Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Appearing Like Mist, Then Vanishing

Ever notice how short life is? As you look back across the decades and the miles, it’s amazing how quickly time rushes by.

Just a few days ago I was in the 4th grade, playing football out in the back yard with my friends, riding my Suzuki 80 dirt bike all over the neighborhood and collecting Star Wars action figures. Then I think it was yesterday I was off to college, then getting married, working at the Rockford Register Star, holding my firstborn son, going to seminary, becoming pastor of this church and witnessing the birth of our second son. And it must have been just this morning that our boys have grown like weeds, and the next thing you know we’ll be grandparents and then living in a nursing home arguing about politics and religion.

Whew! That was fast! Maybe I’d better slow down and savor the moments while they last.

But isn’t it the truth? The Bible says it this way: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Life is so temporary here on earth. It’s a mere speck on the eternal timeline of history.

Moses recognized this and prayed to the Lord, “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered” (Psalm 90:5). He went on to add, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

The truth is that not a single one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Have you ever thought about that? I realize that death is not something anyone likes to think about. I’ve had a friend asking me for six years now if I’ve made out a will. Maybe he knows something I don’t know. But it’s true. Death is a respecter of no man. Rich, poor, black, white, young, old, popular, outcast, righteous, wicked – they all face physical death.

And for some, our bodies confirm that truth every day. If you wake up with aches and pains that don’t go away, you know what I’m talking about. If disease has overtaken your body so that it’s a struggle to even make it through the day, you understand this fact more clearly than most. Someone has remarked that you know you’re getting old when almost everything hurts – and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!

Can I ask you a question, friend: Are you ready for that day? I can’t really think of any way to “get ready” for death other than living at peace with God through Jesus Christ while we’re given these fleeting moments now. Living at peace with God means trusting in Jesus for eternal salvation. It’s believing that He died on the cross to forgive your sins, and believing that He rose from the dead on the third day and now lives forevermore. It’s turning away from sin and receiving Him as Lord and Savior of your life, yielding your life day by day in glad obedience to His will.

If you’ve never really heard it said before, I want you to hear it now: God loves you more than you could ever possibly know. He loves you immeasurably more than you love yourself, your spouse, your parents or your own children. His love is inexhaustible, unfailing, unending and incredible. And He demonstrated the depth of His love for us “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

God truly wants every single person on the face of this earth – you included – to know His love and trust in His Son, Jesus. That is the only that we can be saved from eternal death and hell. It’s the only way we can live in peace with God. But it is real peace and a sure salvation, and you can have the assurance of eternal life in heaven if you believe in Jesus.

We only have a few moments left here on earth. And beyond the thought of dying, Jesus Himself could return at any moment to call His people home to heaven, as well! So what are we going to do with the time we’re given? Will we live to please ourselves, to accumulate treasures on earth that won’t last? Or will we live our lives for the glory of God, living at peace with Him through Christ, and as a result loving and serving others?

It’s sobering to realize the fact of death, and though you may not want to, it’s worth thinking about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thanking God with Joy for His Church in Ridgway

Cleaning up after holding a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, I got caught up in the spirit of throwing things away. You know how it is. At first you don’t really want to throw out anything unless you’re absolutely confident that you’ll never use it again, or find that it’s broken beyond repair, meaning that even duct tape won’t do. Personally, I have a pair of mowing shoes that have nearly disintegrated right out from under my feet, but I can’t bring myself to toss them, even though my wife has pleaded with me to do so.

But then once you get started pitching stuff, you get on this roll where you start thinking there’s nothing you really need anyway. Before long, the thought of getting rid of everything and just living in a camper begins to look pretty appealing.

Unfortunately, I got rolling and threw away one of Amy’s cookie sheets. The reason it was in the garage in the first place is too long a story to include here. Suffice it to say, by the time said cookie sheet came up missing, garbage day had come and gone – and so was her cookie sheet. Now I know the mowing shoes are soon history.

I’m not immune to doing stupid things. A week ago I mentioned this dumb move during church, along with two other really stupid things I’d done that week, things which would require columns of their own. I remember bringing these up in order to make a point, but would probably have to go back to the audio recording to see whether or not they did.

Anyway, I bring it up now to say that on the Monday morning after I’d told this story, I walked in to my office at church and there was a large gift bag on my desk. An accompanying unsigned note held out hope that perhaps this gift would get me out of the dog house with my wife. So with curiosity piqued, I opened the bag and there was a brand new Pampered Chef cookie sheet! Wow! I did a little happy dance right there in my office. And thanked God for a church who is generous and loving in so many ways.

