t because he was the good guy, no sir, it’s because he was the bad guy. He was just so completely outrageous, so utterly crooked, and got the most hilarious lines, hilarious because they were just crazy. He was such an outrageous liar, and managed to lie with a straight face… and with an attitude!

Of course, he’s also a fictional character in a fictional program.

Yet, what made that show the success it was back in the day, is that it had an element of truth to it.

Why do people act like that?

Evidently, it’s nothing new, since Solomon wrote about it so very long ago.

We know of people who plot evil today, and yes, they often have a nice little run for a time, but sooner or later they get caught in some form or fashion. It might be by the law, or their spouse or whomever, but no one seems to be able to get away with evil forever in this life. They certainly have a date set for a face-to-face with God, and nobody fools Him.

Years ago, I knew a business woman named Muriel who, at that time was in her mid 70’s. On one occasion she had dealings with a man who had seriously misrepresented a business transaction they were involved in and when everything was over, she turned to me and said, “Well, that’s the end of that. I’m not going to worry about it any more because people like that just go to Hell, and that’s IT.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at that one, but even though she had an interesting way of putting it, in the end she had a point.

Jesus showed us a better way to live, didn’t He? There’s no need for us to lie, cheat or steal to get ahead, for our hope doesn’t lie in riches, things or the approval of this world. Our hope is in the One who never lies, cheats or hides, for our hope is in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Old Dogs and New Ways for Old Tricks

I want to thank everyone who commented on my little epistle yesterday about our new block editor here on WrodPress.

OK fine, I’ve decided to shut up and figure it out just like everyone else!

You must understand how I came to discover that everything had changed…

I’ve been thinking for quite a while now that I should get back to blogging, but there always seemed to be something else I had to do first, some chore or another, some little “hot item” that got in the way, if you know what I mean. Then early on Sunday morning I was thinking about my day when it occurred to me that I should post my Sunday Sermon Notes like I used to since last Sunday was opening day for our small neighborhood church.

(Yes, it went better than I could have imagined, thank you. More on that later.)

So, I turned on the computer, put the notes together and logged on to WP for the first time since July… Let’s just say that I got quite a shock at 5 in the morning last Sunday, and I was not best pleased.

In truth, now that I have messed around a bit, there are some very nice new features that I might well use in the future, once I realized that the new editor is just a web editor rather than a blog (which of course, is also a website.) As you may know, I have a website that I’ve had  a lot longer than I’ve had this blog, but what I’ve always appreciated about the blog is that it is  (or was) so much easier and quicker to work with, especially for the vision impaired.

Maybe it’s time to rebuild my website!

I’ve used computers on a daily basis for work since 1984 and for the longest time it seemed that the goal of developers was to make their programs, applications, apps, as user-friendly as possible. Yet like so many other things, that time has passed and developers have different priorities; yep, like so many other things, times have changed. The only thing left to do is for this old dog to learn new ways to accomplish his old tricks.

Thanks again for your comments everyone!

Posted in Bible | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Must We Always Hurt the One We Love?

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 John 4:8

There’s an old song I barely recall hearing years ago, and for the record, that song was from way before my time- it’s called “You Always Hurt the One You Love”.

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall

While this might be true in old songs, and all too often in matters of romance, I rather doubt that’s quite what John had in mind when he wrote this sentence, after all, 1 John 4 is the New Testament’s greatest chapter about love.

If we are to be made perfect in love as God views love, we will always put other people ahead of ourselves, and if I’m getting the old song’s meaning right, it is dealing with people who put themselves first. If we are completely honest with ourselves, isn’t that the natural human condition?

Love. I love pizza. I love baseball. I love lazy summer days. I love walking through the woods at sunup. I love my children. I love my wife. I love America and apple pie…

Gee whiz, we seem to love just about everything, so why is there such a disconnect in matters of the heart? I love you dearest, but if you say that to me again, there are going to be consequences!

