God gives grace to the humble…

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'”
(1 Peter 5:5)

As I prepare for this Sunday’s message from 1 Peter 5:1-5, I realize that there’s just not enough time to go into full detail on everything that is touched upon in this passage.  The final point that Peter makes, urging all to humility in their relationships with one another, is a vital aspect of our life together as the body of Christ.  In all honesty, this one verse could occupy an entire series of sermons on what it means to be humble, how and why God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and how humility is demonstrated in the life of faith.  That series isn’t in the works, yet, but perhaps it should be.

In the midst of study on this passage, I read again a prayer from the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  I’ve shared prayers from this collection before. I’ve even read them in worship on occasion.  The prayer I read today is called “Humility in Service.”  It’s written primarily for the Elder in service of the church, but could be applied to everyone who aspires to serve the Lord in faithfulness.

The prayer, as with most of the Puritan Prayers, is devastating in its candor and vulnerability, and is absolutely Christ-centered in its hope.  I offer it to your for prayer and reflection today.

Humility in Service *

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected, words ill-advised,

I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps, my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behavior, provoking bitterness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;

If I have turned cold from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me;

If I have withheld relief because of my poverty and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me;

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive, the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness
arising from the depravity of my nature,
my omitted duties, my unimproved advantages,
thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy
may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.

Amen

* Bennet, Arthur. The Valley of Vision (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009) Pg. 178.

Frostbitten Hearts

“And because of lawlessness the love of many will grow cold”
(Matthew 24:12)

Brace yourselves!  The forecast for this coming weekend in the Sioux Falls area is for bitterly cold temperatures, lows around -20, with highs only at 0.  That’s just cold!  Plus, the wind will no doubt be blowing, expected winds of 22mph, so the wind chill will around -50.  At that temp, its not just the nose hairs you have to worry about.  Prolonged exposure to those temperatures can quickly lead to frostbite and breathing the air at 50 below can do serious damage to your lungs.  I don’t know what the word will be on whether or not we’ll have church Sunday morning, but if you don’t have to go out in that cold, don’t.

I read on the mayo clinic that Frostbite can occur rapidly in these conditions.  The risk of frostbite “increases as air temperature falls below 5 F, even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.”  With the expected wind chill around -50, frostbite can develop after only 5 minutes of exposure.

The danger of frostbite is that you first lose the sensation of feeling before the damage is done.  You don’t know you have it until it is too late.  If not addressed, frostbite can lead to deep tissue damage, changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis), infection, gangrene, which is the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area.  Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia, where the body’s temperature drops to dangerous levels, cause a malfunction of the heart, nervous system and other organs; eventually leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.  So for goodness sake, stay inside and stay warm.

But as you are warming yourselves by the fire, bundled under the blankets, stop to consider the warmness of your heart.  We know the dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold and biting wind, but the hazards of a cold and bitter heart are just as deadly.  A cold heart that does not love has many of the same characteristics as frostbitten skin:

  • It is hardened: A cold heart does not move or feel for the needs of others,
  • It is infectious: A cold and unloving heart spreads easily, tearing others down and encouraging the same attitude in others,
  • It is gangrenous: A cold heart destroys relationships, crushes spirits, blocks any healthy growth,
  • It is deadly: When Christians harbor coldness in their hearts, when Churches are cold and unloving, it leads to a complete failure of all the vital ministries. Cold hearts kill churches.

Jesus talked about this when He warned His disciples of the coming persecution, saying that “many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  In Revelation, this is the charge against the church in Ephesus, “but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

A church, a Christian, that does not love does not know love, does not know God (1 John 4:8).  A church, a Christian, whose heart has grown cold and unloving harbors a bitterness and unforgiving attitude that will lead to death.

So what can you do to warm the cold, cold heart?

First, keep close to the source of heat.   Stay in the Word of God.  Look there to read of and know of His great love for you in Jesus Christ.  God’s word is the revelation of His love, and by His Holy Spirit His word brings life, and love, to our hearts.

In the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus, their hearts heavy and broken because of the death of their savior.  Jesus met them on the road, but they did not recognize Him.  As they walked, He taught them from the scriptures all that was said about the Christ.  After they had broken bread together, and the eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw Jesus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?  If you want your heart to burn for the Lord once again, turn to His word.

Second, walk in the light of Christ’s presence.  Even when it is bitterly cold outside, the warmth of the sun light pouring into your windows is a source of heat and comfort.  John says,  “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Closeness with Christ comes through resting in His completed work for us, in daily fellowship with Him, and in submission to His word.

Finally, kindle the love in your heart by turning to your brother and sister in loving service.  The best cure for a cold heart is love – actual, tangible, expressions of love.  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.”  That word earnestly means “fervently, sincerely, genuinely,” some translations have even said “love each other with a warm heart.”

