Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
My daughter made the middle school field hockey team. In our town, this is only the middle school team’s second year of existence and my daughter's first time ever playing it. Nearly the entire team of girls are brand-spanking new to the sport. Prior moving back east to New Jersey, we had no real familiarity at all with the sport. Forced by dad to try something new, she made the team and we now have one more thing in our busy fall schedule.
This past Tuesday was her first game, so I traveled over to Pequannock in between work and a church council meeting to watch it. It was fun to see the excitement and energy of the girls—Carolina blue jerseys, flashy mouthguards, and colorful field hockey sticks in hand. After only a short week of practice, they were ready to go. They were bouncing up and down on the sideline, shrieking and cheering each other on. But I have to be honest, I had no idea what was happening. Granted, I do understand the basic concept; hit the ball into the other team’s net. However, that is where my knowledge of field hockey comes to an abrupt and embarrassing end. The best I could surmise is that if hockey and soccer had a baby, it would be field hockey. There appeared to be nuances and rules from each sport playing out on the bumpy, high-grass field. Fortunately, I could tell by the chatter of fellow parents on the sidelines, I wasn’t alone. We often had questions. Many times during the game, the whistle would blow, and the two referees would, in some arm motion toward each other, signal an infraction or penalty. Don’t ask me what it was or when it happened. I still have no clue. Before her second game tomorrow, I will have to find a “Field Hockey for Dummies” video on YouTube. It was fun to watch her out there, but it is tough to fully enjoy the game when you’re not sure what’s going on.
This experience gave me flashbacks to days when my son and I would play a card game of Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh. No matter how many times I would read the instructions or the information on the cards, I had no idea what was happening. Despite his best efforts to explain the strategy of the game, it still made little sense to me. I would be winning one minute and getting whooped the next. Just when I thought I started to get things figured out, my son would inform me of some rule that would prevent me from utilizing a certain card or attack mode. On the cusp of what I through was about to be a victorious move, I would quickly find myself defeated and sent tail-spinning back to a state of frustrated cluelessness. Yes indeed, it is tough to enjoy the game when you’re not sure what’s going on.
Sometimes life can feel this way.
Out of control. Frustrating. Chaotic.
Confusing. Peppered with penalties.
Exacerbated, we throw up our hands and exclaim, "What is going on here?"
But it shouldn’t surprise us.
Jesus tells us, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) There will be so many times in life when we feel like we’re playing a game without knowing the rules. Things will happen that will leave us shocked. Events will take place that will leave us scratching our heads. The good word of Jesus is that no matter the confusion of “the game,” He will always be taking care of us, always watching out for us. Trials and temptations will continue to come; but we put our faith and trust in the One who is bigger than them all. This coming Sunday, you’ll hear this reading from Isaiah 55:8-9, which tell us to trust in the One who is all-knowing and all-powerful. Every challenge and crisis, or “trial and sorrow” that comes your way provides the opportunity for us to confidently trust God more deeply. The Psalmist knew this when he declared, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (Psalm 18:32)
“Winning in the game of life can only be assured if we trust God as the Mastermind.” (unknown)
“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
On Tuesday afternoon I found myself in a position of trying to help someone in need. It was a scary situation, though it thankfully has a happy ending. Still, I found myself, along with many others, trying to give necessary medical care to someone who was completely unresponsive. When the professionals arrive, what is the first thing they do? They check for vital signs—body temperature, oxygen level, blood pressure, pulse rate. Vital Signs help the health professional or the emergency worker know what’s going on and administer the best possible treatment. Thankfully, the young man in need, still had relatively healthy vitals. He was then transported to the hospital to receive the crucial care he needed to completely recover.
So also, there are spiritual vital signs that help us understand what is going on with us spiritually and get the best possible treatment. Yesterday morning, with brother pastors from our NJ district, we sat in conversation over the book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” In this book, we are led to an uncomfortable truth and an unavoidable reality that far too many churches are dying. And so, in looking at churches that have closed, we were given insight on what “vital signs” churches should look for so that they can reverse the trends of decline and begin to see healthy growth again. By looking at deceased churches who have shut their doors for good, we discussed the warning signs and pitfalls. We talked about the ways to keep our churches alive, and move to a place again where we can thrive.
