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Romans 11-13

by Pastor Skip

Christianity has strayed, at times, far from the teachings, life, and Love of Christ. We all know this. We need to always ask ourselves if we are really ‘following the Way’, and make the course corrections in our lives, so that the Blessings of Christ can be abundantly poured upon us.

Is it complicated? Does it require great academic understanding of the Scriptures, knowledge of ancient languages, and submission to human authorities we might question? Is that Christ?

I am amazed at how people don’t want to read the Bible because they think it is too complicated, too controversial, or too boring. The Bible is, after all, God’s Word to us and He certainly wants us to read it and be set free from the bondage of sin. Is it possible the Bible really IS readable by anyone, or everyone? Of course it is. I believe the Bible is meant to be read, over and over, because it consistently speaks to us. God knows exactly where we are and what’s going on in our lives and what we need to ‘hear’, and that’s why with EVERY reading of the Bible His voice comes to our inner man and speaks to what we need, individually and specifically. It’s truly amazing!

For example, I just read Romans 11-13 as part of our Church reading schedule. I’ve read the book of Romans many times, and yet with recent reading something popped out at me I hadn’t ‘seen’ before. Each of the 3 Chapters can be titled, or summarized, in a word: Mercy, Sacrifice, and Authority. Each of these words capture a main point of the Chapter and certainly don’t replace all the other words and ways God might speak to you. Subsequent readings might change the title summaries. Exciting stuff!

However, for THIS reading look what happens when you think of God’s mercy as a sacrifice of authority, or God’s authority sacrificed with mercy. Or God’s sacrifice of mercy, or His sacrifice of authority. Or His authority to sacrifice mercy, or His authority to mercifully sacrifice!

You get the point. These three words, no matter how read or arranged, speak of God’s LOVE for us, poured out upon us.

As we try to obey just two simple ‘words of Jesus’, the ‘love God and love one another’ commands, we cannot help but run into mercy, sacrifice, and authority!

How simple following Christ really is! His love for us was surely demonstrated by His sacrifice for us. His mercy surely saves us from the penalty due us because of our sins. His authority surely causes every knee to bow before the King of Kings, Who has defeated every foe. Etc.

Read it. Connect the dots. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you the revelation of the mystery, Christ in you, the hope of Glory!

The Wonder of Discovery

by Pastor Skip

About 11:30 this morning, between the storm clouds, came a burst of sunshine so inviting I had to go for a 4-mile hike around the wetlands and forests near here. It’s a special Blessing to be able to take advantage of such things.

Another Blessing is the great benefit that hiking provides- the time to think- and to be alone with one’s self. After a mile or so the mind can get rid of all the normal day-stuff to process and explore more important things.

Let’s examine the Wonder of Discovery. First, let’s think about what Discovery is. It’s much more than just learning something new or experiencing something for the first time. In the simplest terms, Discovery means to dis-cover something. To remove the cover; to un-hide; to see deeper, etc.

The great explorers of days past, like Columbus or Lewis & Clark, dis-covering the new continents, ‘worlds’ to them, were filled with awe as they pushed on. Whatever hardships they endured were the victories of the discovery, as they not only overcame, but triumphed in seeing and being a part of something so new, un-dis-covered, if you will. The excitement builds, emotions peak, things become awesome…full of ‘wonder’. (awe; surprise; marvel)

And so, in this Wonder of Discovery, I not only ‘learn’ something, but actually ‘experience’ the thing, adding to the mental addition that a piece of knowledge gives, but also the emotional and even spiritual dis-covering.

But wait! It gets better. The Wonder of Discovery leads us to a higher place, that spiritual place so difficult to explain but which I’m sure the explorers of old surely confronted:

The Discovery of Wonder

Once something is un-covered, and whatever lies beneath begins to reveal, one doesn’t throw the cover back on! One doesn’t run from, but to! The Wonder happens. Wonder is awesome, isn’t it? Wonder drives us, if we are free enough to let it happen. A touch of fear may grip some of us, because of the unknown becoming known, but the excitement builds and the mind marvels, and even the pores open and the body demands more oxygen as the endorphins explode within us. We might now say it becomes Wonder-full!