Hmm

Jesus showed us an entirely different kind of love, as He set the example for us to follow. The thing that makes His love so vastly different from our human approach to the subject is that the godly love He showed us has nothing at all to do with how we feel at any given moment; rather, it is all about a commitment to put others ahead of ourselves.

Think of it this way: Jesus set aside the glories of Heaven and came down to this earth as a man on a mission. He undertook a mission that involved hassle, opposition, persecution, heartache and a horrible death because He was absolutely committed to providing us a way to be redeemed, so that we might not only live, but live eternally with Him.

When He was nailed to that terrible cross, whose interests were His priority: His own, or yours?

Jesus was made perfect in love and because of that, He had no fear of death or punishment, and because of what He did, you and I need not fear either, for there is no punishment this world can give us that matters a hill of beans compared to the glories of Heaven that await us.

I don’t know about you, but I find a great deal of encouragement in that fact.

Posted in Christian living | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

I might be back…

…or maybe not!

Yesterday morning I posted for the first time in quite a number of months; I’ve been thinking about getting back to work here on WordPress for a while now.

I had an eventful Sabbatical, by the way.

Sadly however, I came back to a platform I do not recognize, and find myself, after having posted literally thousands of times, without the slightest idea of how to do the things I used to do because everything, for my own convenience of course, has been changed.

I am now a complete Newbie!

I’m not sure which to do first: Unlearn everything I spent years learning, or learn the new stuff and forget the old stuff later.

Hmmm… I’ll let you know!  😊

Posted in Bible | 43 Comments

Sunday Sermon Notes: February 21, 2021

Basics of New Testament Worship (1)

Text: John 4:21-24

What an exciting day this is- our first-ever worship service in a brand-new congregation!

Have you ever wondered why it’s called, in Protestant circles at least, a worship service?

The Biblical study of worship can be tricky. It isn’t tricky because it’s all that complicated, it’s tricky because there are several factors that come together making it very easy to become confused. For instance, the English word “worship” appears 75 times in the NIV, but three different Greek words translate as “worship” in English, and they have three different meanings.

There are many different ways for a congregation to conduct worship. Some are very formal and ritualistic, some are sort of formal, yet quite traditional, while others are more relaxed and non-traditional, and still others are contemporary and almost anti-traditional.

So, which is right?

Many people today are in the habit of using the word “worship” in place of the word “music”: Are music and worship the same thing?

There is more than one kind of worship mentioned in the New Testament, I’ll mention 3 of them: Individual private worship, family worship and corporate worship (Church worship service).  Would you be surprised if I told you that individual worship is spoken of in the New Testament a great deal more than corporate worship? Well, it most assuredly is. Can you imagine what would happen if a person took their personal worship practices and preferences and sought to impose them on the corporate worship of the entire congregation?

There are 2 possible outcomes: 1. Unity in the church is broken and the church splits. 2. Unity in the church is broken and the congregation drifts away and the church dies.

Worship, you see, is a serious topic.

Years ago, I was asked to pick up a couple of undergrad courses on worship: Intro to Worship 1 and Intro to Worship 2. It always came as a shock to the students that almost everything they knew about worship was not from Scripture. Sadly, most of what we think we know on the subject comes from culture, tradition and custom and are entirely of human invention.

Yep, worship is a tricky subject.

As far as a worship service is concerned, it might be a good idea to look and see what the apostles did on the first day of the week when everyone came together. For that, here’s a familiar passage:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42

As we seek to bring our Sunday worship to its essential essence, these four items become paramount:

While we don’t have any apostles to pop in and teach, we have teaching of the Word of God, fellowship is indicative of the community of the congregation in pursuit of God’s purpose. The breaking of bread refers to communion around which our hope of eternal life rests, and of course we must never underestimate the power of prayer. While these components should form the basic foundation of our worship, the list is interesting, for there is something that is conspicuous by its absence, and no, I don’t mean music: Notice that the word “worship” isn’t mentioned.