In a similar vein, I would love for you to listen to this sermon/podcast. It was shared with me by Delia, our office administrator. It is 29-minutes long, but it is so worth it. It is by renown pastor and author, John MacArthur, and is entitled Why We Should Love the Church. This message perfectly encapsulates and speaks to something that has been weighing heavy on my heart for many months now. Living in this northeast part of our country, it is undeniable that the majority of the population have become apathetic towards they church. More than disenfranchised, they are simply not interested. They have sports games to attend. Trips to go on. Or beds to stay in and sleep. They have no time in their busy lives for the church. They have enough commitments and enough on their plate already. But it is not just the outsiders, it is on the inside of the church too. Members of God’s congregations have equally distanced themselves from regular interaction and engagement with the church. It is time again for all the reasons MacArthur mentions, to fall in love with the church, the beautiful bride of Christ. Let us fall on our face before God and worship…
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” (Psalm 103:1-5)
I was up early this morning. No real reason. But when I woke up at 3:00am, I could not fall back asleep. After tossing and turning for a bit, I decided to head down to the couch and watch TV. One of the shows I occasionally get sucked into is called “Mysteries of the Abandoned” on the Discovery Channel. This shows travels the world in search of ignored and neglected ruins. They rediscover all sorts of long-forgotten engineering marvels, decaying cities and empty factories that once stood on the cutting edge of design and construction. Today, these relics are a shell of what they once were. They are rotting and falling apart. In each episode, historians and engineers examine the heyday of these old engineering triumphs. They tell the stories of who originally designed the structure, its historical significance, and why it was ultimately no longer viable. This morning’s story had some local flare; it told of the SS United States—now emptied, abandoned, and anchored in a nearby Philadelphia port. As fascinating as each story is, it is undeniably bittersweet. Sure, it is great to see the pictures and the videos, or the depictions, of when those places were full of life. Yet despite the bustling days of the past, such abandoned structures are now an unavoidable depiction of that site’s current uselessness and demise. Even though these structures were once the talk-of-the-town, they have come to a sad expiration. The stories of their “glory days” are all in the past; that is all they have left. The reality is that these sites are essentially dead.
There is no present.
There is no future.
Thinking about this show on my drive in, I couldn’t help but consider some of the statistics I’ve heard over the years regarding the church in America. It’s been reported that about 3,000 churches close per year in our country. These church buildings are then sold, bulldozed, or now sit abandoned. Additionally, years ago I recall hearing that about 1.2 million people leave the church each year. Each one abandoning their congregation and giving way to faith decay.
We have a God who has promises, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” The presence of our God and the love He has for us exists beyond any set time or tangible place. He is reliable and dependable. In Psalm 94:14 the author comforts us with these words, “The Lord will not abandon his people; he will not desert those who belong to him.” What an incredible promise God makes to us! And this promise is not just to us as individuals, but also to us as a church. God will never leave or abandon our congregation.
I believe that knowing our God continues to be with us, and desires to bless our congregation, assures us that we are still on the cusp of our heydays here at King of Kings. Our "glory days" still lie ahead. Because He is present with us, our future is most assuredly bright. This is true of any faithful, Biblical congregation. To be fair, the present state of the Church in America shows us that we have our work cut out for us. There will be tough times; hardships will come. Yet, we forge on. We continue to gather and continue to worship. We continue to study and continue to pray. We continue to reach out and continue to invite others in. The mission of the church is unchanging; we are to seek and save the lost with the beautiful and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. My hope and prayer for this new school year, is that we begin to really engage our neighbors, our friends, and our preschool families. We need to see the hustle and bustle in the Sunday morning walls of our church; it is time for this place to again be filled with the excitement of adults and the energy of children.
Come on back to church this fall! 😊
“God is taking care of you, even when it seems like you’re all alone. Believe me, God is working hard behind the scenes of your life.” (Anonymous)
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Having returned a bit earlier than anticipated from our Midwest wedding, and because I already secured pastoral coverage for worship here at King of Kings, this past Sunday our family attended worship like a “normal” family. By normal, I simply mean, not as a pastor and pastor’s family. All five of us got into the same car, at the same time, and only about 10 minutes before the service started. We all walked into the church together. We dressed in our summer, casual church attire and took our place in the seats, blending in as just another family in the crowd. When the service was over, we all walked out together, at the same time, and without having to make sure the lights were off and doors were locked. Truthfully, it was really nice and quite refreshing to worship together as a “normal” family. It was also neat to check out a nearby church, with its different style and format to worship. Even if it was rediscovered that I behave much better in church when I’m leading worship. (Although in my defense, the children definitely started it.) 😉
One unanticipated thing that I noticed, even prior to attending that church, was the temptation that the Devil put before me—starting as early as Saturday evening. We had our choice to go to any church at all… OR we could simply not go. Oh yes, I heard the sneaky whispers of that great deceiver. “Take the morning off! Lay low and do nothing! It’s just one week. You don’t need to go. Chill out!” Indeed, even after we narrowed it down to which church we would attend that Sunday, the temptation to play worship hooky did not subside. After all, this was not my church and I had zero responsibilities. No one would know if we didn’t show up. No one would see if we decided to go back to bed. No one would notice if we instead hit up a local diner for breakfast. No one would know if we rationalized our absence with an empty, half-hearted, “We’ll watch the livestream later.” No one would have a clue if we skipped church altogether. I have to be honest; the temptation was really strong to not go. But God’s Spirit continued to nudge at my conscious; reminding me that I know better. Thankfully, we did not cave to the deceiver’s tactics and off to worship we went. I’m glad we did.
Of course, on a typical Sunday, I’m at our church about 90 minutes prior to worship beginning. Thinking through my sermon, finetuning Bible study, moving tables and chairs, etc. I don’t have time to be distracted or tempted. But you all most certainly do! My experience this past Sunday helps me relate and empathize with that temptation. “But Saturday was a late night.” “We could stay home and watch church in our pajamas.” “I really don’t want to listen to Pastor Steve preach again.” These are the persistent ploys and logical arguments that the evil one attacks us with. But we know better; the Bible teaches us better. I love the conciseness in Hebrews 10:25 via God’s Word Translation. It reads: “We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.”
Don’t stop gathering. Don’t stop worshiping. Ironically, the message we heard last Sunday at this “other” church was a discussion on what healthy churches look like. Once such thing, pulled from Acts 2, is that a healthy church is one where people consistently show up for each other—a community with a shared belief in God and a genuine love for one another. Isn’t that what we want our church to be about? A place where we can find guidance and strength in God’s Word. A place where we can find support and prayer from fellow believers. A place where we can find acceptance and community. A place where people are able to be served and willing to serve others. A place that lifts us all up in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. A place where God’s good word proclaims that we have value and worth. A place where we want to go because we have good friends and maybe even a little fun!
I know the temptations to stay home are real, especially in these last summer weeks. But keep showing up. You’ll be glad you did.
“I go to church as an expression of my need for God and for God’s family.” (Philip Yancey)
“Do not go where it is all fine music, grand talk and beautiful architecture. Go where the Gospel is preached. And go often!” (Charles Spurgeon)
“The difference between listening to a radio sermon and going to church… is almost like the difference between calling your girl on the phone and spending an evening with her.” (D.L. Moody)
This is probably my last correspondence with you all for quite some time. In fact, this may be my last weekly blast to you as the full-time pastor of King of Kings. It is nothing personal, and I didn’t get myself into any trouble. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Please allow me to explain. Within the past 48 hours, I have gotten three different emails from three entirely unrelated people. But in each instance, I am the lucky recipient and benefactor of three pending deposits into my bank account. Imagine my great fortune to know that three unrelated, foreign businesspeople have each chosen me to spread their funds. Within minutes after I send them each just a little bit of my personal accounting information, my currently putrid bank account will be inundated with transfers from overseas. One for $500,000. A second for $2.4 million dollars. And a third for $16.3 million dollars. Of course, I will be making a sizeable donation back to the church, but nevertheless it seems like a good time to alter my life’s course. It was never my intention to retire this early, but with this streak of good fortune I have begun looking for a house on a southern island as my next residence.
Hopefully, by now, you know that I am joking. I know that these emails are scams. I immediately delete the email and block the sender. But sadly, many people fall for such scams. Whether they come via email or over the phone, good people are often led astray and duped by people into sharing their important information. What they think is an unforeseen blessing, turns out to destroy them. What sounds like a satisfying and exciting gift, turn outs to be a hoax. Their lives are irreparably damaged.
Scams come in spiritual forms as well. During our time on this earth, we are constantly distracted by different things that take our focus away from God. Some of this can be turned into our own idols that we worship and put all our focus on instead. God continues to teach us to not be persuaded by false teachings and idols because only He can give us truth so that we can abide in Him. Jesus warns about false prophets and teachers who come to us with twisted ideas about belief in God and how to live our lives. In Matthew 7:15 we hear, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” These people might use the right religious language or seem to be great leaders. But the truth, Jesus says, is that they are like wolves who will wreak havoc within a sheepfold (the church) if they are allowed to go unchecked. You can be persuaded by anything that stands in the way of your relationship with God. People within the church can be a part of this as well and use God’s Word to make their false teachings seem believable, as humans we are easily convinced.
Much like the emails I received, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Being involved with false teachings, whether you spread them yourself or believe the lies they present, causes you to be corrupt and tears down your Spirit. What deceptively promises to help, will actually harm you because it removes your gaze of worship away from the Creator. Don’t get duped! Anything apart from God never can fully satisfy our lives. However, while we may be tempted to take advice from teachings we believe to be easier and decide to follow other things we believe are good for us, only God truly knows what is good. Remember this verses from last Sunday? “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We need to understand that if we abide in God, He will reveal the truth to us through His Spirit and through His Word. I recently saw a Facebook post that said: “I am studying the book of Micah right now and came across this gem of a verse in which he laments how people don't want to hear what's true—they want to hear what makes them happy: "If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' that would be just the prophet for this people!" (Micah 2:11) Some things never change, right? The pleasing "prophets" for today's people just keep repeating in one way or another that every individual is their own authority on the truth and morality. And people love them for it more than they love acknowledging the authority and goodness of their maker (cf. Romans 1).
My friends, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must always view everything through the lens of truth itself: the Bible. Spend time in God’s Word, digging deep in Scripture, meditating on it and committing it to memory. The more you understand and internalize the Bible, the easier it will be for you to discern truth from lie and solid doctrine from false teaching.
Ope, time for me to go. I just got a phone call about my car’s extended warranty—good thing I’m getting all that extra money wired to me soon! 😉
“Error always goes to church because Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, infiltrates the systems of religion, particularly Christianity even true Christianity and plants his seeds of error there and a gullible, witless, uneducated, undiscerning church becomes a victim.” (Martin Luther)
“The teaching of a false prophet cannot withstand scrutiny under the divine light of Scripture.” (John MacArthur)
I’m reflecting again this morning of our parable from this past Sunday, the Parable of the Sower. “A sower went out to sow…” Specifically, I’m thinking about the reckless nature by which he went about sowing. Ponder, for a moment, the peculiar ways he goes about his business. He's really moving fast and he isn’t being very precise. He isn't digging individual holes and putting the seeds in one by one; he isn’t covering up the seedlings and watering them. He isn't even watching where he throws it! This man is in such an apparent hurry that he throws the precious seed everywhere—even on the path, even with opportunistic and hungry birds hovering, even into the weeds and rocks. If they had concrete parking lots in those days, you can bet this man would throw the seed there, too. Why do that? What a waste of the precious seed! But the sower—who is God—doesn't care. He's got no time to waste and He wants the entire field—the entire world—to get the seed of the Gospel. And so He throws it everywhere—into prisons and schools, into shelters and homes, among the rich and the poor, to the believers and the non-believers, to the educated and the not—to every human being. There are no exceptions. There is no place where God does not want His word to go. He tosses the story of Jesus across the world in books and movies, in debates and conversations. Throughout, sowing the seed of faith with a generous hand.
Stepping into my backyard, I see my now three-year feeble attempt to grow a lush, full, green grass. It is definitely better than it was when we first moved in—slow and steady progress. There are only a few bare patches and a lot less weeds. But there are still plenty of spots where only dirt is seen. When I have tossed out the grass seed, many times over these past three years, it has been in a similar reckless manner as the parable’s Sower. To be sure, I did focus on the areas where the brown dirt was obvious. Those areas got a few extra sprinkles of seed, but I didn’t stop there. I dispersed the grass seed all over my yard. Whether there was already grass visible or not, it didn’t matter, the more green grass the better. Whether by hand or by the use of a spreader, I will throw that seed all over the place in the hopes that the abundance of seedlings will take root and final give me the green backyard of my dreams.
When it comes to the reception of God’s Word, this is His mindset as well. He sows the seed of His love with a beautiful, merciful, reckless abandon. The more “green grass” the better—no matter where that green grass might end up growing. God wants every human being to know the Good News. No exceptions. Wherever they might be and no matter the condition of the soil beneath their feet. God wants all to know that Jesus has given His own life on the cross to rescue us all from the power of evil, and that He has risen from the dead. Now anyone who trusts in Him will receive His overflowing love and mercy. We will become part of the harvest—a forgiven, free, joyful child of God who reflects God's own love and grace. And you? It doesn't matter if you are good soil or poor, thorny or rocky ground, or even a concrete parking lot! God's power can remake you, too. "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself." (Acts 2:39)
"Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good see can grow. You have to trust God." (Pope Francis)
"When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return." (Cory Asbury)
This past Tuesday morning was an uneventful, ordinary drive to work. Until it wasn’t. Cruising down Route 80, all of a sudden, I heard a loud whack as something kicked up from the road and smacked into my windshield. It startled me to say the least. It was probably a rock, but it happened so fast that I am not certain that’s what it was. I didn’t see its emergence, just heard and felt the hit. There were no cars in front of me so I’m not entirely sure where it came from. But the end result was three separate chips in my previously perfect windshield. Fortunately, they are not in my line of sight and, as of now, are only minor chips.
So, what did I do? I grumbled a bit. Lamented my now imperfect windshield. And then I kept driving. I certainly could not spend my time worrying about those chips turning into cracks and spiderwebbing out of control. I could not stop driving. I could not get out of the car, curse the culprit and give up on life. I could not dwell on it. I could not bemoan a now future multi-hundred-dollar expense to replace it.
Life is like this sometimes. We are cruising along, minding our own business, when—all of a sudden and out of nowhere—BAM! Something smacks the windshield of our life and chips away the previously comfortable routine. A diagnosis. A death. A severed relationship. A lost job. A cancelled vacation. Whatever form it comes in, it is always an unwelcome surprise. A cracked windshield is a helpful metaphor for the effects of sin in our lives. Each of us has sin in our lives, breaks and mars that affect everything we do. We pull ourselves together and try to move on, but there’s a constant reminder that things aren’t as chip-free and perfect as they once were. There’s a crack in the proverbial windshield of our lives that can leave us perturbed and bitter. So, what do we do? We keep driving. We keep going. We can lament and grumble for a bit. In fact, that’s the very thing God invites us into prayer for (cf. 1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 40:17, Psalm 55:22—just to name a few 😉). A little more worse-for-wear, we keep moving forward.
Remember these words from Jesus in the Gospel from this past Sunday? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-30) No matter the size or the number of cracks in our windshield, we keep driving because we know that the Lord is right beside us. Some of our burdens, the chips and cracks in the windshield, have been imposed upon us from the fallen world around us, some of them are our own doing. No matter, God still invites us away from a place of sorrow and into a place of Sabbath. Intentionally or not, we too often choose to carry things God never intended for us to carry, and it can be so hard to lay them down. But the beauty of Jesus’ gospel invitation is to trade in the overwhelming baggage of this world for His much-needed rest. He invites us to leave the burden and receive His embrace. He invites us to look beyond that imperfections in the windshield and believe that He is still in control. We cannot use Jesus to magically remove or defeat our problems. But as Jesus embraces us, we discover a peace that laughs in the face of our present circumstances. Even as the chips and cracks remain, we find comfort and strength in the embrace of Jesus.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10)
Every year, at Christmas, my grandmother purchases tickets to the Paper Mill Playhouse for Calie and me, my siblings, and cousins. She picks the day and the show, months in advance, that forces all of us to “prioritize” this date and put it on the calendar. We all have busy lives and jam-packed schedules, young kids, and countless other things to do. We all love each other and get along; but rare are the moments when our schedules align so that we can all get together at the same time. But because this gift is from Grandma, we make sure this night happens. No excuses. Everyone shows up. Thus, this past Sunday evening, all 15 of us headed to Millburn to see ‘Rent.’ But first we were off to our traditional pre-show dinner. Halfway through dinner, we received the call that the show had been canceled. No joke. Seriously. With only about 75 minutes before showtime, they had to cancel the evening show due to a rampant illness amongst the cast. So much for “the show must go on!”
My grandmother, who called and broke the news to us all, was heartbroken. You could hear the tears through the phone. But the thing of it was, none of us really cared. Sure, it would have been great to see the show. But at the end of the day, we were more than abundantly enjoying the family time together. The show may not have gone on, but our night still did. We poured another glass of wine and decided there was now plenty of room in both our stomachs and our evening schedules to order dessert. We had nowhere else to be! We wouldn’t let something, completely outside of our control and unable to be changed, stop us from a good time. Anyone else in the restaurant could have told you that. We were loud, laughing, and enjoying every minute of our “forced” time together.
I share this with you, simply as encouragement to take time to have fun and laugh with those you love this summer. We can jam-pack our summer schedules with baseball games, household projects, and all sorts of other things. It’s easy to always be on-the-go. The last two nights our All-Star baseball season has been washed out. Though bummed in the moment, it did allow for consecutive nights of family dinners—all together and all at the same time. Sometimes, it is in the rainy or rent-free days of life that allow us to reconnect, recharge and we find the best memories being made.
“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawnmower is broken.” (James Dent)
Once a month, I go over to The Oaks at Denville, a senior living community, to lead chapel service for them. We probably average about 15 residents at the service. However, in recent months, and again Tuesday, our turnout has taken a hit. Why? Because they have other events and activities scheduled at the same time. Shopping Excursions to Acme. Various presentations. Blood pressure checks. Probably the occasional cutthroat Bingo game. Yesterday, it was a “live” concert with the Jersey Chicks. Walking past the auditorium, which is right next to the chapel, there were about 30 seniors in that room, oddly engaged in and entertained by a karaoke-esque rendition of Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman.” No joke!
Yes indeed, no matter your age, there are always a plethora of other things fighting for your time and attention. This is the devil’s way of subtly and sneakily pulling you away from time with the Lord. This deception often ramps up during this time of the year. Hence, the old adage, “If the Devil can’t make you bad; he’ll make you busy.” Summertime is a classic time to take a break from church. Summer arrives and we get so excited for all of the fun things that we have planned. There are vacations, graduation parties, favorite fishing holes, daytrips to the shore, BBQ’s, and the ever-busy schedules of our children and grandchildren. Then there are the doctors’ appointments, days we are not feeling well, or mornings we simply want to sleep in. Good and necessary things, but things that can quickly—although unintentionally—take their place atop our priority list. Nevertheless, it’s not a time to take a break from God. After all, the Devil and his army never take time off from trying to ruin your lives. He is always looking for an opportune time to break in on the unsuspecting, compromising or distant believer through isolation, doubt, apathy, or relentless negativity. We can’t get lazy!
Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. Vacations, holidays and summer camping with the family are all good, important and valuable things to do. But don’t take the whole summer off from church attendance, worship, prayer and Bible reading! The Bible says: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25, NLT). In other words, God expects us to meet together, He wants us to meet together, so we can encourage and bless one another. We should never take an extended vacation away from being in church. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Of course you have to say that because you’re a pastor.” But that’s not actually why I say it. It’s not some sense of self-preservation. I say it because there is no more important place that we can be than in the same place where God has promised to be and where He promises to distribute His gifts. It is here you will hear of His relentless love and freeing forgiveness, His empowering grace and strengthening hope.
Have fun this summer.
Enjoy the outdoors.
Travel to see friends and family.
Explore the world.
Go play Bingo and sing some Shania Twain.
Just don’t take a vacation from God. He loves you more than you can imagine and wants to keep fueling your life with His good gifts.
“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.” (Psalm 22:27)
Traffic was horrendous this morning. It took me 3 times longer than normal to get to work today. The ‘Denville’ exit was so backed up that I decided to drive the two extra miles and use the ‘Cherry Hill Road’ exit. Bad choice. Twenty-four additional minutes later, I was finally able to get off the highway. In my short stretch down Route 80, I passed three different (non-serious) accidents and there appeared to be a couple more of them just beyond my exit. To say that this commute was an agonizing crawl would be an understatement. It is a frustrating thing indeed to be stuck in traffic. It’s annoying, it takes a long time, and it’s beyond our control. Getting stuck in traffic is something I have never heard anyone say they enjoy.
Sometimes it can feel like there is no end in sight when you are stuck in traffic or caught in construction, but the end always comes, doesn’t it? The same is true in life—of difficulties, hardships, and trials. We spend a lot of our lives stuck ... at least, we feel as if we're stuck. We drive to work and get stuck in traffic. We finally arrive, only to remember that we're stuck in a frustrating job. We bump into someone at the store and get stuck in conversation. Maybe we're stuck with an underperforming mutual fund. Or stuck with a body that just can't stay healthy. Or stuck with extended family members who aren't pleasant to be around. Feeling stuck can be disconcerting, irritating, or depressing. And because we live in a fallen world, we have all had these stucky feelings before. Sure, perspective reminds us that there are always people in a worse situation than we are, but that doesn’t completely take away or negate our own “stuck” moments.
Still, feeling stuck can provide some helpful, Biblical reminders for us as Christians. How? These “feeling stuck” moments can be redeemed when we allow them to bring us back to what, or who, is most important—our God. These inevitable moments of helpless frustration emphasize the reality that we are not in control. Only God is. No matter the situation, miniscule or serious, things are often outside of our grasp of control. Thus, these are times in which we have to look outside of ourselves, and back to the One who rules and reigns over all things. God is God. You are not. Eat the humble pie. Yet, this is actually a wonderful thing, because there is great comfort knowing that God is with us. Do you remember this old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”? It is filled with encouragement for the stuck moments we all have, “…O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!”
So, the next time you feel stuck, don't give way to panic, doubt, anger, depression or guilt. Repurpose that momentary feeling of “stuck” to rejoice in a good and loving God that just may be reminding you of who He is, who you are, and who's really in charge. Yes indeed, the mighty Creator is at work, on your behalf, “working all things together for the good of YOU who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) God has a plan, and His plan is wise and good, better than anything you could ever dream up. This means, God might even be using the extra time you sit in traffic for your benefit. The next time you feel stuck, rest. Not because you know what's happening, but because you commune with the One who's in control of what's happening to you right now. Rest because He's included you in something wonderful, even though in the moment it feels as if you're stuck.
Pastor Steve Vera