I think Wonder is a God thing, which is the main point. Wonder is God revealing Himself to us, the dis-covering of science or nature or His being and nature. If we can just take the time to Discover the Wonder. It’s happening all around us, all the time, covered by the world and our busy lives of earth-dwelling. God gives us His Word so that we can uncover and discover His Wonders. The Bible will come alive to you if you pursue the Wonder it reveals, and not just the history or geography or whatever else keeps it ‘covered’.

When slaves are set Free they rejoice. They dance and sing and praise and go all crazy because of being no longer captive, bound up, limited and…enslaved. Freedom is the greatest Wonder for a slave to imagine. God sent us Jesus Christ so we can be set free, and He leads us to Discover the Wonder of relationship with Him.

The Church Calendar and Our Path to Easter Sunday

by Pastor Skip

Using the calendar to remember key dates is surely a part of our everyday lives, so it’s not unusual that it would help us in our life of faith. However, Church Calendars are not a big part of most Evangelicals faith and practice, although a solid part of both Protestantism and Catholicism through the centuries, as a way to “remember Me” as taught by Jesus Christ. Jewish calendars are based upon the many feasts and festivals the Lord commanded, again so His people would ‘remember’ what He did for them! We Christians concentrate, of course, on the Christian, or Church calendar, although we fully agree that understanding what the Lord did throughout Jewish history is part of Biblical teaching and therefore ‘sacred.’ We believe the entire Bible is Holy, and necessary for the practice of our faith.

The Lectionary is a calendar of the Church Year put together by Denominational leaders so that congregations across the country, and world, can be in unity, reading the same Biblical texts and remembering the same historical developments at the same time of year. The Pastors who ‘preach’ from the Lectionary benefit by having much of the textural research done for them so they can tailor the message to their own congregations. This is all good, I think, and pray that these sermons can bring life and peace to the Body of Christ.

While I do not use the Lectionary to develop sermons I do think ‘following’ the Church Calendar is beneficial to us, for reasons stated above. We need to remember Christ, and we benefit greatly by remembering the history leading up to His Advent here, His life here, His resurrection victory, and certainly what lies ahead , about which we have so many opinions and so little understanding! 🙂

The next weeks, leading to Easter (Resurrection Sunday) are the most concentrated dates on the Christian Calendar for the entire year. Our entire understanding of The Gospel rests upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who makes it possible for our salvation and eternity with God Almighty. Our Doctrines of Grace, Liberty, Atonement, Forgiveness, Sacrifice, Salvation, etc., are complimented with the fulfillment of so much Biblical Prophecy about The Christ as Messiah found in the Old Testament!

Therefore, I ask you to concentrate on these next week’s by remembering Christ and His Love for you. Here are the key dates we will follow, whether formally or informally, providing you with both remembrance and a way to focus your devotions:
Feb 14, Ash Wednesday (and so it begins)
Feb 18, 1st Sunday in Lent (fasting, prayer, renewed devotion)
Mar 25, Palm Sunday (Celebration)
Mar 29, Maundy Thursday (foot washing) (last supper)
Mar 30, Good Friday (Why ‘good’?)
April 1st, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday (Victory in Jesus)

A New Year’s Blog for 2018

by Pastor Skip

While thinking about this coming year, and how we should approach it as a faith community, I landed on the following quotation we will use for our Bible study in 2018: “A Living God – A Living Faith.”

These words are very simple, yet so very profound. There are so many ways to try to understand them, and even more ways to try to put the understanding into real-life practice!

Take a pause, right now, and ponder a bit; see where it takes you before you continue reading!