Expressions of love have a tendency to grow love, to break the cold and unfeeling heart.  What does this look like?  Send someone a card saying that you have been praying for them or thank them for something they’ve done.  If you’re able, shovel someone’s driveway, or take them a batch of warm brownies.  Invite your neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee and catch up on their life.  An expression of love doesn’t have to be a grand costly gift, but it will change your world, and theirs.

Stay warm this week, and warm your hearts with an earnest love for one another.

SDG

Thanksgiving Proclamation

As we take time this week to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I thought I would share George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. While Thanksgiving would not become an officially recognized national holiday until established by Lincoln in 1863 (and made law by Congress in 1941), each state celebrated a day of Thanksgiving in various manners since the original proclamation in 1789. In many places, it was set aside as a time of fasting and prayer, a day of service devoted “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” What follows is the original proclamation of President George Washington declaring Thursday the 26th of November a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 1 – Love One Another

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and anyone who loves is born of God, and knows God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

We’ve made it to Bamboula Beach, in Torbec, Haiti – our center of operations for the next week on our Mission trip. It’s hot and humid here. We expected that, but I don’t think any of us were really prepared for just what kind of toll this heat and humidity can take on you. We’ll be drinking lots of fluids, and praying for a break in the heat.

Our study on the Fruit of the Spirit began tonight with a study on Love. Love is a word that gets thrown around pretty casually today. In one breath someone will say, “I love my wife,” and with the very next breath say, “I’d love a cup of coffee.” I’m hoping that our definition of love adapts to our usage.

We tend to love that which benefits us. If a bit of technology (like your phone or tablet – ahem!) makes life, work, play, a little easier – then we tend to treat those things with special attention, spend a little more time with them than we ought, and give them a central place in my life. Being here in Haiti, with no cell coverage, and iffy WIFI access, I’ve noticed how often I turn to my iWhatever whenever I don’t know what else to do. (Maybe this week away will help me enact a tech-fast – unintended blessing). Is this love – not really, but it looks and acts a lot like it.

What we learn of love in Scripture is not a love that exists for selfish gain, but rather a love that gives sacrificially. Jesus said in John 15, “Great love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Paul wrote in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 John 4:9 teaches, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, that we might live though Him.” This is love, sacrificial, merciful, giving love.

When trust in Christ for our life and our salvation, when we walk in the power of His Spirit, when we come to know the Amazing Love of God, then we will live in and grow in that love. We will love more like He has loved us.

That’s what brings us here to Haiti: Love. God loved us with a love that would bring us life and transform us with hope. Because that love has been borne in us, we serve one another in that love. We sacrifice our time at work and with our families. We do without so that we can afford to be here. We sweat through the night and long for our comfortable beds, cars, etc… But in God’s amazing love, none of it really seems like a sacrifice at all. When we consider all that He has given, whatever we give up here seems so small.

I am so honored to be able to serve a congregation, and this particular mission team, who have known the love of God, and as they grow in that love, are dedicated to loving others. I pray that over this next week, we will not only see the love of God in our own lives, but we will be able to pass that love on to those whom we serve.

SDG

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How to be Great

“whoever would be great among you must be your servant…”
(Matthew 20:26)

As I was deleting the junk email that made it into my inbox this morning, I came upon another “Get Rich Quick” scheme.  Usually, I delete these without a second thought, but for some reason I thought I’d watch this one to see just what they were selling.

Did you know that it is possible to turn on $50 investment into $13 million?  Well, apparently it is (and if the fed would only use these tactics, we’d erase the debt forever).  A simple, low risk investment in certain “high-flying stocks” are guaranteed to double overnight.  Soon you could find yourself driving that expensive Italian Sports Car, taking that luxury vacation you’ve always dreamed of, and even securing your children’s education.  Though the advertisement never gave any details on the investments, it’s billed as a “safe, easy way to get rich.”

For those of you in the know, what was being advertised is something called a “Penny Stock:” securities that trade below $5 per share and are not listed on a national exchange.  These stocks don’t cost much money and promise big profits, but they are also a good way to lose money.  This particular email sounded a lot like a “pump and dump,” where promoters first purchase large quantities of stock, artificially inflating the share price through false and misleading positive statements, then dumping the stock when more people start buying in, walking away with all the profit, leaving the stock worthless.

Leaving the finance lesson aside, I thought the email was particularly interested when considered in the light of Jesus’ teaching on attaining true greatness in Matthew 20:26-28.  On the one hand, we hear the world say, for a mere $50 you could finally have the power, wealth, and success that you’ve always wanted; while in Scripture we hear Jesus say, if you really want to be great in this world, become a servant to others.

At first glance, what Jesus says doesn’t seem to play out.  If you really want to help others, to be a great leader, don’t you have to have the resources, the wealth, the ability to help?  Think of all the good you could do if you just invested now and acquired a “reasonable” sense of financial security.  Once you’ve got your first million in the bank, then you can really help those in need.  Right?