It’s almost embarrassing to tell you how richly the church has blessed me – especially during Pastor Appreciation Month. Rather, I should say how the Lord has blessed my family and me through His people in great abundance. And I don’t mind at all boasting about what God has done! I only say “embarrassing” because I know I don’t deserve it, yet God has been so gracious and kind through the church that I have to give Him praise.

That particular Monday was not an exception. Every day this month when I’ve come in to work there has been a special note of encouragement or thanks along with a unique variety of thoughtful gifts. Just to give you some of the highlights, one day a note directed me to the kitchen freezer where I discovered a container of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. Someone knows me really well. On my birthday there was a package of Starbucks Coffee, a coffee mug, two breakfast danishes and a piece of d├ęcor for my shelf with a Bible verse that reads: “Give us this day our daily coffee!” Not sure which Scripture translation that is, but that’s probably how it read in the original Greek.

Did I mention the Third Day CD/DVD set I received one day, along with a gift card to LifeWay Christian Bookstores to pick up Third Day’s new release on Oct. 19? Then there was the “creation” tie I wore to church yesterday. It’s a beautiful black tie with a design of the planets and the verse from Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.”

This morning I found a card with a great word of appreciation and encouragement, and a note to say use this money to take Amy out for lunch! All of these gifts have arrived anonymously, so while I don’t know whom to thank personally, I will offer thanks to the Lord for His great grace to me and my family, and hope the church reads this and knows that “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:3-6).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welcoming You to Church and Introducing You to Jesus

I’ve been to quite a few church services before when it was the first time I’d ever been there. Sometimes it can feel a little bit awkward, and that may be the understatement of the year. You just know that everyone is staring at you, wondering who in the world you are and what in the world you’re doing in their church.

And in a smaller church setting, it can really feel a lot like you’re walking in on somebody’s family reunion. Everybody else seems to know each other. They’re talking and laughing and having a good time with each other, but when you walk in they seem to force a smile your way, maybe utter a hello and then go right back on to their conversations.

You’re left there, meanwhile, wondering where you should go and what you should do. If you have kids with you it’s even worse, because you’re looking for the nursery or children’s Sunday School classrooms, and you definitely want to know where the bathrooms are since you realized your youngest child forgot to comb his hair before you left home.

Then there’s the fear of sitting in someone else’s pew! Heaven forbid that you should occupy the space where some long-time member sits, and has sat every single Sunday morning since 1954. I have actually heard (not in our church, thankfully) of a situation where a visiting family was asked to move because they sat down in someone’s spot!

I’d be willing to bet that many people who would like to go to church never end up going simply because of their fear that it’s too uncomfortable attending that first time.

But let me also say that I’ve been to some church services for the first time when I felt right away that I belonged there. I’ve been warmly greeted at the door – even in the parking lot! – and then personally escorted to where I needed to go. I’ve been invited to sit with someone during the services, and have had people invite me to lunch with them afterward.

I don’t know what your experiences have been, but my hope is that if you would set foot on the property entrusted to us at 306 S. Valter St. in Ridgway, you would be welcomed warmly, gladly and lovingly. I hope that you would be received not as some strange alien coming to visit, not as an outsider with questionable motives, but more like a friend whose visit we’ve been expecting.

We’re even going a step further to make it easier for you. This coming Sunday afternoon, October 17, starting around 5:00, we’re planning a fall festival event in the backyard of the church grounds. We’d love for you to come and enjoy, in this informal community-wide get-together, a friendly game of Wiffle Ball, or maybe kickball, roasting some hot dogs and marshmallows, sitting around the fire and just enjoying the fall afternoon. That way you get to avoid the awkwardness of coming to church for the first time, not knowing anybody and wondering which pew belongs to whom. Hopefully, you’ll feel among friends.

And most importantly, our desire is to introduce you, in case you’ve never met Him, to the greatest friend anyone could have. His name is Jesus. He’s from Nazareth in Galilee, by way of Bethlehem in Judea. When you get to know Him, you’ll find that’s He’s always wanting to be with you. Not in an annoying sort-of way, but just because that’s how much He really cares about you. You’ll find that He’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother. In good times and through hard times, He’s always ready to listen and always ready to help.