I hope you enjoyed the exercise, and perhaps the few questions that arose in your mind. Feel free to send them to me, questions or just comments, as I’d love to hear any of them. Just hit the ‘comment’ link and I’ll get it sooner or later. 🙂

You see, we do have a Living God, not a dead god. What this means in reality is almost too wonderful to capture into words, albeit overwhelming just to consider. He’s not just alive, He’s everywhere. His ways are not our ways the Bible tells us, and we don’t really know what to do with that because the only ways we seem to understand are man’s ways, which, unfortunately, fail us repeatedly. So we tend to ‘think’ that God fails us, probably because we didn’t get the result we hoped for from some prayer we prayed trying to convince God to act the way we think He should! I’m very good at trying to pray a prayer that is worded so well, even quoting what I think His Word is saying to me, that, well, He HAS to grant the request! Hmmm. Perhaps I need to grow in my understanding of God being God.

A Living God. Yes. Indeed. Which, if believed in, would result in a Living Faith! I wonder if there is a correlation here? How does my ‘belief’ translate into my actual life experience? Is my ‘faith’ alive too? Does ‘faith’ have life? Can it grow? Can it move me, or direct me, or impact in any way what I actually DO in my own…life? I’m not trying to play some game here of stimulating a bunch of questions with no purpose. I think this is big stuff. I think how we approach God, dead or alive, and how we live our faith, dead or alive, translates into actual results here on Earth, here in our very lives!

We know that God wants to Bless us. He says so. And we do want the Blessings, no doubt! Perhaps we can enter into a more prosperous year of Blessings if we reinvigorate our Faith in a Living God, and then dare to actually Follow Him. Perhaps this year will bring many new trials our way, offering even more opportunities for us to be Alive in Christ, seeing Him lead us to new victories, His way!

(When I first typed this, two lines above, I typed ‘trails’ instead of ‘trials.’ Prophetic? I so look forward to the new trails too, which present their own trials, etc.)

Happy New Year
Pastor Skip

Interpret the Tongue

by Pastor Skip

Ok, let’s ‘interpret the tongue.’

In my use here, a blog is a fairly short writing about something. This blog, then, is my response to an email I received, from a trusted source. A ‘link’ is a reference to what was emailed to me, which is given below, which is from a law professor, addressing his students. You will need to read the ‘link,’ before my response, if you can.

(To the person who sent me the email) that is so, … timely! I’ve just been studying Romans 12:2 “be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds,” word by word, in the Greek, to try to “get it.”

You see, it is Christmas-time, and this is a time of year when “feelings” are heightened with all sorts of family issues, financial issues, emotional issues of all kinds … so many based on “feelings.”

Even the “facts” we use to justify the “feelings” are selected to support the “feeling” and avoid the veracity of it all, much less the Word of God.

I’m asking God to really TRANSFORM me, into “another form,” says the Greek, and am completely dependent upon Christ Jesus for any of it to happen, other than my willingness …

Even hospital and doctor visits increase this time of year, as the emotional invades the physical and generate real medical issues to deal with.

I am in no way making light of the power of feelings, of emotions, to impact our physical bodies and certainly our minds. My desire is to learn from God how to deal with it spiritually; Godly; His way. Perhaps we would do well to pray, asking God to fulfill Romans 12:2 in our own, personal lives.

Jesus Christ is the biggest “change agent” of all history, for He comes to change US, into a New Creation. “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Prisoners of Wars

by Pastor Skip

From time to time the news brings us to the tragic reality of P.O.W.’s (prisoners of wars), whether current or historical. Immediately we are caught in an emotional war within ourselves. We certainly grieve those who have died, and somehow try to work out the great loss, and how we can continue on with our lives without them. But then the horror that some are still alive, but in captivity, enduring who-knows-what kind of treatment, stirs us up almost unbearably because we can’t do anything about it!

We can go to funerals and Memorial Services to try to get some closure for those who have died, and many other things as well; but what can we DO about the P.O.W. ? We pray. We write letters perhaps. And we hope that our country will get them set free.