So how must we worship?

Jesus gave us some information about that:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

John 4:21-24

 Yep, everyone is probably familiar with that one, but do we see how revolutionary it was? Notice that Jesus was speaking of something quite different from the ceremonial laws of Jewish Temple worship, with its rigid rituals and forms; this was entirely new. You see, in order for us to worship in “Spirit” we need to have access to Him, which they did not yet have. We have access to the Spirit, for He indwells us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Worship for a New Testament church isn’t really a matter of outward form, but instead it is all about an inward presence in our lives. As for the “truth” aspect, I think maybe Paul had this in mind when he wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

As all of you know, whenever we see the word “therefore”, we are reading a passage that draws a conclusion from what has preceded it. While that is certainly true here, this one isn’t just referring to the verses just concluded, for this is the beginning of a new unit (12-15) and thus, “therefore” is drawing a conclusion from the preceding unit (1-11), which is a very important distinction. The first unit in Romans discussed grace; the second unit discusses our response to grace. Thus, Paul is telling us that in response to God’s amazing grace, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.

Verse 1 is, in a sense, a counterpoint to the Old Testament worship in which animals were sacrificed and rituals were observed. Notice the presence of the words “offer”, “sacrifice” and “worship”, all three of which are terms that pertain to worship in the Old Testament. The old system of worship involved symbols and ceremonies, but worship in the New Testament involves “spirit and truth”. Consequently, the proper and true manner of worship for the Christian is for us to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Please understand: This is no platitude; it is an imperative. A fair question right about now would be, “OK, but just exactly how do I do that?”

You will no doubt be relieved when I tell you that Paul has provided the answer in verse 2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

My goodness, how we love to quote this, but how many of us actually do it? How many of us actually believe that it is possible? Surely this is nothing more than an abstract ideal, a goal that cannot be realized in this life!

Maybe we should all pause and re-read it; look carefully at the words, the grammar…

Holy heart attack! This is no abstraction; it too is an imperative!

So, here’s another question: Would the Apostle Paul command us to do something if it is impossible? Perhaps we need to think about this some more. Do you recall what Paul told us regarding Israel’s failure to attain righteousness? Yes, that’s right: They never obtained righteousness because their faith was in their ability to conform to the Law, but what God wanted was for them to put their faith in Him… and with God, all things are possible.

Notice that in the imperative of verse 2, there is a contrast, a duality that is set up by the word “but” “Do not be conformed… but be transformed” Thus we have a choice to make: Either we live as the world does with its values, activities and ways of thinking, or we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds so that we have an entirely new way of thinking with different values that lead us to a different way of life; this is our choice, and to be quite candid with you, it is very much like the choice that Israel had to make.

But we are talking about corporate worship here…

If offering ourselves as living sacrifices is our true and perfect worship (or service) to God, maybe we need to look at Acts 2:42 again:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

When we come together on the Lord’s Day, our worship is a service to God, but the service is not in our grudgingly having given God 1 hour a week of our valuable time. Instead, it is in offering ourselves, with open hearts and minds, to receive the teaching of His Word, to offer ourselves in service to the community of beliers to accomplish His purpose, in offering ourselves to proclaim Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as our hope of Salvation and eternal life, and to offer ourselves to prayer for the sake of His Kingdom. All of this is offered so that we might be transformed by the renewing of our minds by His Word and His Holy Spirit, working together in our lives to accomplish His purpose.

Here we have a foundation to build upon. We also have a number of options from which to choose, for there are many brotherhoods of the faithful around the globe, and not everyone approaches the particulars of a worship service the same way. Yet if these basics of Scripture are present, I am not willing to tell anyone that their manner of worship is right or wrong, unless they incorporate something that the Scripture explicitly forbids.  In this, I hope we can take the position that where the Bible speaks, we speak, but where the Bible is silent, we are silent.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the concept of worship from a different viewpoint as we consider the Greek words used in our original text and what each of them means. Perhaps we will find additional guidance in our quick review of the basics of New Testament worship.