And, oh yeah, since He is the Almighty Son of the Everlasting God, He’s also able to provide for your every need. He’s able to give you supernatural peace, unspeakable joy and unending hope. His love is the greatest of all loves, for He laid down His very own life for His friends. Since He lived a perfect life on earth and died bearing the sins of all mankind, He’s also able to forgive you completely for your sins and save you from eternal death and hell. And since He rose from the grave, He lives forevermore, and dwells within your heart by His Spirit through faith while He makes arrangements for His friends’ eternal dwelling place in the heavens.

I’m so glad to be called His friend. Do you know Him? Why not come to church this Sunday and let us introduce you!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Sacrifice

On the cross your body torn
Battered from the stripes you’d borne
Bruised from blows unjustified
Beaten, broken, crucified

On the cross your blood flowed down
Seeping from that mocking crown
Dripping from your hands and feet
Pouring from your heart’s last beat

Who would bear such pain and strife
Who would lay down his own life
Who would suffer such disgrace
Who would suffer in my place

Matchless Love, O matchless Love
Matchless gift of God above
Mercy for my sinful soul
Mercy cleansed and made me whole

Jesus, O what love you showed
Saved me from the debt I owed
On the cross you paid the price
Lamb of God, the sacrifice

Sing, my soul, you’ve been set free
Guilt and shame are history
Death has no more sting or claim
Life is yours in Jesus’ name

Praise the Lord who came to save
Jesus triumphed o’er the grave
One day He’ll return as King
Glory in the highest sing

Written by Rob Gallion on the occasion of participating in the Lord’s Supper Service, October 3, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pleading for the Refreshing Wind of God's Spirit

Fall feels refreshing. We’ve finally escaped from the strength-sapping heat of summer, and when the calendar turns over to October, it comes like a breath of crisp, cool, refreshing air. And I’m so ready to see God turn over a page in my own life, in the life of the church and in the life of this nation, and send a breath of refreshing air over us.

We desperately need revival in the church and a great spiritual awakening across this land. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe many once-passionate believers in Christ have lost their spiritual zeal. Many have lost their first love. Some have become lukewarm and some have grown cold. Whether it’s spiritual complacency, apathy, deadness or whatever you call it, we need the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit to blow upon us once more.

Can you imagine if a NASCAR driver like Jimmie Johnson (or pick your favorite) came roaring from the wave of the green flag, took the lead, was running a strong race, but then somewhere along the way began to slowly ease his foot off the pedal? Can you picture what would happen if he thought he’d already done well enough and was so satisfied that he’d led for 100 or so laps that he just thought he could coast toward the finish line? He’d get blown away!

Yet many Christians who know Jesus and have followed Him wholeheartedly, who have stood boldly for His truth and have prayed fervently for the salvation of their family, friends, neighbors and nations throughout the world have slowly let off the gas and seem to be coasting toward the finish line. Maybe they feel they’ve done well enough, or maybe they’re satisfied with the way things are. Maybe they’ve resigned to the world’s philosophies and values and have lost sight of God’s mission for His church.

Now is not the time to coast! Now, more than ever, we need to plead with the Lord to revive His people and awaken this land to their need for a Savior! Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong in the Lord and in the power of His might! Now, more than ever, we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus!

I’m talking to you, Christian. I believe that if God will send a great awakening in this land, and the Bible says He wants to save people everywhere from their sins, it will start with a cleansing in the church. We need repentance. We need to confess our lack of love for the Lord, our failure to love our neighbors as we should, our lack of dependence upon Christ and our failure to follow His ways. Are we really denying ourselves? Are we really dying daily to sin? Are we really following wholeheartedly after Jesus?

Jesus gave Himself up on the cross for us. He willingly laid down His life so that we could be forgiven for our sins. He bore the horrific weight of our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It’s only by His wounds that we have been healed. It’s only because of His sacrifice that we are saved by His grace through faith. What love! What abounding, enduring, unparalleled and unfailing love Almighty God has lavished upon us!

Therefore, we are called, in view of God’s great mercy and in view of His amazing grace, to live for righteousness, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. And by our good works the light of Christ ought to shine so brightly through us that the world will see and give glory to our Father in heaven.

I pray that the people of God will get on their knees and get thoroughly right with Him in every way. I pray that we’ll stand on our feet and stand strong in His grace. I pray that we’ll serve with His heart and His hands. I pray that we’ll give everything we have for the cause of His kingdom. I pray that we’ll pray passionately that the Lord will send forth laborers into the harvest fields. And I pray that we’ll go with His feet and proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Sin saps our strength as in the heat of summer, but when we confess our sins God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We’ll feel the refreshing wind of God’s Spirit as we do. He will revive us again that His people may rejoice in Him. And He will awaken the world to the glory of Christ.