The real purpose of this blog is to point instead to the reality that WE ARE ALL P.O.W.’s. We are all in a war; a spiritual war. We are all being held captive, and tortured, daily. Our enemy is fierce, and he hates our Savior. Our enemy wants us to renounce our Citizenship, and join with him. The peer pressure is severe, as so many have gone the wrong Way. We are plied with all sorts of inducements, distortions of truth, even lies, in addition to the pains of various tortures.

So, how does a P.O.W. survive his captivity? A common report from those who did endure and get set free was the mental determination, the focus, the resolve to never give up and to keep remembering the purpose the war was fought for. Let Freedom Ring is an American mantra, but a Christian one even more-so.

For this Thanksgiving, we can do much more than say ‘grace’ at mealtime. We can understand that Jesus Christ has won our Freedom, and offers it to us. We may have to endure for a season, but the outcome is sure: He wins. We can even die in our captivity, secure in the knowledge we will be resurrected in Glory! The Bible declares that our citizenship is in Heaven, not in a cage here on Earth, which is only a temporary dwelling place.

For most of us Americans we can easily rejoice this Thanksgiving, for we have so much. Let’s not let ourselves be numbed by the stuff. Let’s continue to Praise God from Whom all Blessings flow! Let’s renew our confession of Faith, and our resolve to be Disciples of Jesus Christ. It might be good to reflect not only on the war that has us captive, but also on God Almighty, Who will bring about our Deliverance!

May the Lord immerse you in His Holy Spirit, this Thanksgiving, with thanks-giving. Amen.

Reading Through the Bible

by Pastor Skip

In our Church we are reading through the Bible in a year. One year. Entire Bible. Yes, it’s a lot of material to cover, especially when we have so many TV shows to watch and sports events to attend, not to mention vacations and family reunions; but what a great read!

It’s now July, and we are in The Psalms. Here we have King David, mostly, writing poems to be sung as songs of praise, or Hymns of Worship, to his God. We can picture him with a musical instrument of some kind working his way through the creative process. But our picture shouldn’t be a scene of complete peace and meditative praise, with the poetry flowing from a contented heart. David isn’t on a tropical island basking in the tranquility of uninterrupted nature. Perhaps some of the time he is at peace, but much of the time he is in full-blown crisis!

I find as I read Psalms that every possible human emotion is not only revealed, but explored. It’s almost as if God were showing us HOW to talk to Him. With honesty and transparency. If you were writing a love letter you would probably use different language and a different approach than if you were writing to some business or other entity. You would probably be more intimate, more personal, and, if wise, more honest about things, especially feelings and perceptions.

You see, we cannot approach God Almighty and act as if things inside us were somehow hidden or secret. He knows everything. We can’t con Him and we can’t manipulate Him with clever speech. God knows it all. I think He waits, patiently, for us to come to Him with openness and honesty about how we feel, even if it is sometimes a rant or a scream. Even if it’s a rant or a scream about Him!

Prayer seems to be a hard thing for many people to do. I’ve heard folks say they don’t “know how to pray.” I’ve witnessed, so many times, folks who defer to others, almost ANY other, when asked to pray. It’s like they don’t feel competent somehow; not trained; unable to “do it right.”

Have we forgotten to Whom we pray? Is that why we are timid? Is it really just better to NOT talk to God? Or is it that we just don’t want to do so in public where others may get an idea about our real life? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, each one personal and valid, yet each one missing the point.

You see, I believe God wants you to open up to Him and tell Him what’s on YOUR mind. If it’s thanksgiving, wonderful! If it’s a call to help someone else, terrific! If it’s just the stated understanding of how Great God is, that’s amazing! But also, if you’re hurting or scared or confused or panicking….whatever, tell Him. By getting honest with God you show that you understand the situation, and by asking Him for help you begin the process of yielding, which, you see, is the deal.

