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God’s Creative Beauty

IMG_3892My wife and I are in the middle of a much needed and long overdue vacation. There are many amazing things to see in our own country and around the world. We chose, for many reasons, the northeastern portion of the United States. We’ve seen two of the great lakes, Ontario and Eerie. Their sizes can be overwhelming and yet they are the smaller of the five. Looking out and knowing there is a shore on the other side — somewhere — but beyond the human eye is amazing and a reminder of just how big this world is and still He holds it all, and us all, in His hands.

As immense as it is, and as small we are, He cares for even our small things. Many times I hear, “I didn’t want to trouble God with my small issues.” The truth is if God really is God (and He is) everything is a small thing to Him. That makes His love even more amazing.

Romans 8:38
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (NLT)

The Lord spoke [imagine that — a spoken word creates!] all the world into creation in six days and one of His creations was mankind. And He loves us. He loves us to the point where we severed our relationship with Him through our sin and He made (He is creative) a way for us to be reconciled through Jesus.

Romans 5:8
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (NLT)

When mankind fell into sin, walked willfully into rebellion, God’s heart broke. He could not, would not let us remain separated from Him for all of eternity. Even in the garden there was already a plan for our redemption and it would come at a tremendous cost — His Son. But God loved you that much. He loved me that much. Check out these words from Genesis where God is speaking to the serpent, satan, speaking of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus:

Genesis 3:15
15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.” (NIV)

We look at all the amazing things God has created, but to Him you and I are those fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. We were created to bring Him praise and glory. He delights in us and loves us. For God so loved [insert your name here] that He gave His one and only Son for you. That is amazing and beautiful and worthy of all our praise forever, amen.

— Pastor Rick

When Life Wears You Down

exhaustedLife can grind you up and spit you out. My wife has a saying that life can beat you down like a rodeo clown. I can only imagine those bulls trampling on the rodeo clown while they’re protecting the unseated rider. But there are those days (weeks, months, years) where you just feel worn out by the hits life can bring. As believers in Jesus, followers of the Messiah, what do we do when we’re feeling abused by this life, the struggles, and yes, the people in it?

As I was writing this, I was reminded of all the moments I felt discouraged, emotionally exhausted, and frustrated. The key part in all of those moments was a lack of peace in my life. I was also reminded of how many times peace is spoken of in the Bible. All the way through the gospels and the epistles (who are not the wives of the apostles) you see the word ‘peace’ as part of a greeting, part of a salutation, a descriptor of God’s attributes, or as an entreatment and encouragement that we should have and walk in peace.

I’m sure you’re thinking – especially if you’re life seems to be a tad bit pulverizing at the moment, “HAVE YOU SEEN OUR WORLD!?” In the last decade they have “discovered” 80+ new genders, men now having babies, a gigantic immigration crisis which has divided the country, wars and rumors of wars, plagues — not to be confused with plaque which 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Dentine — earthquakes, hurricanes, political violence and unrest. And in all of this we’re supposed to have peace!?

YES!

Remember the Bible is God’s love letter to us! The words there are Holy Spirit inspired. God spoke those words to us through His servants for us to read and HEAR with our hearts. Too many times we read them as just words on paper. We equate “peace to you” as “Howdy y’all” in Texan vernacular. But re-read it. The God of peace, just one of His many marvelous and amazing attributes, spoke those words through the Holy Spirit for you to receive. It’s not just a greeting! It’s not just a tag line to close a letter. It’s an encouragement to hide ourselves in Him for He is our peace. He is our refuge. He is our strong tower. He is the lifter of our heads when we’re weary and worn down. I’m realizing those moments I lack peace are the same moments when my heart desperately needs to draw near to Him for He is my peace.

Ok, so I’m not some sort of savant who has a bunch of trivia just waiting to tumble out of my brainpan (baseball trivia excluded). I looked it up and found the greek word, εἰρήνη (I think it’s pronounced ee-reen-ee) is used 99 times in 91 verses of the New Testament. And suddenly it should become clear to you, as it has to me, having peace; walking in peace, especially in a world spinning violently out of control devoid of any true peace is vital for our life and our sanity. Here are a couple of verses that speak to this:

John 14:27 (two versions – to clearly present the words of Jesus)
27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (NKJV)

27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (NLT)

Romans 8:6
6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (NLT)

You will find throughout the New Testament: walk in peace, be filled with peace, receive peace, peace be with you. It’s as if the times those words were written the world was in chaotic destruction, filled with political, social, and religious unrest. Persecution, wars, and all sorts of evil have been coming to everyone in this world since the fall of man. Satan has been working overtime to rob people through every sort and type of distraction, temptations, and attacks possible. No one is immune to the devils attacks. We as believers and followers of Christ thwart his attempts to wrangle our minds and hearts away from peace by abiding — or living — in our Dwelling Place — Jesus!

That brings me to wear this turns so beautifully precious, like gold or diamonds, in my mind. The non-followers, the unbelievers, those still in the matrix (to use a movie metaphor) crave this elusive peace. It’s something they want. It’s something they need to fill that God-shaped hole in their heart. They’re looking for it in relationships, drugs, music, power or control, money, things. They cannot and will not ever find it in any of those, because those things do not bring peace. They bring a momentary sense of satisfaction which quickly dissolves away making them look for something more. WE have what THEY want!! PEACE!!

If we will live and walk with the peace of God ruling our hearts and minds, many are going to see what we have and ask how can they have that (envy works in that direction, too, believe it or not). This is not to say they’ll accept Him because there is quite a hefty sacrifice to surrender your heart and call Jesus Lord, but I have never [read: NEVER] met a Christian who regretted the decision to make Jesus Lord of their lives. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:

Matthew 7:13
13 “Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.” (GNT)

The next time you’re reading a passage in the bible and you see the word ‘peace’ realize the God of peace wants you to carry that peace in you, all the time, wherever you are, to whomever you’re with, for whatever the reason you’re there … and that you leave that place with a piece of His peace.

Here’s a bit of final proof of His desire for us to live, walk, and share the peace that only He gives:

Isaiah 53:5
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (NKJV, emphasis added)

He took the beatings, scourgings, and punishment that was ours – He took them in our place. He accepted what we deserved and in return gave us peace that was His.  His love is amazing!

When you’re looking at this world and it’s making you mutter the words from the old Snickers commercial, “Wanna Get Away” RUN to Jesus. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith and the only One who can bring true peace to our hearts and minds. Be the envy of all who know you; demonstrate the peace their missing in their lives.

— Pastor Rick

Battling Sin

fightDo temptations leave you feeling battered and bruised? You’re not alone. It is a fight we all strive to conquer yet so very many times we find ourselves bloodied on the canvas of life looking up and wondering what happened. How did we end up here, yet again? We get knocked down and then struggle to get back up. Some just quit at this point — down for the count. Temptations happen to all of us and how we respond is crucial to our daily survival and testamony of God’s grace and mercy.

There are so many aspects to address in regards to temptation, the ramifications, expectations, and response to them I fear this will either be too long for one post and could constitute multiple. But for today, let’s just cover some territory that is vital for your walk.

To be clear, temptations are not sin. They are the allure used by satan to draw us away from God. Think of them as a fancy fishing lure cast before a trout. It’s a pulling of our hearts to do what we want rather than what God wants. Sometimes its fear that causes us to lack faith or trust in the Lord to sustain us and carry us through. Sometimes it’s the appeal to our flesh to do something against God’s moral code which is imprinted on our soul.  Sin occurs when we yield to the temptation and do what is against God’s will. Most lose the fight more than we care to admit, but that does not mean we’re to give up. And our resolve doesn’t just impact ourselves, but those around us because it jeopardizes our ability to clearly hear the voice of the Lord. Sin inhibits our relationship to a holy God.

Jesus conquered the enemy and if you place your hope and trust in Him you’re already on the winning side. His death on the cross was the victory and when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it was. Surrendering to Him was your redemption — He literally bought you from the ruler of this age and imputing His righteousness to you. In doing so, He broke sin’s dominion over you. Sin is not, nor should ever be your master again. You, in Christ, because of everything He did, are redeemed. You didn’t deserve it. His grace is amazing and His mercies are new every morning.

Ephesians 6:10-11
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (NLT)

This passage makes it evident the strength and protection is not in your ability or power, but God’s. Many born again believers try to stand toe-to-toe against our enemy, God’s enemy, thinking we can defeat him in our own strength or abilities. How wrong! How utterly and preposterously wrong of us to think somehow we are the reason or the cause of overcoming the enemy. As if we have some new super power. That ‘super power’ is not us, but is the Word. The One who spoke the world into order. We can only defeat the devil and his minions in our lives when we stand in and hide ourselves in Christ.

So many Christians are scarred and bruised, banged up and wounded, all the while battling temptations naked! There are many times I hear the voice of the Lord reminding me He will fight my battles when I am clothed in Jesus. It’s HIM that we are putting on when we put on the whole armor of God. Resting in His righteousness (there is none in us apart from Him). Walking in His truth for He is the way, the truth, and the life. Carrying the shield of faith when we trust Him to quench the fiery darts (temptations and accusations). Our minds and thoughts need to be guarded in His salvation, freely given, but at a great price to Him. Our feet walking in peace whereever He leads us to share and spread the good news (the gospel)! And equipped by studying God’s word so when the enemy tries to lure us by saying, “Did God say …” we KNOW His word and stand firmly on His promises of Him going before us and being our rear guard; He will shield us from the wicked one when we make Him our refuge and strongtower.

Next time you fall, the next time you fail, repent and put on His armor — put on Jesus. When the enemy comes to tempt you, let him see Jesus.

Never, never, never let God’s grace cause you to think you can get away with sin. Failures and falls will happen. You will sin, but do not let it be your practice. Instead let that sin or sins be vile to you. Ask the Lord to let you see your sin the way He sees your sin — as a heartbreak to the One who redeemed you from it with His blood.

Repent of your sin, trust God’s faithfulness, put on His armor, and march forward. He’s got you.

— Pastor Rick

Temptations Can Be Frustrating

failureTempations. We all face them. Everyone does. A surprising reminder, Jesus faced them! The frustration of temptations come when we give in to them (something Jesus never did, but we’ll get to that in a bit). Often, they come when you’re not expecting it or you might have prepared better. So, when they come — not if — how we respond to them will determine our success or failure in that moment.

People everywhere face temptations daily. No one is immune. Lust, gluttony, laziness, anger, hatred, gossip, bitterness, envy, jealousy, covetousness are just a few that we battle. There are times we tell a “little white lie” to make someone feel better. Or maybe the reason was to protect ourselves from a very awkward conversation if we were honest. Maybe we found a $5 bill all the while you knew who it really belonged to, but, hey, “finders keepers”. Maybe the shortcuts you took on the taxes weren’t something anyone would catch. It saved you a bunch of money, but the ethics were on the southside of righteousness. You get that nagging poke in your heart, knowing it was wrong, but you ignore that still small voice telling you to do the right thing. Maybe you saw someone in need in a way you could help, and you ignored their plea. Or you rolled up your car window as you approached the street corner where the homeless tend to beg and then fiddled with your radio to avoid making eye contact.

There are so many things that distract us from our faithful walk with the Lord and those temptations, when we fail, drive a wedge between us and Him. Instead of running in repentance to our Father we try to forget about it and focus on something else to appease our conscience. In essence, we’re doing the very thing Adam did: attempting to hide our sin. Often, it’s just our stubborn rebellious heart self-medicating with the sin that so easily besets or ensnares us.

Hebrews 12:1
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (NLT)

Sin slows us down. It’s like carrying a very heavy burden uphill while trying to run. We might get a few steps without a stumble but tripping and falling are easily predicted. It doesn’t take a genius to know that someone is going to land on their face. Many times, people will try to excuse their sins with thoughts like, “no one will ever know,” or “it’s not hurting anyone.” But the truth is it IS hurting both the Lord (you’re being disobedient and sinning against Him) and other believers. How is it hurting others? YOU are not as effective in the kingdom of God if you’re part of the walking-wounded, weighed down by your sin, and not able to clearly hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Sin interferes with our prayer signal and makes it more difficult to hear the voice of the Lord.

James 5:16
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (NLT)

If the prayer of a righteous person has this type of impact; it would reason that those struggling with unrepentant sins would have the counter effect. Oh, and then the pride issue comes in. I’ve been here before and it is awkward — a bit horrifying, to be completely honest. Let me give you a completely fictional, but hopefully relatable scenario:

You have a church friend named Bill who sometimes drives you crazy. He tends to be lazy and take advantage of you and others. A couple of days after a heated argument with Bill you’re “venting” to another friend, Tommy. Now Tommy isn’t a Christian and doesn’t know Bill other than your conversation about him. They’ve never met. But their paths cross a few days later when Bill applies for a job at Tommy’s company. When Tommy realizes who he is, he mentions you and some things you had told him in confidence about Bill’s work ethic. Sure, Tommy shouldn’t have said anything, but then again, neither should you (love covers a multitude of crap; 1 Peter 4:8 – Rick’s paraphrase). Now Bill and his family are angry, embarrassed, and leaving the church. They tell anyone who will listen what happened. There are so many wrongs in this scenario, but these types of situations play themselves out every day when we give into temptation.

Our sins have a way of tracking us down and being brought to the light. Humiliation is usually the least of the troubles that we face with unrepentant sin. We see the temptation coming, but instead of running from it, we run towards it as if we hadn’t learned from the last time sin burned us. Failures, moral and ethical, can be haunting until we go to the Lord in repentance. Do you want to see mountains shake and move because of your faith? Sin, hidden or overt, undermine your faith every time. So how do we stand strong against the temptations we face? What should we do so we don’t trip and fall? Exactly what Jesus did!

We see in Matthew 4 Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He fasts for forty days and nights. While doing the right things spiritually speaking, Jesus still found Himself being tempted by the devil. Look at His responses in every temptation:

Matthew 4:4
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say …

Matthew 4:7
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say …

Matthew 4:10
“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say …

Yes, Jesus was tempted. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus was tempted in all points as we are but was without sin. Do you ever wonder why we’re encouraged throughout the entirety of the bible to read, study, and meditate on the scriptures. God has given us the answer in the Answer (Jesus). It’s not enough to just busy your mind about other things to help you stop thinking about it. It’s not enough to read a self-help book. You must hide yourself in Christ; in His promise; and in His word. He made you a new creation when you trusted Him as Savior. He gave you a new heart. He broke the legal claim the devil had over you and redeemed you to Himself. You’re His. And His word will be a light to your path, and He will guard your heart and mind against the tricks of the enemy.

The temptations are deceptive ploys to pull your heart away from God. The same way the serpent said to Eve, “Did God really say that?” The temptation will make you doubt your direction and turn your affection. Your heart changes allegiance from God to yourself, and next thing you know you’re face down in the proverbial dirt wondering how you got there. The old saying is true: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

I’ve discovered in my own life, regrettably, little (unrepentant) sins lead to bigger sins. You never thought you would do that [fill in the blank] and yet then you find yourself in a position of shame, guilt, and failure. A biblical example is King David with Bathsheba. David’s sinful leap most likely didn’t jump right to adultery, but led up to that point by failures in David’s life long before he saw her bathing on the roof.

As a young boy in the fields, writing songs and delighting Himself in the Lord; then taking on the giant with the heart of a warrior standing with God before him, I’m sure becoming an adulterous murderer wasn’t something he could have or would have predicted for his future. And yet Nathan boldly had to confront the king on his sins. Fortunately for Nathan, David repented.

I’ve found when I give in to sin and yield to the temptation, it’s a love issue and a trust issue. I have failed to see the amount of love God has for me and to trust Him to fight my battles for me. Instead of trusting and hiding in Him I chose to fight the battle in my own strength.  Then lost.

1 Corinthians 10:13
13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (NLT)

God loves you and has the very best for you. Learning to trust Him more, love Him more, and building that relationship with Him is vital to our walk and facing temptations. And when we do fail, don’t let condemnation keep you from Him. He’s aware of what you’ve done and is waiting for you to come to Him for restoration. Run to Him. As my pastor says, “beat the devil (the accuser) to the throne and seek His mercy and grace.”

— Pastor Rick

The Peril of Deferring the Gospel

times-upThe buzzer is going off. It’s loud. Seriously loud. You open your eyes and realize that time is up! Wow, that went fast. You look around you a bit mystified by what you see. Your whole life whips through your mind. One minute you’re on the playground with friends from your school wondering if today was “pizza day” for lunch in the cafeteria. And the next thing you know you’re standing before God Himself giving an account for your earthly life that has just concluded.

You’re thinking hard. What was the last thing you remember? You were driving home from a friend’s house. Even though you had just left their house, you were still talking to them on the phone — hands free, of course, through the car’s on board system. Safety first was what your mom would always say before you left the house. But that was a few hours ago. You had just glanced down to see how fast you were going. You didn’t want to explain another speeding ticket to your dad. Then you looked back up just as some headlights veered into — oh, my.

God just asked you a question. Your chest is tight, your head is pounding, and your panicky trying to find the right answer needed. You have no more lifelines, no phone-a-friend, and no clues to help with the answer to His question.

“What did you do with My Son in your life?”

At the end of this life, that question will be asked. And no, I’m sure I don’t have the exact wording correct, but I’m confident of the context of the inquiry. It won’t be the amount of good you did in this life. Nor will it be how those good things balance against your bad. There won’t be a comparison of your life versus Hitler’s. It will all be whether you placed your trust in what Jesus did on the cross and in His resurrection and if you repented. Did you bow the knee of your heart to Him while you were alive here, or did you wait to bow your knee there (and only there)?

Romans 14:11
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall give praise to God.” (NKJV) [emphasis added]

It’s not a question of whether you will bow your knee, but when. Timing is crucial in this equation. Whether you bow your knee here or there; whether you confess Jesus is Lord here or there does not change one iota of Who He is or your ultimate response to Him. But the timing of those actions will be the preeminent factor in your eternal destination. Many fear the day our eyes finally close, but they will. We all will die (unless the Lord returns and you are His).

Watching the last two years of the covid-19 pandemic has been obvious of the amount of fear people have at the thought of death. Two years after the vaccines started and then the myriad of boosters, people still live in terror afraid of dying. Watch those who drive in their cars, by themselves, with their mask on. Watch those at the beaches walking and sometimes swimming with the face-diaper in place. For so much fear of a sickness that rarely takes your life — a life which will someday cease with or without covid — and you wonder why they run in denial that the expiration date of their life is coming closer with each passing day.

People feel they should work out more, take better care of their bodies, eat better, get more rest but not too much, then work out some more. All for a few extra days, months, years added to their lives, but still death chases them as it does us all. This is not fear mongering, but a realistic observation of the inevitable for every person alive. Yet people will live in denial of death and do anything they can to keep their mind off our collective future. BUT THERE IS HOPE! His name is Jesus! And His love for you is beyond comprehension because we could never and would never love another person as He loves us.

Hebrews 9:27
27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (NKJV)

There are those, like me, who are eagerly awaiting His appearance. Salvation is already mine because of His promise to me. The Lord is faithful, unable to lie and has promised me eternal life in Him. So yes, I’m waiting for the day of His return with great expectation! And as much as those who are eager, there are those who are not. Those who have no relationship with Him; those who have yet to bend their knee or their heart; those who think they still have time left to make that decision later all the while growing colder and more hard-hearted to the gospel.

Why is it that Pharoah would be so callous after seeing all the plagues brought on by his hardness of heart? Even after losing the first born among all males and evicting the Israelites from Egypt he had a change of mind; a hardening of heart and then pursued them to his own demise and the destruction of the Egyptian army.

The truth is God, in His goodness and mercy draws people towards repentance. But He does not force them to turn. Instead, He gives them free will to accept His invitation of salvation. Sin, our sin, hardens our heart as it did Pharoah’s. The more you say ‘no’ to Jesus, the harder your heart becomes. No one is ever out of reach of the Lord until they die. At that point He will judge you based on your relationship with Jesus Christ. In Him you can stand forgiven and freed of the bondage and penalty of your sin OR you can stand on your own merits before God and will be condemned for your unrighteousness. There are no other options.

The Old Testament provides the ten commandments. The priests then added another 600+ laws on top of what God gave. We hate laws but come up with more and more all the while trying to break most of them in our own level of rebellion while still considering ourselves to be “good”. We’re so good at deception we deceive ourselves. and some to the ultimate degree of eternal death and separation from God who loves us.

Many in the evangelical world point to Four Spiritual Laws

  1. God loves you and has a plan for your life.
    (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:10, John 10:10)
  2. Everyone has sinned and we’re separated from God.
    (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Psalms 14:2-3)
  3. Jesus is the only way to salvation.
    (Romans 10:9-10, John 14:6)
  4. You must receive the gift — knowing about it isn’t enough.
    (John 1:12, Acts 16:31, Ephesians 2:8-9)

The day is coming, we’re all going to face death and God on that day. You will have to give an account of your life. You either lived it to yourself or hidden in Jesus.

What will your final decision be? Remember, you don’t know when your final breath will come. Don’t wait too late.

— Pastor Rick

In a Better Place

I come across many people who say things like “Well, he’s in a better place,” when one of their friends or family member passes away. It insinuates they believe in a place we call heaven. To them it’s a place after death where they will gather with all their friends and family who have passed before them. They believe when you take your last breath here, you open your eyes to a great reunion filled with peace and happiness; or maybe angels, harps, and lots of clouds; or maybe a loud raucous party with a band and plenty of laughter — but most definitely all their friends will be gathered round as they celebrate being back together once again.

They believe everything wrong in this life will then be made better. It’s heaven, after all! In that immediate moment they will be filled with bliss, hugging and loving their long-lost relatives and friends. And yet while believing in this version of the afterlife, so many also deny there is a God. How can this be? Who could create heaven but God? More importantly, are the folks that pass away truly ‘in a better place?’

Interestingly only God could create a place called heaven [spoiler alert: He did] and people can go there when they die. The sad truth, however, is many do not — and that is of their own choosing.

The question I have is why would their choice be to turn their backs to Giver of the gift? You can only claim ignorance until the moment you face Him, but in the words of an old Christian rock song: “everyone will have to choose whether they will win or lose; follow God or sing the blues; and who they’re gonna sin with.”

And that’s the real bottom line. Romans chapter 1 clearly talks about God’s fingerprints are on everything everywhere and yet people make the choice to not even consider Him, let alone surrender their hearts and worship Him. Verse 21 of that same chapter says in their refusal to acknowledge God, their thoughts became futile, and their hearts were darkened. The next verse is even more to the point:

Romans 1:22
Professing to be wise, they became fools. (NKJV)

In their ignorance they gave up wisdom for foolishness. They were forced to realize life is bigger than them and instead of turning to a God who loves them, they opted to love themselves; they chose to love the created rather than the creator. They made themselves to be as God thinking their opinions on what is right or wrong was accurate and just. Morality, to them, is subjective, and could change if it suited the moment or person. “Your truth is true for you,” may be the most ignorant and illogical claim one can make. Something is either true or it is not. And those that argue against such are in complete denial of reality.

Submitting to a higher Authority, a moral code above mankind is daunting and always leaves us in a lurch. Wanting justice towards others while justifying our own actions is definitely our human nature (and a poor one at that). Everyone wants justice for evil done against them, but no one wants justice for their own evil. That would force them to examine their lives against an absolute moral standard. How would their life measure up to a standard above their own and knowing they could never attain? Like the student nearing the end of the semester, they know the grades are coming soon and they get that gut angst wondering if they “made the grade”. If they were their own judge and jury, they’re a sure thing for heaven. But the moral standard is not flexible and is not up to each individual’s whim — where would justice be for that type of life? Foolishness. You cannot have heaven and deny the maker of it. Nor can you attain heaven without surrendering to the One who created it. God doesn’t allow trespassers.

There are only two types of people who get the golden ticket to heaven: perfect people and forgiven people. Here are a few bullet points for clarity on this train of thought:

  • All have sinned (Romans 3:23). Jesus was the only One that was perfect. You’re not.
  • The wages of sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23). That’s a paycheck I’d like to avoid!
  • Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 3:16-17; John 14:6). Can’t be clearer than that.
  • It’s not about good outweighing bad (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s about faith, not works – you boaster.
  • God loves you (Romans 5:8). We so egregiously don’t deserve it which makes His grace amazing!

People often “try Christianity” for a while, but never truly surrender their heart. Romans 10:9-10 makes it abundantly clear it’s not like a 30-day money back guarantee. It is a complete surrender of you to Him. 

Romans 10:9-10
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (NKJV)

I talk to people who believe God is in the condemning business based on people’s lifestyles and choices. God is not in the condemning business, but is instead, in the redeeming business.

John 3:17 says God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. You see it’s your sin that condemns you; He didn’t need to. Apart from Jesus you have no hope. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

But in Him you can be forgiven, redeemed, restored, delivered, set free, given a new heart. A new heart that desires to serve Him from a position of gratitude and adoration – not from obligation or a change of mind. That is one of the primary differences between Christianity and all the world’s religions: the change is from the inside-outwards, not things done on the outside in order to change what’s inside.

Sadly, and tying back into the opening paragraph, when people pass away, they may not be in a “better place”. In the afterlife (which we each will face) there is only heaven or hell. God desperately desires you spend eternity with him in heaven but will not force you to go. 

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJV)

He loved you enough to pay the price and do everything needed so you could be forgiven and go to heaven. If you make the choice to say ‘no’ to Jesus, there is only one other option: hell. Its real, it wasn’t made for you, and it is far worse than what you’ve been told. But God made a way, and His name is Jesus. Every person alive will someday pass away. I will. You will. Your friends and family will.  Each of us will have to make a choice and that decision is inescapable because you don’t know your expiration date, but it’s coming. If you wait until after your last breath it will be too late.  The choice is yours. What will you do with it?

— Pastor Rick

Prayparing for Ministry

prayerBefore beginning any work great or small, preparation is crucial. You don’t tear out a wall in your home without first giving consideration to many things. Is it a load-bearing wall? What is my end goal? Do I have the money and/or skill to finish the project after its started? Will it enhance or inhibit any future resale value? For me, I have to wonder if it will it surprise my wife? In a good way (this time)? All to say, as Jesus did in Luke 14, “Did you run the numbers?” (Rick’s paraphrase)

This calling which my wife and I are walking was put into my heart some 40 years ago with very little fruit to show until just recently. I’m ashamed to say that. I look at some seasons in my life and wonder why I doubted so much. Why was life harder than my faith? I can say with some certainty the answer was often a lack of prayer. It wasn’t that my heart wasn’t filled with good intentions, but without a solid prayer life I had a less focused direction — like an unchecked compass in my life. I knew the Lord, I was His. And I knew His calling, but I was still too full of self and not enough Him.

I still see so much weakness and failure in me, but even at those, I’m trusting God’s grace to do this work and make up for my lack. Maybe it took me realizing I couldn’t do this on my own. Ishmael’s. I talk of them often because I’ve had so many Ishmael moments in my life. Those are the regrets. Those are the shameful moments where I did what I thought was right rather than praying about it and seeking God’s mind about them.

Luke 14:28-29
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him

Counting the cost begins with talking with the Master Builder. The next step isn’t costly to Him, but to us. His resources are unlimited. Jesus is asking the multitudes in the passage from Luke if they are willing to forsake everything to follow Him. Will they lay down their lives and pick up His cross? In that same vein, have you realized the cost, personally, to live for Him? So many times, we haven’t.

People often try on Jesus like we would try on a new clothes from a department store. “How do I look in this? Does this color look ok on me? Does this make me look fat? I’m going for a new look.” What if that new look looked like Jesus? Have you counted the cost?

What if your family hates your decision to become a Christian or if they think your love of the Savior is a bit radical or fanatical? What if your friends drop you from their circle because, man, you got all ‘religiousy’? What if family members stop talking to you altogether because of your faith? In the United States I don’t think much of this happens. In other countries, people who get saved risk their very life for doing so.

Being prayed up means you’re in a better spiritual position to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Your heart is already bent towards Him from the time you’ve spent talking with the Lord. You’re allowing Him to change you piece-by-piece into His image for His glory. As your walk and prayer life grows you tend to care less about the things of earth and more of the things that are important to the Father. The whole “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” starts to make a bit more sense. But don’t expect others to see or understand it.

Being prayed up puts us in the precise posture for serving, loving, witnessing, and delighting in the Lord. I love how Pastor John Piper calls Christian Hedonism: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Today I find myself a bit melancholy at time wasted, yet am more determined than ever to let the Lord redeem my time as He did my soul. Maybe the correct word isn’t melancholy as much as sobering. I choose to be filled with the Spirit of God and get His mindset rather than intoxicated at the world’s follies. In that process I’m finding myself completely satisfied and delighted in Him. That makes the cost Jesus spoke about inconsequential to me. I’m ready, Lord. And where I’m not, get me ready. I’m Yours.

If each day of the week were the equivalent of a decade in my life — and I’m promised 70 years, then its Friday night for me. That thought alone is sobering. May my “Saturday” be filled with all the harvest I had hoped for and more. When my week is up I want the Lord to say, “You did good, son. I’m well pleased with the end result.”

In order for the Lord to prepare me for this ministry, I must be praypared.

— Pastor Rick

Sometimes By Step

I love the song Sometimes By Step by Rich Mullins from his album The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2. It’s a song about seeing the vastness of what’s around us and then the immense righteousness of God and how both always feel like they’re just out of reach. And His righteousness is out of our reach. If we were required to reach to the heavens to grasp God’s righteousness, we would fall so far short. Grace would be unattainable. Mercy would be just a sad dream of a hopeless man.

Decades ago, God touched my heart when I thought I was out of reach. I was a teenager having moved to a new area of the country, no friends, and hated the life I was being told to live. But God used a neighbor to touch my heart. And so it was, on one summer night, I bowed my heart to the Maker of the Universe and cried out for His help. He was out of my reach, beyond my grasp. But I was not out of His reach. Through my neighbor faithfully sharing the gospel, I came to Jesus. I was irredeemable on my own merits, but Jesus applied His merits to my life. He paid a debt I couldn’t from a love I never thought possible. Who loves things that are worthless?

I found out over the years (and truthfully, I’m still discovering) what I thought was worthless was an accurate statement when left to my own devices. A lump of clay is just a lump of clay. But in the hands of a master that lump of clay can become a masterpiece. An ugly mound of clay, in the right hands, can be turned into a beautiful work of art.

Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)
To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for His own glory.

To me my life seemed a doomed shipwreck until He reached me. I’m still learning that it’s all about Him. My life is all about His glory. And in His infinite love for something the world found worthless, He had other designs and plans for me that would ultimately bring Him glory.

Life has had its share of trials and turns, roadblocks and frustrations, but here I am still serving Him 43 years later. Mistakes filled with brokenness and shame fill my past and yet God is faithful even when we are not. That spiritual lump of human clay claimed by God in the summer of 1979 is still being worked and changed, molded, and made. I look in the mirror and I still see so much of me and not enough of Him. The miracles He does in the lives of people isn’t always completed in an instant. Sometimes it’s ‘by step’. One after another and mostly in the right direction.

Romans 2:4 (NKJV)
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance

After a time of completely living for myself a couple of decades ago and then feeling unusable, the Lord spoke to me and drew me back to Himself in His mercy and love (Romans 2:4). He reminded me of the call placed on my life so many years before. I’m taking steps by faith, trusting Him to lead me. Are they all correct? Is each step in alignment with His divine direction? OH, how I wish. But they are all in the same direction. They are all made with the heart of wanting Jesus lifted up and glorified in my words and deeds. His grace makes up for the lack of perfection in the timing or administrations of my steps.

The recent undertakings my wife and I have made since starting this church in our home a year ago are things He spoke to me decades ago. It didn’t work then (timing is important – read the story of Abraham for example), but I’m seeing God’s hand moving beyond my abilities and talents. God is connecting hearts that seek revival in our community where we’re called to minister. Someone recently told me, “I’m not good at what you’re doing.” I laughed. Neither am I, but I’m stepping out by faith in the One who called me. I have this drive in me that is very much tempered by my own failures of the past and forged with Holy Spirit reminders of His love and direction.

If you read this, know that more details will be forthcoming over the next few weeks and months. God is working, moving, and connecting. The last ten years have been a time of waiting, maturing, preparing for such a time as this. The vision the Lord gave me is so much bigger than me. Thankfully, or I would try to do it in my own strength. I’ve had enough stench-filled failures in my past. But now I’m trusting Him with every aspect of this ministry including His timing. Each day is a new day to pray, listen, obey. And then follow as closely as I can … by step.

Pastor Rick

Five

Five smooth stones, carefully selected by a future King David, to take down Goliath? Well, that story could be told here. Five loaves (served with two fish) to five thousand+ ? That story could be told here, too. So what does it mean then if not those two or a myriad of other biblical examples? Five days.

For the last five years we have been praying about when and where to start the church God spoke to me about so very long ago. In five days we will be having our first church service. It won’t be like any regular church service, though truthfully, I have no idea what to expect. Like Peter, I’m being encouraged to step out of my proverbial boat. I’m not sure what all to expect, but I’m being faithful to the calling and am preparing as much as I know how.

We’ll have some people to the house, break bread (potluck fellowship) and then break open the Bread and see what God does. I’m excited. Do I have concerns? Sure. Who wouldn’t? But I’m trusting God in the small things and hope that I never get to a place where I’m less trusting in His leading or provision.

It’s not just in the how, but the who. I’ve been specific in who I’ve asked to be part of this work. Intentional. These are people that are special to me, not already active members in a church (save a couple of folks – myself included). I asked these prayerfully to consider being part of this start. Beginings are exciting, but they’re not for the faint of heart. After the initial ‘newness’ wears off, the real work begins. And yet it’s not my work or theirs. It’s His. All He’s calling us to do is be faithful to Him and usable by Him.

This coming Sunday evening will be our first service. It won’t be traditional nor are we going to be in a traditional setting. It’s in our home (though we are casually looking for a building – it’s just not a necessity yet). Will there be music? Who knows? There won’t be “preaching” because it’s not the atmosphere for it. Those days will come, but for now it’s about discipleship. Teaching, leading, caring, loving.

We’ll have an eclectic group of people and a wide age range. The kids will stay in the room with the ‘grups’ and absorbing the Word and environgment as a family would and should. I’ve been preparing the message(s) for quite awhile and the Lord has been gently nudging me in areas where I might want to go deeper than I could or shallower than I should. He knows in advance who all will be here and His heart is to meet their needs where they are. I just want to be a usable and effective conduit of His mercy and grace. Those are the same attributes of His nature He reminds me of daily.

In many ways I’m reminded of a time when I was 13. We had just moved to the area and I went with a friend to a local public pool. After watching those jumping from the high-dive, including my neighborhood friend, Mike, I made the climb up the ladder. It was probably only about 15 foot high, but it might as well have been 50. After trembling on the inside, I managed to make the jump. It wasn’t great to watch – arms and legs aren’t supposed to flail that much, but I survived and was determined to go again. It was exhilerating even if it wasn’t much to watch. In those awkward, clumsy moments, my friends were laughing and smiling – not at me, but with me. And when this work starts all I really want is my Father to be smiling. The rest of the ‘how’ won’t seem all that important.

— Pastor Rick

It Always Comes Back to Grace

graceFor me, the Lord always brings me back to grace.  His grace.  No matter where I’m at and no matter how “good” in my Christian walk I feel I’m doing, its by His grace.  I love this word because God’s grace is the manifestation of His love poured out — and Jesus is Grace personified.  We have nothing apart from His grace.  We are nothing apart from His grace.

As I wipe the slumber from my eyes several verses quickly come to mind of His grace and how they apply to my life.  None can be more special (to me) than this one:

Ephesians 2:8-9 — For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

We look at faith as the basis of our salvation, but we access faith through the catalyst of His grace.

2 Corinthians 12:9 — 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (ESV)

Sometimes we don’t feel we’ll make it.  Those problems or difficult seasons seem to overwhelm us. But His grace will sustain us in and through those times as we press into Him.

Romans 3:23-24 — for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (ESV)

Justified. MADE in right standing and without sin.  Made just.  I heard an old preacher teach it: Just if I’d (never sinned). I couldn’t earn it. I couldn’t buy it.  I’m not smart enough to merit it. It’s only because of God’s love and grace extended to me (and you).

1 John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus. Full of grace and truth and love for you. YOU were the reason He went to the cross.  He loves YOU.

Acts 6:8 — Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

Like Stephen, we will see His grace effectual in our lives when we live surrendered to Him.

Ephesians 4:7 — But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

I got mine, you have yours, but all from the same Giver.  It reminds me of when my parents would by me and my siblings clothes.  They paid for them all, but they weren’t all identical.  My clothes fit me and my sisters clothes fit them.  In the same way God’s grace for me is still grace, but suited to me and my own personal struggles. If you don’t have an issue with an over-developed sweet tooth, then His grace given to me to help fight against that inclination wouldn’t benefit you much.

Hebrews 4:16 — Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

This confidence in which we can approach Him is solely through His grace. We have nothing in ourselves worthy of approaching God except through the work of Christ Himself which He extends towards us. Need mercy? You can ask because of Jesus.  Need grace to help?  You can ask because of Jesus.

James 4:6 — But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

It’s not about looking the part. There are so many actors pretending to be Christians. God has x-ray eyes, so to speak, and can see when you’re putting on a front.  He’s looking for people who realize apart from Him they are useful to no one – especially the Lord. Seek Him from a humble heart and the grace you need in the good and bad is readily yours through Him.

Romans 6:14 — For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

The struggle can be real.  Do you have things, habits, weaknesses in your life that you’d like to see eradicated?  Strongholds that you seem to struggle with sometimes daily?  The redemptive work of the Cross is complete. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it. Done.  Fin.  And yet you quickly can recall that last major failing.  The promises (if even only internal) that you wouldn’t be harsh or judge or react impatiently or [fill in the blank] … they haunt us. We go from praytime highs to sinful woes.  But it is His grace that can set us free from the vicious cycle of our old sin nature. Change is a process as is taking a shower.  Not everything becomes squeaky clean immediately and it’s God that is cleaning us from the inside out. Grace also gives us the courage/discipline to never give up seeking His change within knowing full well the outward is changing, too.

Romans 11:6 — And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Works are such a dangerous thing to practice or to thrust on someone else. Works will never change our heart. However His grace changes us inwardly and works become a by-product of the changed heart.  So don’t even try to good works?  Heavens no, but realize it’s not the work that saved you — it was His grace. And it’s that same grace that will continue to work His attributes and characteristics inwardly when we are in relationship with Him.

My prayer for you is that His grace will fill your eyes, heart and spirit with wonder. It is His grace that will carry you and sustain you when everything else fails.  In the best of times or the worst, it is His grace poured out over you that can and will lift your soul. Be mindful to take your eyes off your situation, problem, or heartache and place it on Jesus, the Lover of your soul, who by Grace offers you salvation, peace and hope.

Now the tough part — extend that grace, through Him, to someone in your life.  Gifts like these are too good to keep to ourselves.

— Pastor Rick