Renewed by the Equation

The Bible in 27 minutes.  A month ago, I accomplished my goal of summarizing the biblical account (Genesis to Revelation) in twenty-seven minutes.  Rabbit Creek Church - Bible 101.   With whiteboard marker in hand and digital clock setting the pace, I began with "In the beginning God" and closed with "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." 

Those bookend phrases of the Bible set the stage and close the curtain.
  "In the beginning God" sets the stage by establishing the truth that before all things, God was.

The grammar critic in me cringes at ending that last sentence with a passive verb.  I could, appropriately, add a word to follow - such as mighty, or eternal, or great, or creative.  Clearly, the Bible itself continues the sentence.

Nevertheless, I contend that a pause at "wa
s" proves beneficial.  A pause at "was" draws our attention to the utterly important understanding that all things find their root and meaning in God (with the exception of evil).

You and I belong in the category of "all things."
  Therefore, with God as our rest and source of meaning, the only way we will discover our reason for being and our significance is to seek His leadership (Lordship) in our lives. 

Two sentences from the Bible reveal the equation for a successful search. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
All sincere seekers of God long to know and live His will.  Most sincere seekers struggle to find it. 

It is for those reasons that I greatly appreciate the clarity of 12:2 - especially the "then you." 
"Then you" tells me that what follows "you" depends on what precedes "then."
Here's the equation:
To solve that equation, we need to identify the ways in which we tend to conform to the world.  In what ways do you tend to conform?
  • Spending too much time doing less than important things?
  • Viewing things that your eyes need not see?
  • Speaking words that hurt rather than help?
  • Talking more than you listen?
  • Seeking revenge rather than restoration?
  • Celebrating another's defeat rather than supporting the weak?
  • Cashing in rather than helping those in need?
  • Aiming to be first while forgetting the value of last?
A transformed mind minus those things leads to knowing God's will. 


We Said Never

"We will never . . ."  One must be wary of starting sentences, particularly proclamations, with such words.  

When our three children were much younger, my wife and I (with every intent of following our own words) said something to the effect of "We will never become one of those families who is overly busy."

I can almost hear you laughing.

Our proclamation, while heartfelt, gradually became void. 

Today we commit to necessities such as work, education, and involvement in our faith community.  We also engage in other good things such as musical instrument lessons, sports, exercise, dance, and Scouts.  Add to those necessities and good things the everyday activities such as laundry, lunch-making, carpooling, grocery shopping, and house tending.  The hours disappear rapidly.   

"We will never" transferred into "Yes, are we ever!"

So now is the time to reset. 
Now is the time to reflect. 
Now is the time to rest.

How's your "we will never" holding up? 

If you relate to my family's situation, you recognize your own need for a reset, some reflection, and a rest.  May I suggest (and I assume I may) that you join my family and me in this exercise?  Will you take time to analyze your use of time? 

As an example of things to consider, think about Saturdays.  In an early morning men's group (we meet early so we don't take away from other good things) in which I participate, a friend reminded us that fathers have just over 400 Saturdays to spend with their sons and daughters before the kids "leave the nest."  He challenged us to use our Saturdays wisely. 

God, who calls us to surrender our everyday, ordinary lives to Him, gives us, as part of those days, time to spend with those we love.  After all, God established family! 

So join me in considering our use of time.  Pay attention to your findings and adjust accordingly.  Be wary of "never" for we will never completely get it right, but keep the "we will."  It's a great start!


Jesus Smiles, Too

Two weeks ago, most Alaskans smiled - even if their face smiled for the first time since October of 2017.  On October 4th of this year, Alaskans smiled as $1600 (multiplied by the number of members of their household) entered their bank accounts.  Anticipating those smiles, retailers have been encouraging the recipients to spend, spend, spend. 

How do Alaskans use their PFDs (Permanent Fund Dividends, not Personal Flotation Devices)?

They . . .

  • buy airline tickets to Hawaii
  • buy the "toy" they've always wanted (usually involving a motor and/or tires)
  • put the funds toward a debt
  • save for a kid's college expenses
The options are many. 

Now, unless living in sub-freezing temperatures and icy conditions count toward "earnings," I do not earn the PFD.  No one does.  I receive my PFD.  Alaskans do.

In the New Testament letter Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote . . .

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 (NIV)

One can think of the gift of eternal life as the ultimate PFD.  I do not earn eternal life.  No one does.  I receive salvation.  Followers of Jesus do.

Jesus came into the world to bring His people life, eternal and abundant.  By "His people," I mean those individuals who have joined the family of God by declaring Jesus as Lord and believing (trusting) in Him.

How do Christians (followers of Jesus) use their salvation?

They . . .

  • live with gratitude
  • spread joy to those who need it
  • put their gifts (spiritual and natural) to work
  • tell others about the love of Jesus

Each Sunday that a girl or boy or woman or man receives baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (thus indicating that they love Jesus and have received His salvation), the people of Rabbit Creek Church smile.  I believe that Jesus smiles, too.  Most gift-givers do.


Broken Windows

Last Christmas a couple of men broke one of my office windows in order to burglarize our church.  They walked away with a computer and a couple of tablets.  In between the breaking, the entering, and the leaving, they dug through my desk - taking nothing.  They left my many books on the shelves.

Just a few days ago I learned from another pastor that during this past summer, an unknown number of people broke into their church as well.  In similar fashion, probably because the perpetrators were the same as those from our Christmas break-in, they searched his office.  They did, however, do one thing that was different.  They dumped his books on the floor.  That causes me to wonder - if they were indeed the same thieves, why did they leave my books alone and dump his? 

Based on speculation alone, I reason that they grew more confident during the approximately six-month period between the burglaries.  They felt confident enough to stay a few extra minutes and cause damage - just for the fun of it. 

Windows are fixed.  Computers are replaced.  And books sit nicely on their shelves.  However I still wonder why the presumably young thieves targeted our churches and took time to cause harm. 

While I will most likely never know their exact reasoning, I trust that I know a deeper reality.  Namely, each person (including the one writing this) is capable of taking actions that are selfish as well as harmful to others. 

Most of us will not break the windows on churches and steal church items, but do we break relationships because of hurt feelings?  I have never thrown a person's books on the floor, yet I have harbored anger toward one whose words caused me deep concern and self-pity. 

We don't break in and enter the property of others on Christmas Day, but do you recall when you rejected the opportunity to invite someone onto your property and into your home?

Perhaps you are familiar with these words of Paul.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
Romans 8:22-24 (NIV)
When people break windows (actually and metaphorically) in my life, I know the reason.  When I break windows, I recall that "all have sinned" includes me.  It is then that I best understand and fully appreciate "his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  

The faulty way of others and the foolish ways of our own provide a time either to give way to anger (at them; at ourselves) or once again show our appreciation to God for His grace.  I suggest the latter.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)


Times Are A-Changin'

Recently my daughter and I went to one of our local theaters to watch "Incredibles 2."  Bob, aka Mr. Incredible, learns the demands of caring for children - his children.  During the portrayal of his learning, we watch as Bob and Huck, aka Dash, struggle with completing school homework, particularly "new math."  At precisely the same moment, my daughter and I exchanged grins and muffled laughs as we recalled a time when that fictional scene was truly non-fiction in our family.

I love the English language and the use of it in writing and reading.  I do not, however, care much for math.  I was encouraged by the news years ago that my degree plan in college required only one math class.  However, to my dismay, they (whoever "they" are) changed math!  Not only did they change math, but they also required new methods of finding the same answer that the old way found just as well. 

As much as I enjoy English, I equally enjoy routine.  Therefore, for me, change is not easy. 

With that said, we live in a changing world.  I will do well to find more comfort with that fact.  When I especially notice the fast-paced change that occurs around me, I take heart in remembering a never-changing fact.  God does not change.  The psalmist makes the point.

God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
Psalm 55:19a (NIV)
James sings the same tune.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17 (NIV)
Shifting shadows - Perhaps no other combination of two words better expresses the condition of our world.  Peter Pan was weary of his shadow.  Likewise, shadows of most types bother us immensely.  Yet, the Father of lights who sent the Light of the world to us brings light into the darkness of our shadows and comforts us in our experiences of change.

Thankfully, after receiving some feedback from teachers, parents, and students, the school (at least the one my child attends) returned to the "old" math.  Perhaps the new math was worth a try, but I'm glad it did not stick. 

You might be fortunate and have the change you experienced "unchange."  Or you might be forced to choose whether you will embrace the new.  Regardless - know that while some "news" will return to "olds" and some "news" will hold their ground, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in this world of shifting shadows there is One who never changes.

James said it oh so well - "Every good and perfect gift is from above."