Hope – deferred?

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Advent Candle of Hope Reading (from the Psalms) 

Lead us by your truth and teach us, for you are the God who saves us.

All day long we put our hope in you.

May integrity and honesty protect us, for we put our hope in you.

 

Advent Sunday of Hope Prayer (from the Psalms)

Dear Lord,

We put our hope in you because you are our help and our shield.

Let your unfailing love surround us for our hope is in you alone.

And may we realize this certain hope in you every day of our lives!

Amen.

Message

Hope… deferred?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

What is HOPE?

I think hope is the ardent belief in a guarantee which requires the application of our spiritual resources.

“I hope it doesn’t rain!” does not qualify as real hope – hoping it doesn’t rain is wishing. Wishing usually has a finite timeframe, “I wish it wouldn’t rain, because I have crops in the field that need harvesting – NOW!” Hope on the other hand can be placed in something we have no schedule for. Our hope found in salvation through faith in Christ is an eternity guaranteed in the embrace of the Divine but we have no idea when that may occur.

So is all hope deferred for the believer?

No, I think the proverb refers to those who wait – defer – for a future date to place their hope in the Lord as never being healthy in their hearts. “No thank you very much! I am doing just fine on my own! If I ever really feel the need for any ‘hope’ I may consider God but not right now.”

I have been there in my life – not resulting in the denial of communion with God but more of an unhealthy, prideful, self-reliance which took me from a place where I should have been offering wonderful thanksgiving to God and into a place where I kept him like a fire axe behind glass with a sign – IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK THIS OUT! Sad thing is; the dreams I realized in that place were not a tree of life

Hope indicates a faith founded in an understood truth a desired outcome will occur if even accompanied by uncertain timing. As believers, our hope WILL BE realized… But we can’t just sit back, do nothing, ignore the needs around us, and sigh, “It’s a crazy world but I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop (in heaven) and I can’t wait to get there! That’s where my hope is!”

Talking with Edith on Friday as I delivered promised pecan pie to her and Ron, Bob and Marilyn, she shared she would be gathering with family on Sunday so wouldn’t be here or at our sharing of the Word at Woodlawn Meadows. I told her today’s message would be about “hope” and about how hope goes beyond our promise of heaven. She paused for a time with a very thoughtful look on her face then said, “People who put their hope in God for heaven… …will realize hope all along the way.”

I do LOVE our Woodgrove Family!!

Edith has been through a very dynamic year with BIG changes to her lifestyle but she keeps carrying on! SHE REMAINS HOPEFUL and is replenished in it as she draws on her relationship with God through Christ.

And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you. Psalm 39:7

Our HOPE in the Lord will secure a sense of direction AND guidance for this ride through life – rain or shine – EVERY DAY!!

Hope deferred?

I hope not!!

You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12b-13

Closing Thought

Do you ever feel like life is living you instead of you living life? Events occur which seem to dictate your every moment as if all your decisions are made for you as soon as your feet hit the floor – day after day?

You thought it would get easier when you got older and suddenly those candles on your birthday cake appear as blazing dictators of what waning things are possible and the growing edict of what is impossible?

Well there was a dusty corner of the Roman Empire where the oppressor could dictate life to any and all…But suddenly God’s plan since before time was time began to unfold!!

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
 He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
Matthew 12:18-21

Do not defer your hope in the Lord!

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23

You’ll be amazed what dreams may start to grow in your tree of life!!

COMMUNION

Prayer for the Bread

Dear Lord,

The things of this world can satisfy us for a time.

But the only source of hope for eternity is You!

We give thanks for this bread representing your sacrifice which makes our hope possible.

Amen

Prayer for the Cup

Father God,

We thirst for hope in a world where it is often hidden.

We give thanks for this cup representing your Son’s shed blood… …

Which forgives our sins and brings HOPE to all humanity!

Amen

Be THANK FULL!!!

Tgiving

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:15 NLT

If you had more peace would you be more thankful? What is keeping you from being at peace? If the reason for your absence of peace is within arm’s reach – correct it – if it is beyond your scope to address – trust God and be thankful for his response!

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:16

The gift of grace in Christ gives us all we need to be full of thanks but I know the world can cloud the truth of this greatest gift ever offered humanity so when we are down, don’t wait until Sunday to gather with your loving brothers and sisters from our Body of Christ! Counsel, and love one another throughout the week with a simple phone call, visit, or note!

As such, Woodgrove’s “Luke Out” will be meeting at the Hastings Cinema on Wednesday at 11:20am to give thanks for high octane racing fuel and watch Ford vs. Ferrari.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 NLT

Life can be so dynamic it is hard to stay the course of faith! These shifting times require us to be sure of our foundation and for us to be rooted in Christ! Everything may be going sideways around us – day after day – but here is a reason for THANKSGIVING!! Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17

AMEN!!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. 1 Chronicles 16:8

This world cannot argue with our personal testimony about what God IS doing for us! Thanksgiving comes easy when we are being used of God, and there, we don’t need to necessarily give verbal testimony to his acts of grace, love and mercy because we are his instruments of them in action (on our MUCH smaller human scale – but still!)!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.                    1 Chronicles 16:34

“Nobody loves me, everybody hates me! I guess I’ll go eat worms!” What a sad Thanksgiving meal and what an unnecessary emotion because…

GOD LOVES YOU!!! If you look at what you are doing with your life and find that impossible to believe – CHANGE YOUR LIFE – by offering it to Christ so you can be REBORN and FEEL THE LOVE DIVINE!!

What better reason to be full of thanks!!!?

When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!” Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered. Psalm 30:6-7

This is EXTREMELY important – we MUST give thanks to God during times of prosperity! We must recognize the source of our well being! If you argue, “I earned this by the sweat of my brow!” You best give thanks for the strength you had to do it because strength is fleeting! If you argue, “It was my resourceful stewardship which prospered me!” Give thanks by offering God the first fruits of your prosperity because if you just start building bigger barns for your harvest taking pride in what you think YOU have achieved… … “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ Luke 12:20

Don’t ever give God reason to turn away from you!! ALWAYS give thanks!!

I cried out to you, O Lord. I begged the Lord for mercy, saying, “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness? Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me. Help me, O Lord.” Psalm 30:8-10

Feeling distanced from God only means we have moved away. What a joy it is that God is patient and merciful! What a reason to give thanks that He seeks those who have wandered!

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever! Psalm 30:11-12

Make this Thanksgiving Season one which FIRSTLY recognizes the source of all our thanks!! Be full of THANKS in the Lord – his steadfast loves endures forever and give thanks for each other in Christian love!

Closing Thought

Am I alone for finding it disturbing to see Halloween Pumpkins for sale next to Christmas Trees? Is this act a national conspiracy to “commercialize us” right past Thanksgiving? I do enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person but… no I don’t think it is a conspiracy as such. I do think our nation has reached a point where we fail to…“Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” Psalm 46:10 So this Thanksgiving Season – give pause, take stock, count your blessings, bless those around you, be generous – and be THANK FULL for the gifts God has entrusted you with!!

You all give me reason for thanksgiving! I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:4

So be THANK FULL for being God’s child, being blessed by him and may your life in Christ be someone’s reason to be THANK FULL!!!

Is wisdom tangible?

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Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square. Proverbs 1:20

Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise. Proverbs 1:23

What an offer! Wisdom doesn’t say, “I will pommel you with the rod of correction and scorch you with the fire of refinement!” No…she says, “I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”

During last year’s National 24 Hour Challenge the lead group was FLYING and at about mile 40 I was thinking the caloric price was a little too high and was about to drop from the ever shrinking peloton when my friend and Ladies Champion, Pascale said, “Randall, take my wheel!” Well, when an experienced, knowledgeable, champion with a beautiful accent (she hails from Belgium and met Eddy Merckx when she bought one of his branded bicycles) offers you a ride in her draft…you hang on as long as you can!

So is wisdom that tangible? Solomon just said “she” is crying out in the public square. What prevents us from answering her? Are we afraid of what light she might shine on our hearts as she opens her heart to us? I only lasted another 10 miles on Pascale’s wheel into the hills on Charlton Park Road but it was a fine ride while it lasted. Are we afraid, the road wisdom asks us to travel with her, will be too steep or require too much effort?

Are we afraid we won’t be able to hang on to what wisdom offers us?

James says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” 1:5 So that is a beautiful thing to strive for, or do we fear the responsibility that comes with wisdom’s acquisition as James continues his teaching, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.” 3:13

What IS wisdom?

I think wisdom is the resultant growth of applied and practiced knowledge acquired from good teachers.

When I worked at Amway World Headquarters I dropped in on one of their sheet-fed print shops having a touch of “ink in my veins”. Their presses all sounded like they were running inky so I inquired why. “Because we overexpose our (printing) plates when we burn them,” they responded. I inquired why they did that? “Because that is the way we all have been taught!” they answered critically. Here’s the thing about Amway (at least back in the late 90’s) they promoted from within and even if you had experience as a printer/pressman they would take a forklift driver over an “outsider” if one of their own bid a job in the print shop. Hence, poor teaching is perpetuated and their applied and practiced knowledge is NOT wisdom in that model although it was handed down generation to generation.

Honestly though, how many of us REALLY want to hear something we have done for as long as we can remember…has been wrong? If we have a LONG held practice or behavior thinking it is the best or only way to do things will we let go of it to grasp wisdom? Well, at Wednesday’s “Luke Out” we got discussing wisdom and Pat pondered – PRIDE – as being a profound deterrent of wisdom and Solomon agrees!

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

And James goes a few steps further about what deters our hold on wisdom:

For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. James 3:15. Goodness, jealousy and selfishness are certainly not resume building attributes but have you considered them in the light of being a bastion of evil? If we nurture, or even give a simple foothold to these behaviors guess who is walking through the door Christ is knocking at?

Finally then; is wisdom tangible? Is she crying to us in the town square and truly willing to open her heart to us? Can we ride in her draft? If we ask God for an increased bounty of it will a truck with PRIME on the side pull in our driveway and hook us up with a big bundle of REAL value?

Unfortunately my experience has taught me FOOLISHNESS IS SURE TANGIBLE and I have the scars to prove how I have come by what morsel of wisdom I DO possess!

Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible. Proverbs 10:23

So there must be a better way to wrap our arms around wisdom than thanking God for surviving, “Hey! Hold my drink and watch this!”

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7

I won’t ever try to “scare” anyone into a decision to commit their life to Christ and Solomon isn’t saying here we should lie awake at night shivering like a monster-fearing child because we think God is under our bed (or maybe we should?). No, the best commentary I have heard on this use of “fear” is defining it as reverential trust. Giving due respect and reverence to God Almighty and trusting him for our total spiritual provision is something we should grasp. Recognizing Christ as our Rock on which we stand and allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the words of our mouths from our Divinely occupied heart will give us an absolute sense we have a hold on a true wisdom sourced beyond our meager means to generate!

Closing Thought

Last week was a lot of fun as we joined with a band of youth to do various tasks and labors at the church and in the community. Saturday night we celebrated with a big bonfire and SMORES. The most lasting image of those days of celebrating, learning and laboring was Lois making her SMORE…

Tara had brought marshmallow toasting skewers and they were plenty long for a standard campfire. Problem was, our fire exceeded that size geometrically but Lois REALLY wanted to get those marshmallows toasted and create that coveted tasty treat… So I looked up from stabbing my marshmallows and there silhouetted in the raging fire was Lois about 10 feet out from the edge of the roaring infreno and SSTTRRETTCCHHIINNGG as close as she could get without being overcome by the heat!!Now, the night before I helped her and her husband Manny unload the new church fridge they networked to purchase at tremendous savings, and let me tell you – Lois and Manny – are military tough people so seeing Lois striking a yoga/ballet stance to get the job done on her SMORE opened my eyes to a WHOLE new venue of her abilities!!

So here is the deal – WE ALL NEED TO SEEK WISDOM WITH THAT KIND OF DESIRE! It doesn’t matter what we have to let go of, we need to want to grasp it even when the heat of this world is full in our faces! And living as we grow in wisdom will let the world see that we have something tangible because: But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. James 3:17

Post Script:

Woodgrove we are on the right track with taking hold of God’s wisdom because when I posted an invite to last night’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner I got this response:

“I came to this years ago. You have the most loving church I have ever been to.”

