Gelatinous Goo, Gratitude, and Grace

 

I had heard the rumors.

 

Word on the street was the next shortage we would endure as a result of the on-going pandemic was a lack of jellied cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.

 

Now, I can say with a fairly clear conscience that I’m probably not guilty of idolatry when it comes to this particular food item, but it has been a traditional part of my family’s holiday festivities as far back as I can remember. And I am not alone. First produced in 1941, Ocean Spray currently sells 70 million cans of the stuff every year. That comes out to one can for every family in America. 

 

At right around $1.50 per can, it’s the everyman’s holiday condiment. Is it a condiment? Is it even a sauce? Does it defy description? Did you know it takes 220 berries to make each can?

 

With all the time and effort put into our holiday banquets, why is this log-shaped, garnet-colored, jiggling gelatinous goo such an institution? It’s virtually an icon, but there it sits in the midst of all the carefully-prepared Thanksgiving feast items –unceremoniously dumped out of its can, unheated, uncooled, unprepared and retaining the shape of the very can it came out of.

 

Nobody ever modifies it, changes it, or glorifies it in any way. It’s not even worthy of a spritz of aerosol whipped cream or a sprig of parsley. 

 

We eat two, maybe three spoonfuls of the stuff before it bleeds into the mashed potatoes or the stuffing and we are good for the remaining 364 days of the year. It’s tasty and things just wouldn’t be the same without it but absolutely no one has ever uttered the words, “Wow! The jellied cranberry sauce was especially good this year! Great job Uncle Bert!” 

 

And we ask Uncle Bert to bring the cranberry goo every year because we know he hasn’t got a lot of money and the last time we asked him to bring something that required actual cooking skills to prepare, he brought a pumpkin pie from the supermarket freezer case he didn’t realize had to be cooked before being served.

 

He still apologizes for that every year.

 

Well, as it turns out, there was no shortage of cranberry goo this year. There were plenty of cans on the shelf, even with only three days before Thanksgiving. 

 

But the repeated lesson of the pandemic is not lost on me. I am learning, over and over again, to be grateful for even the smallest, most humble blessings I have. 

 

As I heard the Kinship Christian Radio News Director Jay Rudolph say on air today, “Gratitude is the opposite of sinful pride.”

 

So, yes, I am grateful for this simple, humble, and delicious reminder of all the Thanksgivings past, the present Thanksgiving, and all those Thanksgivings (God willing) to come.

 

Someone asked today which of all God’s qualities we are most grateful for. 

 

I consider the question impossible to answer, as it required me to somehow describe an indescribable God. But, as I ponder it, of all His qualities, the greatest is His love. Now, I know that’s the Sunday School answer. It’s the one that comes most easily and first to mind –and well it should! For the love of God is what defines Him. It is His pre-eminent, essential quality. It is a love so great, so wide, so high, so deep, it defies all description. Trying to describe God’s love is like trying to describe infinity. It is boundless, magnificent, glorious, endless, reckless, ferocious, tender, raging, beautiful, reckless, uncompromising, bold. It is as loud as the roar of the ocean and as quiet as a breeze whispering through the pines. It is everywhere at every time in every place. It is present in the makeup of every molecule, every atom, every particle in all the infinite vastness of the universe.

 

And all that infinite, indescribable love was wrapped in flesh and came to the earth in the person and being of Jesus Christ. All that love took on flesh, walked among us, and gave Himself for us that love and mercy and grace would restore us to fellowship, to a relationship with God the Father, that we could once again be restored and adopted into His own family as heirs of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

 

And I am like that can of cranberry goo. I am nothing special. I am not worthy of any glory or honor of my own. No spritz of aerosol whipped cream on my head. Not even a sprig of parsley behind my ear. But here I am, jiggling on the plate surrounded by a banquet I am not worthy to attend. 

 

And yet, I am loved. A place has been prepared for me in the midst of all of this. I am welcome at this feast fit for a king –the King of kings.

 

I am welcome at the Throne of Grace.

 

Today’s Praise

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16(KJV)

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

With Share-A-Thon just ended and Thanksgiving just around the corner, it seems that this is a natural and fitting time to reflect on all our blessings with a deep mixture of thanks and praise.

 

I don’t know if it was just me, or if others noticed it too, but it seemed that there was an extra measure of generosity and joy among Kinship Christian Radio supporters this year. I know the Holy Spirit gently nudged me to donate just a little extra this year and it brought me great joy to do so.

 

There’s actually kind of a funny story behind my “extra” donation. The rear windshield wiper on my 12 year-old vehicle had been getting slower and slower. Eventually, it stopped working altogether. I checked on the price of a new wiper motor and was somewhat shocked. (When I use the words “somewhat shocked” I mean it was high enough that I went without it for a year rather than shell out that kind of cabbage.)

 

Last week was rainy and snowy and sleety and it sure would have been nice to have a clearer view out that back window, so I waded through the various car parts web sites and found one for about $150. I didn’t like doing it, but there comes a time when enough is enough and I’ve had too much. (Yes, that last bit is a quote from Popeye the Sailor Man.)

 

Last Thursday was the day before the wiper motor was scheduled to ship, and I was doing some research online on how to install it. I was surprised to find more than one reference to people being able to simply lubricate the bearing (Yes, WD-40® to the rescue.) where it passed through the rear window and solve the problem. I tried it on my lunch break and, LO and BEHOLD, it worked! In fact, it worked better than when I had bought the vehicle 80,000 miles ago. 

 

So, immediately after lunch, I went online and cancelled that brand-new wiper motor I no longer needed. 

 

Later that day, as I was driving through the drizzle to offer my volunteer services at the Kinship office in Blue Earth –and happily enjoying a clear view out my rear window– when Executive Director Matt Dorfner announced that a very generous faith couple had offered a $52,000 Matching Faith Promise. Almost immediately, a little voice in my head said, “Hey, I should donate $100.”

 

And the rear wiper went, “swish-swish.”

 

And the little voice said just a little louder, “Make it $152.”

 

And I smiled and said, “Yes, yes I will Lord.” 

 

That kind of giving is just fun. I love how the Lord works. There is such joy in getting a glimpse of what God does and how He works although we cannot in this lifetime fully know how grand and excellent are all his plans and purposes.

 

And, apparently, I’m not the only one whom the Lord of all that is and was and ever will be nudged to the joy of grateful giving.

 

If you check this page right here https://kinshipradio.org/home/shareathon2021landing/ and do a little math you will see that total donations to the Kinship Christian Radio ministry exceeded two-thirds of a million dollars!

 

HALLELUJAH!!

 

That’s a lot of Holy Spirit gentle nudging going on! 

 

Now of course, that’s not quite enough to pay all the bills all year long, but you can still donate (on the page I linked above) and the Lord does nudge others to provide for the ministry all year long.

 

The astounding part is that while some ministries are experiencing a drop in donations as a result of the current pandemic, the loyal listeners of Kinship Christian Radio have been faithful and generous with giving to support the radio ministry.

 

So as we ponder how much God loves us and pours out His generosity on us and the ministries that bless us, I’d like to share some quotes on the subject of gratitude:

 

He who would serve God must begin by praising God, for a grateful heart is the mainspring of obedience. We must offer the salt of gratitude with the sacrifice of obedience; our lives should be anointed with the precious oil of thankfulness. As soldiers march to music, so while we walk in the paths of righteousness we should keep step to the notes of thanksgiving. Larks sing as they mount, so should we magnify the Lord for his mercies while we are winging our way to heaven. –Charles Spurgeon.

 

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm 50:23 (ESV)

 

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K Chesterton.

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 (ESV)

 

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –also G.K Chesterton.

 

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 (ESV)
“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.” –William Shakespeare.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” –Charles Dickens

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 (ESV)

 

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” –Karl Barth

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence…changing forever how we experience life and the world.” –John Milton

 

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6 -7 (NLT)

 

“Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen.

 

True gratitude is not sporadic. It cannot be spent or exhausted. It is the transformation of a mind that is more grateful for the giver than for the gift, for the purpose than for the present, for life itself rather than for abundance. –Ravi Zacharias

 

Come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him. Psalm 95: 1-2 (NLT)

 

Today’s Praise

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)

For Such a Time

 

 

The theme for this year’s Kinship Christian Radio Share-A-Thon is “For Such a Time.” And, of course, that phrase originates with Esther 4:14:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NLT)

 

Those words were spoken to Esther by Mordecai, who had adopted her when her parents died and raised her as his own daughter. Through a series of events involving a week-long drunken party thrown by wealthy and powerful King Xerxes (who reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia) and the refusal of his queen, Vashti, to be paraded before the king’s friends as his beautiful possession, Esther had become Queen.

 

Queen Esther was in the unique position to be able to appeal to King Xerxes about a plot to kill every Jew in the kingdom on a certain date. She was afraid to go before the king, however, because anyone who appeared before the king without first being invited would be doomed to die unless the king held out his golden scepter.

 

At this point, it seems as if all hope could be lost. It looks like this could be a no-win situation with no chance for anything but a miracle to save the Jewish people.

 

But, Mordecai’s reply to Esther’s fears is anything but hopeless.

 

Essentially, Mordecai says God is going to save his people no matter what. He has absolute faith in God. And Esther, beautiful and gracious Queen Esther, has the opportunity to be used by God at this particular point, this exact time in history –if only she will overcome her fears, trust God, and go before the king.

 

As the book of Esther unfolds, we find that she does indeed go before the king and the Jewish people are saved, just as Mordecai said they would.

 

And the point is that you, along with Kinship Christian Radio, have come to wherever you are in your life for such a time as this.

 

God has a plan –and all of us are part of that plan.

 

When things look hopeless and messy and complicated and it looks like we are in the middle of a nasty, awful, no-win situation, each and every one of us can indeed go before not some earthly king, but the King of kings! The Bible says we can come before that throne boldly (Hebrews 4;16) and appeal to God Himself because Jesus made a way for us to do exactly that by His sacrifice on the cross.

 

And the glorious part of all this is that God planned it all from before the time when time began!

 

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:9  (NIV)

 

If you look up the meaning of the Greek words for what is translated here as “from before the beginning of time” the literal translation is “from before time eternal.”

 

We find the same phrase in Titus 1:2:

in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, (NIV)

 

So, as the events of Share-A-Thon unfold this Tuesday through Thursday, and you listen to the testimonials and the songs and all that takes place on Kinship Christian Radio, and the fellowship events the staff has planned (Shown here: https://kinshipradio.org/home/share-a-thon-events/ ), know that you are part of a plan God has had since before time began. Know that other people’s lives are being changed by God’s plan and the love of Jesus as it flows out from Kinship Christian Radio and the people who support it –all in God’s perfect timing.

 

Yes, everything around us points to a time of ever-increasing lawlessness, drama, and chaos. With every passing day, the signs grow increasingly greater that trumpets will sound and the sky will split open. But we also know that relief and deliverance will arise for all who are in Christ Jesus no matter how bad it looks right now and each of us has the choice to use the position we are in to participate in God’s glorious plan in such a time as this.

 

As that plan unfolds, brothers and sisters, Know that Jesus Loves You, that Jesus Is Alive, that Jesus Cares for You, Know Jesus’ Gospel Truth, Know that Jesus is Your Lord, and Know that the time is coming when Jesus Will Return.

 

Today’s Praise

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

What We Can’t Know

One of the common sayings in my family is, “I can’t know.”

 

It originated many years ago from a child. While most people would say, “I don’t know,” this little innocent more accurately denied not only knowing the answer, but the ability to know the answer.

 

And so, as of this writing on Wednesday evening, that is exactly where we are with the presidential election.

 

What will happen in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada? Who will be President of the United States of America? (aka “The United States of Anxiety.) Will there be civil unrest, violence, lengthy legal battles, etc?

 

At this point in time, we cannot know.

 

Yesterday, I thought I had the answer as to who would be President. The media and the pollsters were wrong in 2016, so I put little stock in their predictions. Then, I reasoned that there are some people who do this kind of thing for a living. I wondered if the odds-makers in Las Vegas, who wager on all kinds of things for their livelihood, had odds on the outcome of the Presidential race. 

 

Now, I am not a gambler. I quit that long ago shortly after the Minnesota State Lottery came out. I do know that the number one rule of gambling is never bet what you’re not comfortable losing. Well, if everything I have is a gift from God I am supposed to be a steward of it, then I am not comfortable losing any of it. So I bet none of it.

 

Nonetheless, I remembered the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. If you recall, a manager of a rich man’s money was about to be fired for wasting that money. So, he quickly contacted all of the people who owed his master money and gave them discounts on what they owed so the accounts would be settled and he would have people who owed him favors after he was fired. Then Jesus said:

“The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.” Luke 16:8 (NLT) 

 

So, now that I had a Biblical basis for my reasoning, I did a quick internet search and, sure enough, I found that for all of the daylight hours of November 3, the Las Vegas odds-makers had Joe Biden as the favorite to win the election. 

 

Throughout the early evening, as the voting results came in, the odds slowly began to shift until, at about 10:20 CST, the odds shifted in Donald Trump’s favor. 

 

When I woke up in the morning, lo and behold, Trump was still favored, but less so. Around 8:30 AM, the odds switched back to favor Biden.

 

Bottom line: As of this moment, I can’t know.

 

Sin City doesn’t know. The pollsters don’t know. The media does not know.

 

But God knows. 

 

Yes, God knows. 

 

We can know that there will probably be an abundance of drama and spectacle in the coming days. There is an almost certain chance that our nation will live out a political soap opera as the year draws to a close. 

 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that even when we can’t know, even when it seems there is no end to the drama and roller-coaster ride of our national amusement park and the swirling maelstrom of our moral morass, we can know that God is still in control.

 

No matter who sits in the Oval Office, Jesus is still King.

 

And those words on the tower above Kinship Christian Radio headquarters in Blue Earth have never been more true: 

 

JESUS IS LORD! 

 

I praise God for the vision of those words on that tower.

 

AMEN!

Today’s Praise

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; Daniel 2:21 (ESV)

The Indulgent Church

Instead of writing yet another blog about how we Christians should look upon and react to Halloween, how about we use October 31 to consider The Reformation?

 

As I’m sure the vast majority of you know, the Reformation all started 503 years ago when a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony, (Germany) in the Holy Roman Empire.

 

On that piece of paper were 95 theses, or statements, that Luther sought to debate with other theologians in the church. Many historians and scholars maintain that Luther was not intending to spark a revolution within the church at the time, but primarily to engage in a scholarly, theological discussion on the practice of selling indulgences.

 

For about two years prior to this (1516-1517), a Dominican friar named Johann Tetzel had been, under papal commission, selling indulgences in Germany to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

 

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of indulgences. The idea that a contribution to the work of the Lord (in this case rebuilding a church) could reduce one’s time in purgatory seems an alien concept to us now, but at the time was accepted theology. By the late Middle Ages, the sale of indulgences were used to fund charities, including hospitals. Eventually the sale of these elaborate pieces of paper became abused and commercialized. The church had attempted to curb these abuses prior to Martin Luther’s objections, but had not been unsuccessful. Fifty years after Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, the Roman Catholic Church did outlaw the sale of indulgences.

 

I write none of this to condemn or commend any of the current Christian denominations. To me, the sale of indulgences are what happens when the world gets into the Church –and the world can sidle its way into any denomination.

 

One has to admit that selling pieces of paper to reduce one’s punishment after death is a pretty effective way to raise money. The overhead is pretty low (paper and ink) and the recipient is quite happy with a product that never breaks down or goes out of warranty, or out of style. The customer base includes anyone who sins (everybody) and because you could even buy them for your dead relatives, demand would be virtually limitless. 

 

And, if you think about it, selling indulgences is a lot like the Prosperity Gospel: God wants to bless you with riches beyond your imagination. All you need is faith. If you don’t have the riches you deserve, you just need more faith –and you can demonstrate that faith by sending your favorite Prosperity Gospel preacher more money. 

 

The enemy of our souls and the world have been thinking of ways to corrupt and twist the Word of God since the very beginning. The arguments for both situations above, in essence, start with the very same thought, “Did God really say…”

 

So, it’s not a denominational problem. It’s a worldly problem. It’s a people problem and both examples above originate in a lack of trust in a God who can and does provide anything that is needed in any situation. We so often forget that God’s primary interest is in our everlasting souls. 

 

The love of money is indeed the root of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is not the root of all evil, as that verse is so often misquoted, but when people within the Church love money more than the souls of her people, the result is a church run for profit at the expense of the souls of her people.

 

And, if that church is successful in gathering together large amounts of money, it soon finds out that money is power –and, as so many have noted before, power corrupts. That’s why a theocracy is so frightening. It’s what is at the root of the founding of this very nation. 

 

We pray for God to give us our daily bread (Matthew 11: 3 and Luke 6:11) which harkens to God providing the manna on a daily basis with a command to the Israelites not to gather more than they needed for that day. (See Exodus 16.)

 

One of the most powerful scenes in the New Testament about money and the church takes place in Samaria:

A man named Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic.

But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the signs and great miracles Philip performed.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!”

But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.”

“Pray to the Lord for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things you’ve said won’t happen to me!” (Acts 8:9-24 NLT)

 

One might think that the more people who received the Holy Spirit, the better, but Peter saw that Simon’s heart was not focused on the kingdom of God and His glory, but on what it could do for his own fame and glory and power.

 

So, when it seems that God is limiting the resources of His people and His Church, we would do well to consider that He may very well be doing so to His glory and out of love for our immortal souls. When we do not have what we want, we may in fact be better off than if we had gotten it because what we want may be a very, very different thing than what our souls need

 

That’s why churches should not be run like a business –nor a like a government. 

 

The love of God is not a commodity that is bought and sold. The most precious, glorious, wonderful, amazing thing in all the universe is the one thing that becomes valueless when humanity puts a price tag on it. 

 

Today’s Praise

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NLT)

 

 

The Half-a-Donut Church

 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in a place not unlike Kinship Christian Radioland, there was a wonderful church that held a beautiful Easter Sunday Sunrise Service. After the service, in the church basement of course, they put on an Easter Sunrise Breakfast for anyone and everyone to attend. There would be milk and juice and coffee and perhaps some fresh fruit and eggbake (I’m pretty sure the recipe for eggbake is somewhere in the first part of Genesis, but I could not find it.) and donuts from a local bakery.

 

Now, I’m a big fan of deep-fried pastries with a hole in the center. My affection for them borders on the legendary. It’s not quite an obsession or an addiction, but if I was a fish and you had one of those chocolate-covered tractor wheel looking donuts on your hook, my only hope for survival would be catch-and-release. 

 

I tell you this to preface what happened in one particular Easter Sunday morning in the basement of that church. I was helping down in the kitchen and, just as the service upstairs was about to end and the fruit and beverages had all been set out and the eggbake was steamy hot and ready to serve, I found myself standing next to one of the dear Church Ladies with a knife in her hand standing at the counter cutting all of donuts in half!

 

I know. The very concept is horrific. 

 

At first I was speechless. As she continued in her relentless slicey mayhem, I managed to stutter, “Why….why are you cutting the donuts in half?”

 

“Some of us can’t eat a whole donut.”

 

And she didn’t stop until every single donut had been cleaved asunder.

 

I said no more to this Lizzie Borden of the donut world, but I have forever lamented that day. I have seethed at the thought.

 

By cutting each and every donut in half, she made every person who took more than a half a donut into a gluttonous fiend. She sent the message that we were the church of half-a-donut, unable to afford to give our guests on the occasion of the Savior of the World rising from the dead more than a measly sample –a half-measure of a full, unmolested, intact and unassailed donut. 

 

On the day when we celebrated the most glorious miracle in all of Christendom, this one lady had sent the message to people who perhaps only came to church twice a year that we serve not a God for whom absolutely nothing is impossible, but the God of half-a-donut.

 

The God who made the entire universe and everything in it. The God who split the sea and thundered from Mount Sinai, who made it rain for forty days and forty nights, whose glory is proclaimed by the stars and the planets and the galaxies, who is praised by everything that has breath –is that the God of half-a-donut?

 

For years, I pondered what I should have said to that dear Church Lady on that day.

 

And I have come to the conclusion that I should have said less than I did. 

 

In all of my ranting above, I have failed to consider that the lady cutting those donuts in half really was a child of God. Perhaps she really and truly believed in her heart of hearts that she was serving God in the best way possible. There is the distinct possibility that this lady actually and truly loved Jesus and was cutting those donuts in half out of love and service to others. There is also the distinct possibility that my ranting had its roots in Pharisaical pride and a fleshly lust for sugary carbs more so than in bringing glory to God.

 

When Luther wrote his Small Catechism, this is what he said about the eighth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

 

That is most definitely not the default setting of human beings. We seem to automatically jump to the worst possible conclusion when we hear anything about someone else. And we grow that and build that until we actually believe that people who disagree with us are not just wrong, but evil. In the meantime, we just can’t understand why those evil people think we are the evil ones.

 

And before you know it, there are all these wedges driven between us and there is so much animosity seething in our hearts we won’t even consider forgiving them or (heaven forbid) admitting our sin and asking for their forgiveness. 

 

And then one day, we look into the mirror and find we have actual contempt not just for fellow human beings who are made in the image of God, but for brothers and sisters in Christ. 

 

How will we be able to stand in heaven shoulder-to-shoulder with people for whom we have contempt? How can that work? Scripture is quite clear:

 

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20 (NIV)

 

In the light of that verse, maybe the solution is to love the donuts less and love each other more. 

 

Maybe the real enemy is not the lady cutting the donuts in half. 

 

Maybe God is more interested in churches where love is not chopped into pieces than churches where the donuts are whole. 

 

Today’s Praise

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. 1 John 5:1 (NLT)

 

Everything. Yes, Everything.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

 

Prior to Genesis 1:1, the material world did not exist. There was nothing. 

 

So, when God created the heavens and the earth, He created everything that is a thing. Nothing that could be seen with the eye, touched with the fingers, heard with the ear, smelled with the nose, or heard with the ear existed prior to that moment. 

 

Every single atom, every single electron, every proton, every neutron, every quark was created by God and He formed them all into elements, organisms, mountains, rivers, forests, jungles, oceans, planets, galaxies, the universe.

 

Every photon of light exists because He spoke it all into being. 

 

So, when the Bible says it all belongs to God, it ALL belongs to God.

 

Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. (Deuteronomy 10:14 ESV)

 

And yet, we like to act like there’s some line between the things of God and the things of man. Somehow, human beings came up with this word, “secular” which we define as, “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.”

 

Really? 

 

How can that be? If God created everything and it all belongs to God, how can anything have zero relationship to Him?

 

Sure, He gives us gifts which we steward and manage, but isn’t that because of His love and mercy and grace? Can we really and truly claim to have produced or created anything on our own?

 

Doesn’t He send the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike? Does He not feed and clothe and shelter even those who hate Him and/or deny Him? (Matthew 5:45)

 

Sometimes, it feels like we just – don’t – get – it.

 

Case in point: A brief news story on Kinship Christian Radio reported that a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 86% of Americans believe there is a lesson to be learned from the coronavirus outbreak.

 

About 35% say the lessons were sent by God, but 37% say the lessons were not sent by God. Another 13% do not believe in God, and 13% say there is no lesson to be learned.

 

So, I’m deeply concerned that a full one-eighth of the population believes there is nothing to learn here at all, my heart breaks for the one-eighth of the population who do not believe in God, and I am mouth-agape flummoxed by the 37% who say there are lessons to be learned here but God wasn’t at all involved.

 

Now, I know that there are people who believe that although God did create the universe and everything in it, He kind of wound it all up at creation and is just letting it tick-tock wind down like a watch without really being involved. 

 

That kind of theology has zero Biblical support and completely ignores the love of a God who would send His only Son to die for us, take away all our sin, and win for us eternal life. A worldview without Jesus in it makes no sense because without Jesus, we are dead in our sins.

 

It appears that the 37% who do believe in God but don’t think He is involved in the lessons we should learn think that God doesn’t really care. Either that, or they don’t want to attribute something they view as bad as having any connection to a good God. 

 

See, and that’s where we all get tripped up so easily. We look at things through the lens of this life while forgetting about the eternal perspective.

 

We stub our toe and curse God, never thinking that our aching toe is telling us to stop walking around in the dark. We never come to the conclusion that we should turn the light on for others so they don’t stub their toe in the dark. We curse the darkness never considering that God, acting through a whole bunch of people starting with a guy who was sick and tired of lanterns that burned kerosene or whale oil made light in the middle of night available to us by flipping a switch. 

 

When was the last time you or I praised God for a light bulb?

 

And, when you stop to consider that Thomas Edison didn’t even fully understand the physics of light, (and we still don’t) it’s even more amazing that we can recreate the very first thing God created pretty much whenever we want to. 

 

So, I am among the 35% who believe God is behind the lessons in this pandemic and the lesson becomes clearer and more succinct with each passing day –and it’s no different than the lesson Jesus taught us when He was here with us:

 

Love God and love each other.

 

There is no such thing as “the secular.” That concept cannot stand in the light of truth. We are eternal beings having a temporal existence here on this earth. Our purpose and our mission is to shine with the light of eternity which was made physical and real in its most ultimate sense in the being and person of Jesus Christ.

 

If anything is obvious from all this, it’s that we are nowhere without God. Everything is under His control and exists because He made it to be so. All of the stuff of this earth that diverts and distracts us from the truth of His sovereign love and power is and will amount to supreme nothingness. In the end, all that will remain is love. This earth will one day cease to exist, but love will remain.

 

Love is eternal. 

 

There will come a day when we have no more days to shine that light here on this earth. In the meantime, we must love well. We must be a people known by our love of God, of each other, of all people. 

 

Today’s Praise

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1: 3&4 (NIV)

Conflict Resolution, First Century Style

A lot of people seem to think this whole Christianity thing means that once you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, everybody gets along with everybody else from there on in and life is nothing but happy thoughts and roses.

 

If you believe that, I’ll be selling donuts with rainbow sprinkles next to the unicorn kissing booth in the narthex next Sunday morning. 

 

The truth is, even after we are saved, we are still human beings subject to a wide variety of sin and error. 

 

Somehow, we still have to work out our differences and disagreements.

 

Thankfully, Christian love and brotherhood should allow us to work out problems among ourselves without resorting to name-calling, animosity, or violence. The lack of those two things in our discourse as a nation has brought us to a point in our national history which is dangerously similar to the tone that enveloped the country prior to the Civil War. 

 

(The Salem Advocate, a newspaper from Abraham Lincoln’s home state of Illinois, wrote of him in 1861, “His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President.”)

 

Making matters even worse is the current pandemic, which has diminished meeting together and having the kind of conversations where we can come to understand each other and simply talk in Christian love and fellowship.

 

I think it’s safe to say there is no church or group of believers in the United States (and probably the vast majority of the world) which has not been affected by the pandemic in some way. 

 

So, how do we cope with this? 

 

Certainly, Kinship Christian Radio and all the other Christian radio stations all across the country, along with the online presence of churches and ministries all over the world continue to bring the Word of the Lord, music, praise, preaching, and the work of the Holy Spirit into people’s lives for guidance.

 

But is there a Biblical model for how we should deal with things when disagreements and arguments come up among us?

 

I think there is, and I think it is Acts 15:

 

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15: 1&2 NLT)

 

So, rather than argue among themselves, the church at Antioch sent a delegation to Jerusalem –the head of the newly-forming church. They needed a resolution and they realized it needed to come from a meeting of the whole church.

 

“When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses. So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.” (vss 4-6)

 

They had a clear objective to resolve this specific issue. There was one item on the agenda and one item only.

 

“At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus. Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. (vss 7-12)

 

Note that there was a long discussion. Everyone had their say. Peter rises and claims the Gentiles are receiving the very same Holy Spirit as the Apostles received at Pentecost. This is direct evidence that God is doing a work in them. Paul and Barnabas further verify this by telling of the miraculous signs and wonders God was doing through them among the Gentiles.

 

Now, looking back on this event with the hindsight of history, it’s easy to see that Paul and Barnabas and Peter were in the right, but keep in mind that both sides of the argument were legitimate points. God had clearly commanded in Genesis 17: 10-14 circumcision for all males born in Jewish households, including the servants, or they would be cut off from the covenant family. (The family of God.) God also made it clear that this was an everlasting covenant. 

 

Then James stands up. The brother of Jesus reminds the assembly of the prophecy that God would save Gentiles too. And then, he says,

 

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (vss 19-21)

 

In the end, the compelling arguments that lead to a decision were the direct evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work and the fulfillment of prophecy. It’s also important to note that James’ solution also includes a concession or a compromise (if you will) to those in the sect of the Pharisees that the Gentiles should obey some of the most important parts of the Law of Moses.

 

So, the Biblical model for resolving disputes within the church doesn’t mean we all simply agree with each other. There will be lengthy discussions which will indeed involve some passionate and even heated discourse. But in the end, the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s promises are there to show us and enable us to accept the decisions that we come to as a result of those discussions. 

 

As for whether you get the chocolate or the rainbow sprinkles on your unicorn donut, I would refer you to 1 Corinthians 10:31.

 

Today’s Praise

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.” Acts 15: 28-31 NLT

The Ultimate Joy

There are some topics that we, as Christians, sometimes avoid because they’re just not things we like to think about. One of those topics is obedience. I’ve never sat down with a group of high-minded theologians and had a spirited, animated discussion about obedience where we all walked away pumping our fists and saying, “YEAH! Now THAT’S what I’m talkin about!”

 

But recently, Kinship Christian Radio Announcer Beth Crosby was sharing some thoughts and songs that really got me thinking about obedience and its course throughout my life.

 

During my misspent youth, (and I am guessing I am not the Lone Ranger) I thought of obedience to God as something mandatory that, if not done correctly, would result in a big boot from the sky squashing me like a bug

 

All stick, no carrot.

 

I spent a lot of time rebelliously gnawing on the carrot while dancing around the stick.

 

Eventually, that phase was replaced by a kind of Red Green approach to obedience. (For those of you who have never watched the Red Green show on PBS, it’s about a gray-bearded “handyman” who stereotypically attempts to solve all of life’s problems with duct tape and misinformation.) The show is famous for “The Men’s Prayer:”

 

I’m a man

But I can change.

If I have to.

I guess.

 

While begrudging obedience is indeed obedience, it lends itself to disobedience when you’re pretty sure no one is looking. This, of course, is why someone famous (UCLA basketball coach John Wooden) once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is looking.” 

 

This is why you will find nothing even similar to “The Men’s Prayer” in your Bible. God, in point of fact, had some pretty stern words for those who practiced insincere, half-hearted obedience:

 

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Isaiah 1:13 (NIV)

 

And I think that’s totally fair. The God who created everything, who rules the entire universe with mercy and grace, who knows absolutely everything about everything (including what you’re really thinking when you’re trying to look like you’re a perfect Christian), who took on human flesh and died to give us eternal life in a perfect relationship with Him –that God absolutely deserves our very, very best.

 

So, what does that look like?

 

Unfortunately, it’s taken me to the point in my life where the commercials on Jeopardy are aimed directly at my demographic to realize that obedience to God isn’t something designed to suck every ounce of fun out of life.

 

In fact, at the risk of having my Man-Card revoked, obedience is a great joy!

 

Look what David writes in Psalm 119:

 

Joyful are people of integrity,

who follow the instructions of the LORD.

Joyful are those who obey his laws

and search for him with all their hearts. (Vss. 1&2 NLT)

 

By the time he gets to verse 14, he’s absolutely gushing with praise of God’s rules:

 

I have rejoiced in your laws

as much as in riches.

I will study your commandments

and reflect on your ways.

I will delight in your decrees

and not forget your word. (Vss. 14-16 NLT)

 

And, as I reflect back on my life, the most joyful, meaningful, and best moments of my life have been when I have been doing what God called me to do. The things I did and experienced on mission trips, studying the Bible with other believers, times on the radio playing Jesus songs and talking about Jesus, times sharing Jesus with others, and times spent writing this blog have blessed me beyond measure. 

 

Times of love spent with my wife, my daughter, my family are times of obedience and walking in God’s will, too. 

 

Because, when we come right down to it, the greatest obedience is to obey those two greatest commandments I wrote about last week:

 

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)

 

Yes, we will have strife and trouble attempting to be obedient. Yes, the enemy of our souls, our own flesh, and the world will all do everything they can to distract us from this simple command to love, but we are assured that love wins. We are assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

He will never stop loving us. 

 

And, yes, even Jesus wasn’t always joyful when He was being obedient, but He was assured and resolute that doing the Father’s will was always, always the right thing to do.

 

Even when it was hard.

 

Even when it made Him sweat drops of blood. 

 

But, keep in mind that what Jesus suffered on that cross finished it. It is finished. Done. Complete. The debt is paid in full and not one of us will ever have to suffer what He suffered to accomplish what He accomplished. 

 

Obedience isn’t something we duct-tape onto our foreheads to prove what great Christians we are. It isn’t something we begrudgingly recite hoping that someday we will actually believe it. Obedience is the ultimate joy in knowing that the battle is won. It is really, truly finished. Our obedience is not something we have to do to earn what He has already bought and paid for. Our obedience is the joyful outpouring of appreciation and gratitude and total, real heartfelt joy as children –as family– of the King of kings and LORD of Lords!

 

The joy of obedience is why Silas and Paul could sit in that jail singing hymns after having been severely beaten until the earth shook and all the doors burst open and the chains fell off. 

 

The greatest joy ever to come into the world came out of Jesus’ obedience on that cross.

 

HALLELUJAH ABBA FATHER! 

 

Today’s Praise 

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2

 

Note: To be absolutely honest, brothers and sisters, this blog post is an experiment. It’s exactly the same post as last week. (Which was titled “Joyful Obedience” and had a picture of a roll of duct tape.) Facebook’s tracking system showed that only two of you read that post, so this week I gave it a different title, picture, and opening paragraph to determine if it was the substance of what I wrote about that made it unpopular or the way in which I presented it. If you are reading this, thank you. I appreciate all comments which help me to better serve the LORD Jesus Christ.

Joyful Obedience

 

Kinship Christian Radio Announcer Beth Crosby was sharing some lovely thoughts and songs about obedience on Saturday morning that got me musing about that topic and its course throughout my life.

 

During my misspent youth, (and I am guessing I am not the Lone Ranger) I thought of obedience to God as something mandatory that, if not done correctly, would result in a big boot from the sky squashing me like a bug. 

 

All stick, no carrot.

 

I spent a lot of time rebelliously gnawing on the carrot while dancing around the stick.

 

Eventually, that phase was replaced by a kind of Red Green approach to obedience. (For those of you who have never watched the Red Green show on PBS, it’s about a gray-bearded “handyman” who stereotypically attempts to solve all of life’s problems with duct tape and misinformation.) The show is famous for “The Men’s Prayer:”

 

I’m a man

But I can change.

If I have to.

I guess.

 

While begrudging obedience is indeed obedience, it lends itself to disobedience when you’re pretty sure no one is looking. This, of course, is why someone famous (UCLA basketball coach John Wooden) once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is looking.” 

 

This is why you will find nothing even similar to “The Men’s Prayer” in your Bible. God, in point of fact, had some pretty stern words for those who practiced insincere, half-hearted obedience:

 

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Isaiah 1:13 (NIV)

 

And I think that’s totally fair. The God who created everything, who rules the entire universe with mercy and grace, who knows absolutely everything about everything (including what you’re really thinking when you’re trying to look like you’re a perfect Christian), who took on human flesh and died to give us eternal life in a perfect relationship with Him –that God absolutely deserves our very, very best.

 

So, what does that look like?

 

Unfortunately, it’s taken me to the point in my life where the commercials on Jeopardy are aimed directly at my demographic to realize that obedience to God isn’t something designed to suck every ounce of fun out of life.

 

In fact, at the risk of having my Man-Card revoked, obedience is a great joy!

 

Look what David writes in Psalm 119:

 

Joyful are people of integrity,

who follow the instructions of the LORD.

Joyful are those who obey his laws

and search for him with all their hearts. (Vss. 1&2 NLT)

 

By the time he gets to verse 14, he’s absolutely gushing with praise of God’s rules:

 

I have rejoiced in your laws

as much as in riches.

I will study your commandments

and reflect on your ways.

I will delight in your decrees

and not forget your word. (Vss. 14-16 NLT)

 

And, as I reflect back on my life, the most joyful, meaningful, and best moments of my life have been when I have been doing what God called me to do. The things I did and experienced on mission trips, studying the Bible with other believers, times on the radio playing Jesus songs and talking about Jesus, times sharing Jesus with others, and times spent writing this blog have blessed me beyond measure. 

 

Times of love spent with my wife, my daughter, my family are times of obedience and walking in God’s will, too. 

 

Because, when we come right down to it, the greatest obedience is to obey those two greatest commandments I wrote about last week:

 

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)

 

Yes, we will have strife and trouble attempting to be obedient. Yes, the enemy of our souls, our own flesh, and the world will all do everything they can to distract us from this simple command to love, but we are assured that love wins. We are assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

He will never stop loving us. 

 

And, yes, even Jesus wasn’t always joyful when He was being obedient, but He was assured and resolute that doing the Father’s will was always, always the right thing to do.

 

Even when it was hard.

 

Even when it made Him sweat drops of blood. 

 

But, keep in mind that what Jesus suffered on that cross finished it. It is finished. Done. Complete. The debt is paid in full and not one of us will ever have to suffer what He suffered to accomplish what He accomplished. 

 

Obedience isn’t something we duct-tape onto our foreheads to prove what great Christians we are. It isn’t something we begrudgingly recite hoping that someday we will actually believe it. Obedience is the ultimate joy in knowing that the battle is won. It is really, truly finished. Our obedience is not something we have to do to earn what He has already bought and paid for. Our obedience is the joyful outpouring of appreciation and gratitude and total, real heartfelt joy as children –as family– of the King of kings and LORD of Lords!

 

The joy of obedience is why Silas and Paul could sit in that jail singing hymns after having been severely beaten until the earth shook and all the doors burst open and the chains fell off. 

 

The greatest joy ever to come into the world came out of Jesus’ obedience on that cross.

 

HALLELUJAH ABBA FATHER! 

 

Today’s Praise 

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2