Posted in Bible | 11 Comments

Summer’s Story

A lot of people I know only think of the summer time as hot and muggy; I think they might be missing something…

I’ve always thought of summer as a glorious time, but I must admit that early on that was just because I didn’t have to go to school.

I took a drive the other day, and summer’s story was all around.  You could see it in the backyard BBQ’s where friends and family were gathered together.  You could see it in the small town festivals where communities are gathered.  You can see it in the church VBS  announcements where little kids will hear all about Jesus, and their parents and other adults will experience godly service for others.

You can see summer’s stories driving through farm country and seeing growing green fields as far as the horizon in every direction.  No, don’t say that is a boring sight!  This is where men and God work together to feed the nations and I daresay we’d all notice if it wasn’t going on.  Summer is a time when many have a chance to relax and recharge, to vacation with family and to just slow down a bit.  You can sit outside in the evening and hear the symphony of the land, the late calls of birds and the rustle of leaves in the trees, and you can enjoy the sight of the tiger lilies bright orange all around.

Yes, I’d say summer has a lot to tell if anybody cares to notice, and if we look carefully, we’ll see God at work all around us.

Posted in Christian Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Bread of Life

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 6:35

The day before He said these words, Jesus had fed the five thousand, and now they wanted Him to do it again. But Jesus had not come to earth to be a meal ticket; He had a much more important mission than that.

In the ancient Near East, bread was a symbol of life, for if you had a loaf of bread, you would not starve that day; Jesus was intent of giving Himself so that Mankind could live not for a single day, or even a week, but for all eternity. Yet, there is a catch!

We must go to Him in belief; we must accept the gift of grace He offers.

Most of the people who had gathered on that day long ago did not accept His gift, yet it is still available to us today… will we receive it? Each person must decide that for him or herself in this life. For those of us who have accepted His gift of eternal life already there is a second question to be answered: Will we share the gift, or will we keep it for ourselves only?

Of course, all who read this already know their answer: Who will we share Jesus with today?

Posted in Christian Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Final Thought

When I was a boy, I read a book about the life of Jesus, and it really got my attention. As I thought about it, and as I thought about this Jesus guy, I really had no problem believing that He was the Son of God, and it occurred to me that I should try to be more like Him, but there was one thing about Jesus that kind of bothered me: He cheated!

To my nine-year-old mind, Jesus cheated when He went to the cross because after all, He was God… and He knew how the story was going to end; that’s cheating! It was almost as if it didn’t count if He knew all the things that He clearly knew before He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner. Gee whiz, I would do the same thing if I knew all that stuff.

Yes, to be young again…

When I was a teen, that attitude stuck with me, in fact, I didn’t really see the implication of this until I was n my 30’s; yes Jesus knew how the story ended, and He went to the cross knowing that the story wasn’t nearly over yet. He would suffer greatly for a time, and then…? Victory, honor, glory, reigning…

John says that he wrote the gospel so that many might come to believe in Him, and many have done so, but how deep is our belief? Ah yes, an uncomfortable question, surely, for some of us might believe like I used to, accepting the basic facts, and still holding something back.

My thinking changed one day when reality hit me like a freight train: Yes, Jesus knew how His story would end… and so do I know how my story ends; victory, honor, glory!

Jesus knew He would rise from the grave, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would ascend to Heaven, and so do will I.

Jesus knew He would suffer for a short time, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, and I know that I am co-heir with Him.

Because Jesus knew these things, He did His Father’s will, will I do the same?

Dear reader, this is where we come to the always inconvenient question: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?

It is one thing to accept the basic facts on an academic or theoretical level, but will we allow them to affect who we are on a fundamental level? Well, will we?

We will if we really believe that what we believe is really real.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments