Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
My recent Bible reading brought me back into the book of Philippians. I have to say, everything started off OK. It is a short, simple book. I was reading along without a hesitancy in the world. But as I kept going, into chapter 4, things started to get dicey, a bit uncomfortable. It all started with 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!” OK, that part is not too hard of a pill to swallow. The word ‘always’ raised a bit of a caution flag for me. But I just chalked that up to Paul being a bit overzealous, trying to make a point and stress some urgency to what he is teaching his beloved young disciples. A literary device so to speak, probably just an exaggerated attention grabber. It worked. Well done, Paul. But I do get the idea that he is trying to present here: with God we always have reason to rejoice. We are loved. We are forgiven. We are saved. Even when life is less-than-ideal, we need to rejoice over the blessings we do have. Perspective. It’s not necessarily easy; but I get it. No problem. Let’s move forward.
Paul goes on, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Got it. Don’t be a jerk. Be kind and compassionate. Love as we have been loved. To be sure, this is easier said than done. But being a good person is hardly controversial; it’s straightforward and clear. Point taken Apostle Paul. “The Lord is near.” Yes indeed, He is near. And those words ring somewhat ironic as we enter the season of Advent. The Lord is always with me. Moving on… “Do not be anxious about anything.” Still with you Paul, though the grip is loosening. The waves are getting a bit rockier. Even though we all worry and get stressed out about things, none of us would deny the fact that it not a healthy thing. Anxiousness does us no good. Hair falls out, tempers flare, nails get chewed. So much of life is wasted worrying about things beyond our control. Let go and let God. It makes for a good bumper sticker but it’s also a solid reminder. He is in charge. We are not. Trust Him.
Paul should have stopped there. The end of verse 6 is where the wheels come off… “But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This is where Paul seems to be getting a bit crazy. Perhaps he’s been locked up a bit too long. The prison bars were making him a bit cuckoo. Maybe he was malnourished. First, he suggests we are to rejoice at all times and now we must give thanks for everything? Mr. Paul sir—you have got to be kidding me!
Maybe I am the only one to have a problem with this text, but it seems a bit unreasonable—even in light of the pending holiday tomorrow where we “give thanks.” But this is outlandish, crazy talk! Paul seems to have lost touch with reality. There has to be an explanation because God knows what I’m dealing with right now and He can’t really expect me to take this passage seriously! Rejoice when times are tough? Give thanks in the midst of sickness? Rejoice as COVID numbers uptick again. Give thanks with all the corruption and discord going on in the world? Rejoice at the loss of loved ones? Give thanks for feelings of depression or loneliness? Rejoice for bills that pile up? Give thanks for an uncertain job status or rejoice over struggling at school? Give thanks for living in a country that is so bitterly divided? Rejoice amidst all the family and relational tension that especially ramp up this time of year?
This makes no sense. Paul has lost his mind; he’s off his rocker. Like I said before, those prison bars and shackled cells must have been causing Paul to go crazy. But I skeptically pressed on and came to verse 7, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Here it is; the heavenly nugget that ties it all together! We pray not to rejoice and give thanks for the stuff, but for Him who gets us through and helps us overcome the stuff. We do not rejoice because we are angry; we rejoice because God comforts us in our anger. We do not give thanks because we are sick; we give thanks because God alone can bring healing—physically, emotionally, spiritually. We do not rejoice because our lives are full of pain and hardships; we rejoice because God fills us with a peace that surpasses pain and a hope that conquers sorrow. We don’t give thanks for the trials and hardships. We give thanks, that in the midst of those trials we are brought back to God, brought back to the cross. Paul was in prison for his faith, yet he still found reason to rejoice in the power of the Gospel and give thanks for the hope he had in Christ.
In spite of everything, Paul found peace in Jesus—a respite and relief from the realities of a harsh and broken world. Let us also give thanks this week and always—for “the God of peace will be with you.”
“We give thanks to God not because of how we feel but because of who He is.”
I have my Christmas lights up on the outside of our house. Truth be told, I have had them hung for almost two weeks now. I couldn’t help but take advantage of the warm weather. As much fun as the ritual of freezing my fingers off while putzing around with exterior illumination is, it seemed far more enjoyable to be out on the rooftop in shorts and a t-shirt. That type of weather is always a blessing during the early weeks of November. In my defense, I did not turn them on right away. They were plugged in and the timer was set; but I couldn’t quite flip the final switch. Plus, I have added, tweaked, and tinkered with them at different times throughout the past week. But as of three nights ago, I have turned them on. You heard me correctly; I turned on our outside Christmas lights. Our house doesn’t quite have the Clark Griswold, light-up-the-neighborhood glow, but it’s not too shabby for the first time decorating our new abode. We’ve thrown in some holly-themed ribbon, red bows, and garland. I’ve made the necessary schematics for the yet to come addition of our festive inflatables. We do still have a few additions to make. But believe me when I tell you, “It’s a beaut, Clark. It’s a beaut.”
Because of this, I have received (and continue to receive) a bit of good-natured ribbing from people. Family, friends, and neighbors have all scoffed at my early November efforts to decorate. Sour grapes, perhaps?
“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.”
“Isn’t it a bit too early for lights?”
“The leaves haven’t even all fallen yet.”
“Oh, you’re one of those families.” 😉
This past Tuesday, I spent the day at a pastor’s conference in Flemington. As part of our devotion/study for the day, we spent a good deal of time reflecting on the 1st article of the Apostle’s Creed. You know it well. We say it nearly every time we gather for worship. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Even in a room full of pastors, who have spent years studying and teaching this very truth, it was a powerful moment to really let the weight of this confession sink in. The initial takeaway starts off very big. God is the Creator and He is almighty. We know this. We get it. Before Him there was nothing. Then, He spoke all that we see (and don’t see) into existence. God speaks and “bang” things happen. But we also acknowledge that this is a truth that speaks to a reality that is so big and beyond our human-limited comprehension. Have you ever stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon? Have you ever felt the rush and power of Niagara Falls? Have you sat on a sandy beach staring off into the endless ocean? Creation itself is a powerful testimony to God’s incalculable immensity. Undoubtedly, there has been a mountaintop moment that left you awestruck by the magnitude and power of God’s omnipotence, performative speech, and artistic authority. In this very first part of the creed, we rightly testify to the fact that God has made all things and He continues to give us everything we need for existence. Yet, we must be careful not to overlook or undervalue this word… Father.
What is the job of a father? It is to pick up a child after he/she has fallen and bandage up any scratches or scrapes. It is to run behind a child, tightly holding onto the seat of a bicycle as he/she learns to ride, to prevent any hard crash. It is to run ahead of his child, to step in front of any oncoming threat to his daughter or son. It is to care for and provide for his child, every need from food to clothing to home. It is to cheer for them the loudest during every great accomplishment. And to be just as devout and supportive when a child feels the pain of loss and defeat. It is to pick up his exhausted son or daughter when the physical demands or the
This coming Sunday is the 504th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. You may recall the images and memes. Martin Luther standing in front of the big church doors; with a hammer in his hand ready to pound in nails to hold his theses in place for all to read. Decisively, though innocently, he was modestly hoping for an audience with the pope or authorities of the church. He did not set out to bring conflict or division; he desired only to correct some of abuses and misteachings of the church. In other words, Luther was not concerned with establishing a new Christian tradition, but with the renewal and correction of an existing tradition. He genuinely wanted the Catholic church to again understand the original and true meaning of the Gospel. At that point in time, Luther had no idea just how much he would change the world. “[Luther’s] Reformation neither transformed the church, nor was crushed by it. Instead, a de facto partition took shape. One by one, a series of German and Scandinavian cities and territories abolished the Catholic Mass, repudiated the church’s hierarchy, and required preachers to proclaim Luther’s doctrines. A new form of Christianity was starting to come into being… Like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” (Alec Ryrie, author, Protestants) In exaggeratedly simple terms, this October 31st of 1517 essentially became the birthday of the Lutheran church. But what is the essence of the Reformation? Why is it a day that continues to be remembered?
Walk through any Walmart or Target right now and you’ll soon realize a child can be anything he or she wants—if only for a day or two. At either of these places, and in many other stores, Halloween fills the aisles. Costumes galore hanging on clothing racks and endcaps. Masks and makeup overflowing the shelves. Toy swords, plastic pitchforks and sparkling princess wands pouring out onto the floor. In these final days leading up to the end of October, kids have an opportunity to let their imaginations run wild. They can pretend to be anything from a dinosaur to a garden gnome. That’s the innocent thrill of this holiday (that and free chocolate of course 😊). Kids can dress up and be whatever they want. Scary or cute, it doesn’t matter. They can dress up as their favorite superhero or Disney princess. They can dress as their favorite toy or even their favorite food. They can live out their dream job of being a firefighter, baseball player, or ghostbuster.
Although there are plenty of adult costumes available, the merriment and playfulness of Halloween often dissipates as you age. It is hard to get enthusiastic about paying a small fortunate on overpriced, bite-sized candy. In the world of grown-ups, we no longer walk around excitedly asking each other, “What are you going to be for Halloween this year?” Sure, we may still love the occasional piece of leftover candy. And it is fun to ooh and aah over the trick-or-treating neighborhood kids in their cute costumes. But as you get older, the excitement of dress-up and the allure of make-believe sadly disappears. Our childhood innocence gives way to the reality of adulthood. We know better. No matter what costume we put on, nothing about us really changes. Our identity is still what it is. This, however, is not a bad thing at all!
As Christians, we wear something far better than a temporary masquerade. No cumbersome costumes. No fake layers of makeup. No hiding behind clever disguises. The Bible (Galatians 3:26-27) reminds us that we are forever transformed and changed because of what God has done for us in Jesus. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with [put on] Christ.”
Clothed with Christ. How’s that for an ultimate costume? It doesn’t get any better than that! The Apostle Paul reminds us that as Christians, we have been clothed with Jesus. In the powerful waters of baptism, God costumes us with a new identity. We are His children. We are part of His family, brothers and sisters in Christ. No need to pretend that we are something we are not. Our identity is first and foremost in the unchanging fact that we have been united with our Savior. We are connected to Jesus by His love and mercy. That is far more important than any other worldly or material attribute we often tie our identity up in—profession, hobbies, accolades. The beautiful, holy scriptures urge us to rejoice and embrace the eternal, spiritual clothing that believers put on each day. The Biblical language of “putting on,” suggests taking on a new life and purpose through being spiritually united with Christ. So leave the costumes to the kids. Dress yourself with Christ every morning. Let Him lead you!
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” Isaiah 61:10
“No man can put on the robes of Christ’s righteousness till he has taken off his own.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
“The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it,
the more it stimulates thirst.” (Martin Luther)
One of the “safety” measures of my Honda CRV is something called LKAS. I’m fairly certain this is now a standard feature in most cars today. LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) is designed to make driving more convenient by helping to keep your vehicle in the middle of a detected lane, and it provides alerts and steering adjustments if the vehicle is detected drifting out of its lane. In other words, if you’re not paying attention, distracted, or slacking off behind the wheel, the car will automatically steer back into the proper lane and alert you to your inattention. It is there to help keep you on the road. In the past such daydreaming and negligence could more swiftly result in a sideswipe or fender-bender; but with these new safety features there is a bit more warning so you can remain safe and avoid calamities. Of course, this doesn’t completely absolve the distracted driver from potential accidents. But when you hear the beeping alert, feel the vibrating steering wheel, or see “Steering Required” flashing on the dashboard you know you need to refocus asap.
I’ll admit that I had some fun playing with and testing this feature when I first got the car. My kids were equally impressed watching the steering wheel move by itself as we traveled down the highway. "Look kids, no hands!" However, it's important to know that there are limitations. If I ignore the audio and visual alerts, the car will continue to veer off-course and end up in a ditch or something worse. This safety feature is only meant to reengage my attention. It is never going to self-pilot the car or completely prevent an accident. That being said, it has saved me a couple of times in the short two months I’ve had my car. For whatever reason my car, and my mind, have drifted causing me to get too close to the painted lines. It is definately good to have such safety features.
My mind was blown this past Wednesday morning. 🤯 While eating breakfast, my daughter informed me that in one of the original stories from which Cinderella is based on, there was a bit more bloodshed than I ever knew. Do you remember the humorous animated scene when Prince Charming’s servant is trying to find the perfect match for the glass slipper that was left behind by a mysterious, disappearing princess? Well apparently in the original story, to accommodate a small shoe, and a potential life of royal luxury they simply cut their feet down to fit. You read that right! To fit themselves into the tiny glass slipper, one desperate stepsister cuts off her big toe, the other stepsister, a bit of her heel. Their ill-fated plans are foiled by the blood everywhere—go figure! The handsome prince learns of their trick from two doves who peck out the sisters’ eyes for their trickery. The now disgraced stepsisters then spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars. But Cinderella and her new beau live happily ever after. I had no idea! So much for an innocent family fairytale. For some reason, in 1950, Walt Disney decided to leave that part of the story out. I think he made the right decision.
On my drive to work later that morning, a bit of irony struck me. When we have young children and grandchildren, do we not try our best to spare them from viewing and hearing about gruesome, bloody stories? When the evening or morning news is a bit too riddled with violence and murder, we will change the channel. If a tv show or movie is far too violent and gory, we will tell them to choose something else to watch. If a video game is filled with nothing more than brutality and bloodshed, we’ll send them outside to play or nudge them to find another thing to occupy their time. For the most part, and especially when they are under our watchful care, we try to hide our children from bloody carnage and massacres. Can you even imagine sitting there watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Sesame Street only to watch them start disfiguring themselves!? This is the very reason we consult the MPA’s film ratings of such entertainment before we take our children into the theater or stream something into our living rooms. They’re far too young and innocent to be exposed to these things.
That is, until they come to church…
This past Tuesday night at our council meeting, our esteemed president shared an acronym that he heard via a YouTube preacher. H.A.L.T. It has stuck with me. I’m not sure what the origins are of this; they are not with the preacher. A quick google search reveals it is also used in counseling settings and chemical dependency treatments centers. It refers to four areas of life which, when lacking or out of balance, can be when we are most vulnerable to relapses based on our physical or emotional well-being—or lack thereof. These relapses can come in the form of unkindness, lashing out, depression, and so on. In spiritual terms, these are the moments when we are easy prey for attack by our archenemy, the devil. The devil perceives a weakness within us and he pounces. We then fall into sin; we hurt others or ourselves. H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. Though not an exhaustive list, these are four situations in our lives where we need to be very aware that the enemy is out to use moments of insufficiencies against us.
Fittingly, the actual definition of the word ‘halt’ tells us precisely what to do when our lives are on shaky ground, when we are plagued by these types of despair. “a verb (used with or without object): to stop; cease moving, operating, etc., either permanently or temporarily.” Think about it… God Himself stopped the work of creation on the seventh day to rest—thus prescribing it to each of us in the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day.” He rested because His creative work was complete. He rested because He knew, many years later, harried children like you and me, would be high-stressed and jam-packed with busy schedules, always anxiously bustling from one commitment to the next. This is a divine and ordained summons to find calm and step away from the chaos. This is the Lord’s way of telling us to halt. And even though God made it part of the beginning of creation and made it even more vital as a commandment, it is one of the pieces of our faith we’re most likely to ignore. Stop for a moment. Evaluate. Assess before you get burned out. Consider the acronym. Where is your deficiency? Diagnose it before the demands of life-on-the-go leave you exhausted, unbalanced and agitated.
Jesus has something similar to say about this in Matthew 11:28 (NLT): “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” The word translated 'rest' here is a word that literally means 'tranquility in the midst of labor.' Jesus wasn't telling the disciples to take the week off, but to be spiritually still before Him. That is what He wants from us too. Meditating on His word in the midst of screaming kids, spending time talking to Him over a pile of laundry that needs to be folded, surrendering some of your mind’s greatest burdens, and confidently trusting that He will guide the mundane tasks of your day. Jesus invites us to reprioritize and take ample time to rest. Relax. Unplug. Find relief from the stress. Put down your phones. Push away from the computers. Leaving the responsibilities of work at work. Give your body time to refuel. Allowing your mind to be renewed. Let your emotions be refreshed and restored. God invites us to return to the arms of our Savior who provides the care and protection, the grace and peace that we need to ensure the evil one doesn’t destroy us in moments of anger or tiredness. Jesus wants to meet us in times of rest to remember our relationship with Him.
“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” Jeremiah 31:25
In our new home’s development, we have many Indian neighbors. Almost all of them are 1st generation Americans. Though they come from different areas of India with different dialects, most are of the Hindu faith. This past Wednesday evening, we were invited to partake with them in one of their Hindu celebrations. Our neighbors were celebrating the Festival of Ganesh. Lord Ganesh is one of the principal gods of the Hindu faith. This formless divinity is characterized as a four-armed, elephant-headed being. (Not sure why.) This is their god of good fortune and prosperity; he brings good energy and removes obstacles. As was explained to me, they invoke this Ganesh celebration often at the start of new journeys or before big decisions. Last night, our neighbors, all adorned in their colorful Indian dress, danced and chanted (though we had no idea what they were saying), burned incenses, offered different fruits and sweets, knelt before an icon of their god, and they covered their faces (and ours) with a symbolic red-colored powder. As we stood on the outskirts of their circle, my wife and I simply took it all in. It was certainly out of our comfort level and outside the norm of our worship experiences. Sensory overload for sure! Yet it was extremely fascinating. After their celebration, we were invited inside for some traditional Indian snacks and tea. They showed us their in-home temple, right in their living room, where they regularly worship. They were very proud of their religious heritage. Our gracious new friends were incredibly hospitable and willing to answer every question I threw at them. Had it not been for our need to rush off to a back-to-school night, I may have sat there all night asking questions.
This is my wife’s favorite season. One of mine also. Although it doesn’t officially begin until September 22nd, it certainly feels like fall. The temperatures have cooled down quite a bit. The scents of autumn are occasionally distinguished in the fresh breeze. People have traded in their swimsuits for sweatshirts. College football has already begun (Go Badgers!) and the start of the NFL season is just hours away. We’ve seen our kids and grandkids go back to school. There’s more traffic on the roads as adults head back into the office. Apple-scented candles have started to burn. On my walks around the neighborhood, I’ve seen many fall-colored mums planted and other fall décor displayed. There is pumpkin spice everything no matter what type of store you go into. Happy Fall Y’all!
I don’t recall where or when I heard it recently, but the phrase “Fall is a Great Time to Return” has stuck with me. Perhaps it was in one of the many emails from my kid’s school district or it was in a commercial tempting people to come back to the gym. Either way, schools and businesses alike are eager to welcome back those who have been otherwise gone during these summer months or prolonged pandemic quarantine. Add our church to that list. Fall is a great time to return to King of Kings. I’m eager to welcome you back. Come for worship; stick around adult Bible study and Sunday School. Our attendance has certainly nosedived a bit over the summer months; this is normal for just about every church. But as we all settle back into the work/school routine, I’m hopeful to see so many of you back again.