Purple Coneflowers and Love

IMG_6390I planted some purple coneflower seeds from a baggie that I had saved the seeds in quite a while back – 11 years ago to be exact.  “2005 Purple Coneflower” was written on it.  I have no clue if they would still bloom, so I planted them.  It’s been about a month and I’m starting to doubt.  Then a little sprout comes up.  I’m not sure if that’s one of the coneflower seeds sprouting or perhaps a weed leftover from the dirt I used.  You can barely see the sprout to the left of the penny.  There’s something there, I’m just not sure yet what it is.  One thing’s for sure, whatever it is, it is.  If it is a coneflower, I have no right to say it’s not.  And if it’s not, I have no right to say it is.  There is a truth about it, one way or the other.

It makes me think of the American church today.  There’s something there, I’m just not sure what it is.  Is the church of God or has the church lost it’s way?  Is the church serving God, serving society, or serving self? Is the church (the people) looking into the Bible to find direction and truth or is the church looking to the Bible to justify disobedience and sin calling it love?  One thing’s for certain.  There is truth in the Bible.  And the truth of the Bible is not going to be popular in our society.  It was never meant to be.  Some people think that the church has to embrace the sin of the world in order for the church to be relevant and accepted.  Jesus never meant for the church to be accepted by society.  And if we think it’s loving to condone sin and let people die in their sin, we’ve misunderstood what Jesus meant by love.  It may look like love to some people, but it’s not by God’s Word.

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Starting over again today

The Bible reminds us over and over that people are sinners.  I am.  You are.  When we say “people” it can make it less personal.  I think back on Francis Chan saying that we often say, “Money does strange things to people”.  We never hear anyone say, “Money does (or has done) strange things to me.” People can be rude.  People can be thoughtless.  People don’t look where they’re going with their carts at the store.  I rarely say or hear anyone say those sentences replacing the word “people” with “I”.  I can be thoughtless.  Ouch…

Some people don’t like to be called sinners.  Other people readily admit they are.  I readily admit I am.  However, there is a danger we run into when we readily admit that we are sinners.  There I go again – using we.  There is a danger for me, there is a danger for you, who readily admit that you and I are sinners.  Sometimes we use the fact that we are sinners to excuse our sin.  Sometimes it is almost as if we say, “Oh well, after all, I am a sinner.”  That attitude can too easily lead me to give myself permission to sin.  I’m a sinner, God knows I’m a sinner, God forgives me, so any effort to refrain from sinning is pointless if I’m nothing more than a sinner and I am forgiven anyhow.  It reminds me of, “Oh well, I already blew my healthy eating plan by eating those McDonald’s french fries.  I may as well stop at the bakery and get some donuts.”

I do not live a holy life.  I do not pray enough.  I do not read the Bible enough.  I spend too much time on Facebook.  I gossip.  I do not trust God completely.  I am prideful.  (Some of you need to insert “I do not see myself as worthy of love.”)  I am selfish.  And rather than accept those things as “just how I am”, I plan to ask God to help me every day so that today I am not the person that I was yesterday, and today I am not the person He can help me be tomorrow.

If it is to be, it will begin with prayer.

God, I’m not sure what you were thinking when you sent Jesus to die for me.  I do not appreciate His sacrifice like I should.  I take it for granted that you just forgive me when I continue to spit in Jesus’ face with my indifference toward you.  I do not have a contrite heart.  I too often find sin satisfying and too often find you a convenience, keeping you there in the corner waiting to be called upon when I need help.  Honestly, I think my ways are better than your ways.  This and so much more I confess to you.  Change my heart, O God.  I believe if I died today I would come to be with you, but I want more of you in this life.  I want to be more satisfied with you and less satisfied with my own desires, until my desires become what you desire.  My biggest confession is that I need you to help me to accomplish this prayer.  I will fail once again if I am on my own.  But I am not on my own.  I know you are near, as close as my next heartbeat.  Help me seek you with all my heart.  Help me to make much of you in my life so that I may glorify you for the change that is needed in me.  I ask you this because of your grace and mercy and I believe you hear me.  Help me.  Assure me that you forgive me, again.  Thank you, Father.  I ask this in the precious Name of Jesus, Amen.

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The Story of My Life

lightcolor

Photo from Sherwin-Williams.com

Someone replied “The story of my life” when I made a comment about setting an alarm to remind me of something only to forget what the alarm was for.

That made me think of a song I’d heard once or twice – “The Story of My Life”.  I realized I was old when I could not tell you anything about that song, including who sings it.  I looked it up on YouTube and found out One Direction sings it and it’s approaching 500 million views.  500 million.  And I knew nothing about it.

There’s a line in the song, “Written on these walls are the colors that I can’t change”.  That speaks to me when thinking about tomorrow’s sermon.  When you turn to Jesus, He won’t change your past, but He will change your future.  And regarding the past, He will help us see the past, the “colors on the walls that we can’t change”, in a different light.

“It’s a simple fact that light can change the appearance of any given color. The fact is color never stands alone. Any kind of light – daylight, artificial light, even candlelight – can dramatically change the way a certain color appears.”*

*From an article on light and paint at Sherwin-Williams.com

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A Security Monitor

There is a commercial in which a place is being robbed.  There is a man dressed in a uniform that everyone assumes will do something to prevent the robbery.  He says that he’s not technically a security guard, but rather a security monitor.  His job is only to notify someone that there’s a robbery, not stop the holdup or save anyone.  It’s one of those commercials that I can’t remember what they are advertising, even though I remember the commercial. 

As someone who has the opportunity to preach the Gospel a couple of times a week, blog several times a week, and make written and audio sermons available to the entire world via the internet, I’m a little like the “security monitor” in the commercial.  All I can do is let people know about sin, let people know about the forgiveness available through Jesus, and let people know that Jesus expects us to follow Him when we accept salvation and become His child.  I don’t actually have the ability to save anyone.  I can relate to the guy in the commercial.  I do all I can do by telling people.  And Lord, have mercy on me if I fail to earn people. 

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Shelter from the storm

IMG_6306There are a couple of trees in front of the church.  Under the trees there are some flowers.  Daffodils, tulips, and more.  Many of the flowers came out and then the snow came back.  The frost killed the blooms on our forsythia in the flower garden at our house.  It occurred to me today as I drove past the front of the church that the flowers underneath the trees are sheltered by the tree. The tree allows rain to get through to water the flowers, but does not allow the frost or snow to get to them.  Even the sun can get to the flowers at times of the day.

I heard God say today that He is like that tree and I am like those flowers.  He allows those things that nourish me, that are beneficial to me, and even those things that I do not wish to be exposed to, but that help me depend on Him and make me more like Him.  And I have no idea what He has sheltered me from.

God is our shelter and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken
    and mountains fall into the ocean depths;
even if the seas roar and rage,
    and the hills are shaken by the violence. ~ Psalm 46:1-3 GNT

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Sometimes the hardship is from the Lord. Sometimes the blessing is from Satan.

Be forewarned.  This is a rant.

I often see on social media things like, “Chase God and blessings will chase you”.  While we all need some encouragement at times, a great number of pastors should quit the ministry and go in to motivational speaking.  When all they say is “If you just hang in there, the Lord will turn this around”.  “If you just have faith, God will _________”. They’re setting followers of Jesus up for disappointment, discouragement, and doubt when God doesn’t “come through” with what they want.

While “blessing” might be a guarantee from the Lord if you follow Him, blessings don’t mean what you and I often think or wish.  Five chapters into Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, we hear Jesus defining blessing.  And it’s not what we want to hear.  He doesn’t say, “If you mourn, you will be blessed if you just hang in there, because I will fix it.”  He says you will be blessed by being comforted as you mourn.  He doesn’t say if you’re persecuted that it will soon end because He will send 10,000 angels to save you.  Persecution sucks, but He says to the persecuted, “You will have a great reward in heaven”.

It would have been much easier for the disciples if they preached prosperity instead of repentance.  Jesus would have been much more popular while He was alive if He had promised free stuff to everyone.  Leonard Ravenhill said, “If Jesus preached the way preachers today preach, they never would have killed Him”.  Instead, Jesus said, “Pick up your cross” and follow me.  Many people turned away.

I have a pastor friend whose wife has lung cancer.  With the “Jesus blesses His children” mentality, it would lead us to say, “What’s up with that, Jesus?  Doesn’t she deserve better?  Do you know how they’ve served you?”  What about people who are lonely?  (old or young).  What about pastors facing opposition from their congregation?  I think of Tim Tebow.  Miss Universe (or whatever she was) supposedly dumped him because he was too much of a Jesus follower.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer led the church to stand against Hitler and Bonhoeffer died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Hear me.  10 of the 11 original apostles died a martyr’s death.  Why should I expect prosperity and ease?  I posted on Facebook an hour or so ago, “If you’re facing opposition or obstacles, sometimes it’s because you’re doing something contrary to God’s will and sometimes it’s because you’re doing God’s will. When you face them, ask God for the wisdom to figure out which it is.”

Sometimes the hardship is from the Lord.  Sometimes the “blessing” is from Satan.

And you can now say, “Wow.  Really wants to make me follow Jesus”.  I can tell you that if you do follow Him after hearing this, you will not fall away when the trials come.  And hanging on to the Lord through the disappointments and trials of life is what I call being blessed.

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Fooled into thinking it’s summer

It’s April 1.  This is not an April Fools blog, even though I was fooled early this morning by my neighbor’s Facebook post that school was cancelled due to a water problem.  You’ll probably be fooled by something or someone today, if you have not been already.

Next week we will be reminded that it is only Spring.  With temperatures predicted to fall below freezing at night and daytime highs in the 40’s, we will be complaining because the recent warm temperatures have fooled us.  Summer is not here.  The pleasant days have only been a hint of Summer.  The extended forecast shows snow showers a week from tomorrow!  No fooling.  If we would just remember that the warm days are a blessing in a tumultuous time of the year, it would not come as such a shock when the snow flurries fly in April.  The promise of Spring is that there will be a mixture of weather: some warm, some cold, some rain, some snow.

We can also be fooled as to what to expect as followers of Jesus.  Too many people are fooled into believing that a Christian life is nothing but a series of good things, with no trouble.  If we would only remember that Jesus’ promise to His followers was not and is not a life of comfort, popularity, and prosperity, we would not be so distraught when the turbulence comes.  The promise was actually the opposite.  There are going to be difficult times.  The world (the society we live in) is not always going to like us.  There will be suffering at times.  But this life is like a trip through Spring.  It has good days and bad days.  It has days you just want to stay in bed, and days you want to ride a motorcycle.  Days you want to take on the world and days you want to hide from it.   We only get hints of “Summer”.  Christians live in an almost, but not yet fulfilled Kingdom of God.  So weather the storms knowing that they are to be expected in this season of our lives.  It’s not summer yet and we’re not in heaven yet.

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