Let’s keep a hold of God’s wisdom displayed as we love each other and keep sharing our wisdom and shining it in our community!!

Two more children…

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Parable of the Two Sons:

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins. Matthew 28:28-31

This is a powerful parable and if you are honest with yourself (and had siblings) how many of you were like, “Yup that second slacker would have been my brother or sister!” or if you didn’t have either, you can quickly point your finger at a coworker? Jesus was here specifically rebuking the religious leaders of his day for giving lip service to their relationship with God the Father while those who had said, “No!” for so long were stirred into spiritual action and healthy relationship with God through John the Baptist’s inspired preaching on repentance and right living.

Rather than leave this in context as we smugly condemn someone else I offer us an option for contemplation. If Jesus was willing to expand his audience (which I think the cross allows us) there are in this world…two more children!

We know of two from Jesus’ teaching but if we get past our judgment of who plays the original two sons it doesn’t take long in deeper contemplation to understand two more:

  1. There will be a child of the Father who simply says, “NO! I won’t go! I won’t enter into an obedient life of service to you!” and they never do.
  2. There will be a child who says, “Absolutely I will go!” and they ALWAYS do!

[We could also add a “Rich Young Ruler” sibling who earnestly desires to enjoy the blessed relationship with the Father but sees the row to work too long in the vineyard and severs his ties – but we won’t today]

Which of those four children trouble you the most?

The first “child” – if you know one – makes you want to pound your head against the wall because it doesn’t take long for you to see how empty, hopeless, and futile their lives are and I am NOT talking about material poverty – as the most joyous people I know have less than most! Agathe and I were invited (once) to a gathering of wine and cheese consuming couples in a beautiful home and as I don’t drink I ended up at the bottom of the funnel for their voiced disappointments in life. It was quite sobering. My wife and I eventually returned to our 900 square foot home feeling blessed beyond measure. These couples weren’t active in a church family or real obedient relationship with God. They had LOTS of very little, while true blessings were a simple response to the Father of, “I have changed my mind and heart! I AM your child! I WILL go!”

How should we deal with them? Keep hammering them with LOVE and leave the real forging of their soul to God’s Holy Spirit!

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” Matthew 28:12

It is NOT our job to convince them to become “religious”. It IS our commission to example every day what a blessed life of doing as the Father asks looks like!

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise [of returning], as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 2 Peter 3:9

If we have lived in this world for some time we probably know that type of spiritually obstinate person – hold fast in your prayers though because when they turn they can be some of the most zealous practitioners of faith you will ever meet which brings us to the kind of God’s children who disturb me even more than the ones who deny God…I am talking about the “Enochs” who walk stride for stride in REAL daily company with God himself and even when it’s knee deep… …mud… …they are singing a happy song!! Like Job they never deny God in the midst of DIRE trial and just keep their eye on the prize EVERY moment of EVERY day!! They just keep throwing up their hands like Horshack in “Welcome Back Kotter” shouting, “Oh, oh Father call on me!! I’ll go!!” except they don’t need to because as soon as they see a “God void” they have rushed in to fill it!!

Frankly, they drive me a little nuts – because I long to be like them!

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:3-10

These blessed children of God don’t pick one of these aspects to concentrate on as they live them as their circumstances warrant!! AMAZING!! I know one or two such people and it is a POWERFUL reflection of Christ and a bright shining light of what has CONSUMED them HOLY!!

Which child of the four are you?

Closing Thought

We all have transitional “seasons” in our life as regards our relationship with our heavenly Father.

We can transition from the rebellious denier, to the aware but unwilling laborer, to the initially begrudged but eventually blessed worker, and finally into the fired up “anywhere anytime – you don’t even need to ask me!” always accurate in discernment, golden child. But… we probably drift like the seasonal worker between the last three. We have mountain top experiences where nothing impedes our joyous connection with our heavenly Father and then there are times when are like, “Well, okay… I will go,” and then we never rise up off our spiritual couch!

What helps keep my relationship a linear progression of improvement with God the Father?

THANKSGIVING!!