Wrong.  For Jesus, it is precisely the other way around.  If you want to be great, be a servant.  If you want to be first, be the slave.  This life, the life of discipleship, the life of obedience, the life of following Christ is not a climb up the ladder of success.  It is not the coming together of the powerful, the successful, the beautiful, and the highly talented who have something to offer the world.  No.  The life of faith begins when we trust the word of God that tells us that we are dead in our sins and have nothing to offer God or the world, but, in His grace and mercy, God brings us to life and fills us with His treasure “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

Jesus gave himself as an example of the transforming power of this kind of service, saying, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Here are just a couple of ways how:

His service revealed the God’s redeeming and saving love.

Romans 5:8 “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Ephesians 2:4–5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved”

In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus revealed for the world the saving power of God’s love to deliver His people from death to life, from wrath to blessing, from sin to glory in the strength of His Spirit.

His service demonstrated the joy of obedience.

John 15:10-11 “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the will of God, loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving His neighbor as Himself.  And yet this obedience, and “obedience even to the point of death on a cross,” was not a burden, but a joy for Jesus.  The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).  Jesus’ greatest delighted in, rejoiced in, the will of His Father, and His desire to glorify the Father was fulfilled.

His service revealed God’s glory.

John 12:27–28 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

John 17:4 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

The completed work of Christ, His atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection to create a people set apart for God, and the way the Christ continues to equip and empower His church by His Spirit, reveals the glory of God.

If you want to be great – that is, if you want to offer something to the world that will really transform the world – serve in the love of Christ in a way that will reveal the glory of God; for when God is glorified, our hearts are satisfied.

Strength in the Lord

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
(Psalm 28:7)

Here in Cherokee we continue the ongoing work of Flood Relief, now in the middle of our third week.  We are making progress, moving houses off the clean-up list, but there is still a lot to do.  The community has really come together to provide financial relief to the flood victims, and we are doing our best to meet the needs that we know about.  The need is great, but our God is greater still, and by His grace we will continue to help those in need.

Still, in the middle of helping others, I thought it might be good to take a moment to write about helping the helpers.  After three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears, our volunteers are exhausted, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  How do you nurture your own spirit when day in and day out you are nurturing others?  How do you keep your love of neighbor from drying up like the caked mud we’ve been mucking out of basements?

Here are a few thoughts to encourage the encouragers:

You are not the Savior

When you show up to help someone in need, the gratitude and kindness you receive can often be payment enough.  But it can also go to your head.  You are providing something that they cannot do for themselves, you are a much needed kindness, you are a light in a time of darkness, but you are not the Light, you are not their Savior.

The desire to help those in need is good, the longing to give in love as Christ has given to you is beautiful, but you must always remember, you cannot meet their greatest need.  You can give everything you have, but they will still need more.  You can even lay down your life, but there is only one life that was sufficient to meet the needs of a hungry and broken world.

Remind yourself of this: “The people don’t need me, they need Christ.”  Your work should ultimately show others his goodness, his strength, the sufficiency of his care and provision

You are not strong enough

Okay, so that may not sound very encouraging, but bear with me for a moment.

In whatever you do, it is good to know your limitations.  Trying to do more than you are able can lead to disaster, both for you and for those you are trying to help.  The fact of the matter is, on your own you are not strong enough to carry the load of those around you.  If you try you will be crushed under their burden.  On your own you are not wise enough to sort out all the problems of those you are trying to help.  On your own you are inadequate for the situation at hand.

But you are not on your own.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent, to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:4-5).  He is the one who makes you adequate.  He is the one who makes you strong.

When God called Moses to deliver Israel from slavery, Moses was quick to point out his inadequacies for the job, saying, “Who am I that I should go?”  But God reminded him, “I will be with you…” (Exodus 3:11-12).

When you walk with the Lord and serve one another, the very presence of God is your strength and your shield.  His shoulders are strong enough for the burdens you carry, His wisdom is great enough for the problems you face, His arms reach to the farthest corners of the world, His hands have never failed.

Psalm 118:14  The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Find your joy in the Lord

I think it is safe to say that if you don’t have joy in what you are doing, you won’t do it for very long.  No one willing stays at a job that makes him miserable.  When you are wading through the rubble of people’s lives, crying with them as you realize the magnitude of their loss, all joy can quickly fade.  Love in action hurts, and it can often rob you of your joy.

Don’t let it.  Keep your eyes on Christ, and remember all that He has done for you.  He sought you out when you were lost.  He love you when you were unlovable.  He was faithful to you when you rebelled against Him.  He bore the weight of God’s wrath for your sins though He was sinless.  He died the death that was meant for you, and rose from the dead to give you eternal life.  You couldn’t ask for a greater friend, a greater love, a stronger Savior.

When you consider the “breadth and length and height and depth… the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” such a love will fill you with joy; joy overflowing into the lives of those around you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, keep your mind on his love, his grace, his mercy; and let that be the foundation of yours.

SDG