I’m a convict!

by Pastor Skip

I’m a convict!
Because I’ve been convicted!
But now I guess I’m an EX con.
A former convict.
No longer a convict.
Not because I’ve done the time.
I didn’t do the time.
Someone else did it for me!
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” (John 16:8)
I’ve been set free.
I’m no longer a prisoner.
Who is this who has done this for me?
Why would He pay for my sin, make me righteous, and so help me to avoid judgment?
Could it be because He loves me?
Yes. That’s it. He loves me.
Jesus loves me.
Can I believe it?
Yes. I believe it.

On Faith

by Pastor Skip

During our men’s Bible study on Monday nights we try to “make real” the stuff we’re learning, so it isn’t just head-knowledge, but gets into our feet, thus into our lives. In doing this we share from our own personal lives and are encouraged to learn that other men are facing some of the questions we each seem to have.

Sometimes “the light goes on” and Epiphany happens, but much of the time the questions pile up without answer and we have to just move on, waiting for later. People aren’t very good at this kind of waiting. We’re impatient. If we don’t get a quick fix we tend to leave the issue, because the frustration is worse than just not knowing.

Faith, you see, is a constant learning issue.

Over the years, two statements about Faith have developed and seem to be deeply ingrained into not only our culture, but also our spiritual walk. “Blind faith,” and “Leap of faith.”

Is faith really blind? Can it be? Would you really jump off a cliff to “prove” you believed? I think not.

What I think God wants from us, and what I know the Bible does for us as we read, is to develop our faith. Working together they take the “seed of faith” we are born with and nurture it and feed it and grow it. This, then, develops in us not a “blind” faith, but a CONFIDENT faith! A faith that trusts in God Almighty, AS the Almighty, and exercises those muscles of faith into maturity, strength, endurance, and everything else we need for a dynamic relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith!

If one is really in tune with how and where Jesus is leading, then one doesn’t need to take any “leaps of faith into the unknown,” because one will KNOW what one is to do. This is the essence of relationship, isn’t it? This is the benefit of actually being IN Christ; recognizing not only Him, but where He is and what He is doing and what He is asking.

I suppose one could say “I’m willing to take this leap, because I trust in God and know that He will save me.” Fine. But I think it is much healthier to say “I’m doing such and such because God has spoken to me.”

There’s an old joke about a guy trying to walk on water, after watching Jesus do it, and immediately sinking. An angel says to another angel, “Should we tell him where the rocks are?” Ok, it’s not a very funny joke, but it does make a point. Jesus KNOWS where the rocks are! So we can choose to run and sink on our own, or to wait for Him to reveal to us “the path.”
Choose faith, but develop Confident faith, and the frustrations will minimize…

Three Feet Deep in Quail!

by Pastor Skip

Why are we so stubborn when it comes to God Almighty?
Why are we so selfish?
Do we just have it too good? Are we just spoiled … rotten?
Do we not suffer enough to BE dependent?

I’m asking all these questions, and many more, because I am trying to answer a greater question: “What kind of God is this that we say we believe in?”

What kind of God would create and then destroy? What kind of God would say He loves us and then kill us?

Should we search for a different God? A better God?

One who would do what WE want???? A god we could control with sacrifices and worship.

In 2,017 years since Christ’s resurrection, have we forgotten faith itself? The faith that says God will keep His promises, if we will obey Him, follow Him, and serve Him?

Have we lost the zeal of the new disciple? Those who were blinded to this world by being exposed to the world to come?

Have we lost the adventure, the excitement, the expectation….the very wonder of it all? To see God Almighty at work!!!!
Are we just bored? (means to weary by dullness and repetition)

If our lives are dull and repetitive, are we even following God? Or have we somehow gotten off on a different path, not of His choosing, but of ours?

If we pray for revival, are we ready to accept that God may shake the place up, and make a lot of changes? Will we even know it if He comes?

“Our God is an awesome God…” the song goes, and He comes to set the captives FREE. Free from boredom. Free from bondage. Free from the temptation of trying to tell God what to do. Free TO the exciting journey of faith and the experience of living a life of service to Him. What a ride!