Whatever befalls us we must take stock and count our blessings! I can’t guarantee you an overnight transformation into one of those incredibly active workers for the Lord…but it will open the gate to the vineyard daily!

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!   Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
Psalm 100

Sometimes we have to move stuff!

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See that stud and nut? Can you reach the other 6? Me neither… Looks like we’ll have to move some stuff!

“See all that?” my brother Rob asked after we lifted the hood on my old Jeep Wrangler, “ALL of that is going to have to be moved. Are you in? We are going to have to drill out the broken exhaust manifold studs and bolts and replace them and there is NO WAY we can do it without pulling out all that stuff which is in the way.”

Well, there are supposed to be a total of 7 studs and bolts and I was down to 3 and I wasn’t wanting to be asphyxiated by the increasing carbon monoxide  inside the Jeep – neither was Agathe – so what choice did I have? “How much would it cost to have someone else do it?”

“This is about a $400-$500 job to have done,” my brother a lifetime mechanic replied.

“Let’s get to it!” I concluded immediately. What else was I going to do on my Monday off?

We finished late Wednesday afternoon…as it was a three day epic, often working through the pouring rain and spending as much time buying special bits to drill out a broken easy out in one bore and welding a small rod to pull out a broken drill bit in another. About whatever could put a hurdle in front of us did just that. I’ll tell you what though, my old ’91 YJ Wrangler gets down the road just smooth as new right now, quiet (sort of) and comfortable (at least a bit more) – as an old Jeep might be!

Here’s the thing about our spiritual lives; we want them to be smooth and easy, calling on God for his promises, but we want him to follow us down our road without considering where he might want US. We want a comfortable “clean air” existence but we don’t want to have to move stuff in our lives to make it happen. We want refinement sans the fire and smoke! We want to cruise with no bloody knuckle maintenance.

Let’s look at Abraham and how he is perceived theologically: Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” Romans 4:1-3

What did God tell Abraham that he had to believe?

 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” Genesis 13:14-17

Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” Genesis 15:1

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:4-6

Wow!! How many of us have that kind of communion with God Almighty? If God took me aside in dreams, visions and visitations – AND – made those kinds of promises to me…I would believe God too!

But belief in God is a WHOLE LOT different than faith in God. We can’t simply call God out for what we think we are promised in his word and not be willing to move some stuff – and ourselves – in the direction of God to realize them!

This where it all started for Abraham (previously Abram) with God’s communication:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. Genesis 12:1

This was NOT – Hey Abram move from Lake Odessa to Hastings – this was a complete life shift! New languages, new cultures, new places, incredible challenges! There were no “movers” to call to pack up your goods and turn the key on a truck! This was a desert wilderness, wild animals, hostile people, herd your flocks, conflict guaranteed MOVING OF ALL HIS STUFF kind of change!! And Abraham goes through ALL of this with God!!

And along the way he meets Melchizedek the High Priest King of Salem tithes to him the spoils of war – oh yeah Abraham was a warrior too – becomes extremely wealthy and sees God’s promises start to take shape in his lifetime! Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sarah not far behind in her 90’s when they have God’s promised heir!

So we can’t just believe God’s promises and be considered righteous. We have to follow through on belief into mature faith and be willing to be moved by God, stirred by his Spirit and act faithfully in all He requires of us!

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? [God didn’t have Abraham go through with it!] You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. James 2:21-24 NLT

Belief, faith, actions – Abraham had it all!! (Paul and James have eternity together to work out which side of the faith cart the action horse should be hitched to)

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35-36

Closing Thought

To breathe the free air and avoid having to drive your Jeep down the road with your head sticking out the window like some traveling, tongue-wagging, ear flapping dog – you are going to have to move some stuff, bloody your knuckles, break some stuff, replace some stuff, get soaked, invest in some new tools, learn a lot and feel like you’ve been run over by a truck more than once before it’s said and done for all the contorted stretching you’ll have to do.

It isn’t much different in our faith journey yoked to Christ working for our Lord and our God.

Belief, faith action – be a warrior like Abraham and move some stuff when God commands it!

Are you in?

Or will you let God use someone else to be ultimately blessed because you think the price is too high?

A ride home from the middle of nowhere.

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Our brothers and sisters in the faith from far and wide joined us last month to celebrate the life of Helen Mudry’s sister – Nancy Dzick. She and her husband Arnie rode incredible miles together, often on their tandem bicycle so I rode ours here to display at the service. Tandems don’t ride well without a “stoker” (the rider in back) and tandems are hard to transport so ours sat here for a few weeks occupying most of the space in my church office. I think my reluctance to ride it home ran deeper than transport challenges but last week Agathe and I had work at the church and I finally loaded my riding gear in the car and threw a leg over the tandem to ride it home alone.

I was strapping on my helmet and getting ready to roll out when I noticed an attractive runner passing by the church. Now, as Nancy’s service was concluding and people were heading to fellowship at the luncheon someone said to me, “You have a beautiful church here but it isn’t easy to find because…”

“It’s okay,” I laughed at their awkward hesitation, “you can say, ‘because it is in the middle of nowhere’ because WE ARE!” The person seemed a tad embarrassed to have me finish her sentence but we don’t take offense – it is what it is – we ARE kind of “out in the middle of nowhere” which means if you are a runner and are passing our church you are seriously fit or off your rocker!

So, I swivel the tandem to point down the road, clip in the pedals and shove off going a fair distance until I find myself on a parallel course with the pretty female runner.

Now if you spend any time out on the open road, running, riding, or walking you get accustomed to hearing all kinds of “wisdom” from passersby. I could have retired comfortably YEARS ago if I got a dollar every time someone yelled at dad and me riding tandem, “HEY THE GUY IN BACK ISN’T PEDALING!” therefore the lady runner cast a nervous glance to see me pacing her along Coats Grove Road wondering what a fellow athlete may “suggest”. I just grinned and accelerated enough for her to see I was on a tandem and then pointed to the vacant “back seat” wordlessly inviting participation in our VASTLY superior sport of cycling.

For a millisecond I could tell the invitation to get a “ride” home from the middle of nowhere was being joyously contemplated but then she threw her head back laughing happily and declared, “YEAH RIGHT!”

I just cocked my head, shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “Oh well, I tried,” and headed home but a few minutes later I started laughing wondering what if she had taken me up on the offer? The laughable problem here for me was the fact I had removed the stoker’s pedals because they act as cumbersome counterweights flopping around awkwardly behind so it is best to remove them and while I made my ride offer, the critical components were being whisked homeward by Agathe. How troubling it would have been to possibly hear, “Oh thank you! You are a God-send, I am out of water, exhausted, my feet are blistering, and I was not sure if I was going to make it home!” and then have to deny transport for being absent of the necessary footholds!

Whew! I dodged a bullet there!

What if you passed someone on an obvious spiritual journey? Would you be confident enough to offer them a “ride” in our Christian Faith or would you hesitate wondering if you were fully equipped to answer their inevitable questions? Would you stop your pilgrim’s progress certain to gain a travel companion or would you hurry along on the other side of the road and silently say a prayer for the intervention of God’s Holy Spirit – exhaling, “Whew, I dodged a bullet there! They are in God’s hands! Thank you John Calvin!”

I believe one of the reasons we (Christian Church Universal) are so weak in evangelism is we can’t accurately convey what it is we actually believe! And even if we are certain of our salvation we lose our balance when it comes to telling the uninitiated exactly how we enjoy this truth. We may be able to ride a bike but our “tandem” is missing some critical parts if anyone wants to ride with us!

Most of us have heard of the “Roman Road” – a collection of verses compiled from Paul’s arch stone of theology which can take the seeker logically through the nuts and bolts of building a necessary and beautiful saving relationship with God. Here is a link if you need a refresher: https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2016/09/evangelism-the-romans-road-to-salvation/

Today as many of my fellow riders are taking to the safer dirt roads – I want us to travel what I am calling the “Titus Trail” (also mapped by Paul) to gain in knowledge and thereby help us exercise the truth of our faith when the occasion arises:

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-14

Let’s ride the “Titus Trail” together!!

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 2:11

God humbly entered this world as Jesus the Christ – God incarnate – experiencing HUMAN life just as we do with all the emotion and challenges involved with it. He was surprised, sad, hungry, angry, frustrated and yet lived a sinless life. Jesus lived, taught, healed, died, and was raised from the dead to sit at God’s right hand reconciling those who believe and profess into the pure holiness of the Father for eternity!

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 1 Peter 1:18-19

We should be able to share this Good News!!

And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God… Titus 2:12

The road to heaven is described as the “straight and narrow” but we need to exit the old road we were on to ride it!!

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. Romans 6:6-8

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

And this truth we should proclaim JOYOUSLY and LIVE LIKE IT… … while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. Titus 2:13

I have said it before – the revelation of Jesus Christ upon our meeting will put everyone on their knees. The believer will kneel in humble adoration and the unbeliever in humbled desolation. We should be equipped to invite everyone to ride with us!! We will either meet Christ upon his return or upon our passing – either way – we meet him!

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:14

Free from sin, no longer in its stranglehold, made new, adopted into God’s family via repentance and faith in Christ to move forward re-birthed by grace, mercy and the Holy Spirit and committed to the good work of the Kingdom!

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. Colossians 1:21-23a

Because now…

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:13-16

Closing Thought

A few years ago two Mormon Missionaries came to my door while I was out in my shed turning wrench on bikes. It was a miserable wet snowy day and I called out to them, so they wandered over from the house and asked if I had a minute to hear some good news. I was dressed warmly and in the mouth of my secure dry shed so I agreed to hear them as they stood outside. They had their approach down pretty cold (although they did need correction on the finer points) as they spoke shivering in the wet sleet.

Finally I asked them, “Are we saved by the cleansing blood of Christ, repentance, faith in him, grace and the renewing of the Holy Spirit?”

They agreed we are. (these young men were really pretty cool guys – truly)

“So what does Joseph Smith have to offer me – and you – beyond that?” I inquired.

They pondered shivering now, soaked and cold… “Well… …” they paused as long as our sister who didn’t want to tell me our church was in the middle of nowhere, “can we just leave you with some stuff to read? We need to get going!”

“No,” I grinned shaking my head, “I’m good.”

Well it doesn’t end there… Later that Spring Agathe and I were sitting down to dinner and it was pretty late when suddenly there was a knocking at the door. It was my Mormon Missionary friends…and they had BICYCLES…and they didn’t mince words!

“Hey,” they demanded, “we KNOW you work on bicycles and were wondering if you could help us tune these up!”

I busted out laughing, “NOT A PROBLEM! Come back tomorrow and we’ll go through them.”

Tandem Challange

Here’s the deal – if you are a CHRISTIAN and have your “I am commissioned antennae” up at all you will come across people seeking to learn about your faith. Have your ride prepared, your toolbox filled, and KNOW WHAT YOU TRULY BELIEVE! And ALWAYS be ready to give anyone exercising their soul on a quest to find God…a ride home from the middle of their nowhere!

We don’t need Robin to tell us what is Holy!

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I have a Bible set up in the order current scholarship believes the writings, and events occurred. It is also organized in daily readings allowing you to complete it in one year. I hungered for the word and finished “the Good Book” ahead of schedule on Friday so when people ask me if I have read the works of a certain author I like to respond, “I prefer my particular Ghost Writer and have read 66 of his books – again this year.”

Today I want to share a few “standout” scriptures the Holy Spirit inspired me with!

And this is the basic law of the Temple: absolute holiness! The entire top of the mountain where the Temple is built is holy. Yes, this is the basic law of the Temple. Ezekiel 43:12

During God’s revelation of a new temple to the prophet Ezekiel, God commands absolute holiness for this sanctified place.

Absolute holiness!

What does that mean for us?

Well obviously – NO RUNNING IN THE CHURCH!!

No of course that is not what it means. Neither does it mean once we step inside these doors our behavior suddenly has to become holy by Divine edict or we will suffer the fate of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu who disregarded the solemn instruction of entering God’s Tabernacle and were killed for it.

Part of what it means is, as a healthy member of the Body of Christ, we should be CONSTANTLY striving along the direction Peter had for early believers.

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

“…holy in everything you do…”

Aren’t you glad you came today!?

ABSOLUTE holiness and having to be holy in EVERYTHING we do? I can hear the echo of the young Luke Skywalker to the Jedi Master Yoda – “You ask the impossible!”

Well – it’s not ME asking, it is God commanding.

But God isn’t one to simply respond to our cries of “Impossible!” by shrugging off our pleas as his flawed, free will creations without a little assistance. Even in Peter’s invocation of Old Testament scripture regarding holiness he offers inspired direction!

“So prepare your minds for action…” When is the last time you prepared your mind for ANYTHING outside of worry or fear or an algebra test? Have you conditioned it for the journey into HOLINESS? This isn’t some vague notion or metaphysical mumbo jumbo this is REAL with tangible results when we follow this wisdom!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

And this isn’t something to be done in the cozy confines of a hammock under a shady tree where we can readily please God with joyous pure thoughts and abounding holiness as we sway lazily back and forth! No! This is preparation for the fray!!

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:22-25

“You never learn more than when you teach.” We have probably all heard this and maybe even experienced it. If we are ACTING (not play-acting) in the charge of God Almighty, as Peter is encouraging, we MUST grow in HOLINESS!! If we hear the word and DO as it directs in James we grow in appearance to Christ and thereby HOLINESS being blessed by God there in the ways of life that truly matter!!

Peter continues “…and exercise self control…” Oh mercy, the treaded SELF CONTROL!!

Last night I finished grilling up some brats and on my way in the house stopped at the big garbage can next to my garage to throw away the packaging of the raw meat. Holding the platter with the finished meat in one hand I deftly attempted to throw open the lid and toss the Styrofoam tray into the container with a minimal of touching the big brown, filthy, stinky, waste container. I wish video was running because I got it right!!

You see while trying this clever maneuver every single brat slid off my platter and rolled into the dusty leaf strewn ground next to the oversized garbage can!

How can this be “got it right”?

I sighed, scooped them back up, and returned to the still hot refining fire until all signs of their succumbing to my grave fumbling where burned away. AND I noticed the two which broke in half weren’t grilled through so I actually avoided having to head out and throw’em back on after discovering this and the fire had died. So my self control was rewarded – save for a few gritty bites because there will ALWAYS be consequence to what leads us back to God’s refining fire but at least my dinner was palatable and everyone on the block didn’t hear some fiery, foul tirade of cursing!

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. Colossians 4:6

“Why did you go back to the fire? I thought you were done grilling,” Agathe asked.

“Well I dropped them all on the ground next to the garage,” I replied, “but the fire was still hot and they needed to be tickled by the heat some more anyways!”

Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then…

WOW – just WOW!!

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Wrapping this up full circle then in the light of Paul’s teaching, absolute holiness and our command to be holy as God is holy is impossible to achieve through self discipline. Any attempt to do so can lead to a false self righteousness where we think we are on the high road but we are actually heading downhill on our high horse! What we MUST do in order to celebrate where this quest takes us is submit WHOLLY to the new person we become in Christ and the infilling of his Holy Spirit!!

That is where I put my eternal hope! It assures my forever embrace of the Divine AND transforms me RIGHT NOW!! My confidence one day soon to stand in front of purely holy God is placed in the newness of being I have been gifted by my Lord and Savior and Reconciler – Jesus the Christ – and it is my constant growth and striving to let the world know there is CELEBRATION in holiness – even if it only starts with me grinning as I pick up 5 dusty, leafy bratwursts to put back on the fire!

Where will it start for you?

Closing Thought

Absolute holiness for us CAN NOT appear as “Holier than thou”.

Being holy as God is holy for us SHOULD appear as “Humbler than thou”.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Philippians 2:6-8

Last week we talked about how Peter was commanded to “kill and eat” and how that changes the complexion of our responsibility under the New Covenant. Christ gave up his life in extraordinary humility which resulted in extraordinary honor…

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

Take an inventory of your life with the Holy Spirit. What are you growing? Is it righteous fruit? Is your attitude befitting the sacrifice Christ made in order for you to be renewed and reborn in him?

Kill what is unholy in your life by submitting it to the Holy Spirit – it moves like fire and can refine you clean through making whatever you do, and say a fitting sacrifice to God!

Better to feel that fire now…than be turned away from the Banquet Table because our faith was half-baked.