1 Reason We Don’t Have to Earn It

8 Jul

grace-def-1I had a brief conversation this morning with a friend who believes in God and Christ. The conversation started with his question, “Do you hold to some sort of judgment day?” I replied, “yes I do.” I continued, “God has given us too much, not to hold us accountable.” He thinks there is one too. But then he said, “I just can’t get past the thought that I have to earn it.” I encouraged him, “our rescue from judgment has to be by grace.” What is interesting is that just this morning, as I reflected on a sermon by John Wesley, I wrote in my journal: “Your grace gave me life. Your grace gives me life each day. Your grace has given me faith to believe. Your grace has given me the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blood of the covenant. Your grace guides me. Your grace teaches me. Your grace confronts and corrects me. Your grace seals and secures me in faith. Your grace is my hope. Your grace is my joy. Be praised, O Lord of grace.” There are reasons it has to be by grace that we find resolution and peace with God. 1. All we do is tainted. Nothing we do is with unmixed motives. You know the phrase, “happy wife, happy life.” It reflects our problem. Even when we try to do good, we often do it for our own benefits. We obey road laws, so we don’t get a ticket. We please God so we don’t get punished. That’s not love. That’s not real righteousness. 2. We are at best, inconsistent in our goodness. We may do good things, but we don’t do good in every area all the time! Why? See number 1. 3. Jesus’ death would have been in vain. If his death didn’t pay for our forgiveness, then it was no gift, but a horrible mistake. Actually, there is only one reason we don’t have to earn it! Because we can’t. So, grace is not something to be preferred. Grace is our absolute need. How do we learn to live in the grace of God? 1. We begin to recognize and thank God for the daily graces that He gives to all humanity. All anyone has is a gift from God. 2. We trust that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for the sins of humanity, and therefore was great enough to cover my sins. 3. We live in the grace of God daily, yielding every gift He’s given us back to Him for His pleasure. Judgment day will still come. But we won’t have to face it with fear. What makes grace hard for us to trust in? How are you blessed to by the grace of God?

Why does God seem to like us needy?

2 Jul

God chooses weak things and makes them weaker still so He may reveal Himself to the world.

Have a listen: http://www.villagegreenbaptist.org/messages/adventure-series.html

Why I Love Iowa Again

30 Jun

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Years ago, my wife and I lived in Aplington, Iowa.  I was the pastor of a small town church.  This time I was just passing through on my way to see my kids in South Dakota on June 16th, 2014.  I was on my first day of a motorcycle trip from Illinois to California.  As I approached Spencer, Iowa, all I could think about was that about 27 years ago we named our new Scottish Terrier, Spencer after the name we found on the map.

The weather was changing as I approached.  I put on my rain gear and battled a pretty strong wind from the south.  As I got to Spencer, it was dark and raining.  I filled up with gas and looked a weather radar on a gas station tv on the north end of town.

I turned back to the A & W to sit for a bit.  After about an hour, I checked my phone and it looked like the heavy stuff had moved north of highway 18.  That seemed to give me a window of opportunity.  So, I quickly loaded up and moved out.  The road was wet, but clear.  As I got about 5 miles out of town, the wind shifted.  It now was moving out of the north.  And it was strong.

Gusts were blowing me into the oncoming lane.  Occasionally, it just about lifted me out of the seat.  It was about then, that I regretted losing those 65 pounds.  I looked for a wise place to pull off.  Although some might think it was too late for wisdom.  There were a few farms, but I really wasn’t ready to be an uninvited guest.  One more big gust and then rain began to fall.  I had to stop.

To the right, I saw a red steel building with an awning on it.  I turned to the right, into the wind and into the deepest gravel I had ever seen.  I got all 900 pounds of motorcycle down the driveway and moved it close to the building.  The rain really began to fall.  I parked the bike in the gravel and jumped under the awning.

The wind was so strong, I was sure it was going to knock my motorcycle off the stand.  So, I went back out to try and move it.  Everytime I tried to go forward or backward, the bike sunk deeper into the gravel, until the gravel was holding it up without the kickstand.  It wasn’t going anywhere.  “I think we have another problem,” I said to myself.

It was about this time that I heard a loud bang.  I looked up and saw huge pieces of ice falling from the sky.  I grabbed my helmet and thought of the potential newspaper headline, “Motorcycle Riding Pastor, Killed by Hail.”  I put on the helmet and hid back under the awning, just hoping the cover would hold.  (see the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2f2IK8vEoE)  The hail bounced off the building and all around the bike.  But no strikes!  It was at this point, I knew I was going to need some help.  After the hail stopped, I tried to flag down a couple of cars, to no avail.  Finally, I gave in and called 911.

The dispatcher asked where I was.  I looked around for some indication and then I saw it, “The Shrimp Shed.”  I said the words haltingly, thinking maybe I had been transported to Louisianna.  No, it was the Shrimp Shed, and it was Iowa.

It was on this phone call, my love for Iowa returned.  The operator explained that it was a busy night and since I was safe, they would call back when someone was on the way.  Just a few minutes later I got the call.  Someone would be here soon.  He showed up just as the downpour started again.  We loaded my bags into his car.  His name was Dan Heissel.  He was off-duty, but decided to come out and rescue me.

On our ride to a hotel, he asked what my plan was.  After getting dry and warm, I figured I would call a tow truck in the morning to help me get my bike free from the gravel and on my way.  He encouraged me to call dispatch in the morning and have an officer take me out.  And then he gave me the dispatch number and his own personal cell number.  He assured that if an officer couldn’t take me out, he would be happy to come over and help.  “Wow, I love Iowa, I thought.”

I slept as long as I could and about 6am, I finally called dispatch.  A young officer went out to look at the bike and then came to the hotel and picked me up.  His name was Spencer.  “Well, that fits,” I thought.

At the hotel, I had been talking a 79 year old Harley guy from Wisconsin, named Brad.  When officer Spencer showed up, Brad asked if the two of us would be able to get the bike out without help.  Spencer looked a little worried about that prospect.  And Brad jumped in his car and followed us out the Shrimp Shed.

There the bike stood, just like I left it the night before.  I put the key in and it started right up.  The three of us grabbed the 900 pound monster and together we pushed and pulled to break it free of the gravel.  I got it loaded up and said good-bye to my new friends.  I stopped for breakfast a few miles away and there the mayor gave me some advice on which roads were open.

As I travelled north toward I-90, I got a text.  I stopped to look at it.  It was Dan!  He had driven by the Shrimp Shed to check on things and saw that I was on my way.  He wished me safe travels.  It is true that God puts people in your way to help you out.  But it is also true that it takes people willing to be part of what He wants to do.  In Iowa, I found a few of those people.  Officer Spencer, Dan and Brad (from Wisconsin) are why I love Iowa again.

Kids and Sexting; What’s a Parent to Do?

11 Jun

texting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, I saw another story about a middle school in Wheaton, IL that is dealing with a sexting scandal (http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140609/news/140608605/).  You must know that historically Wheaton is a bastion of evangelical life and thought and this stuff is happening here!  As a parent and pastor, my heart breaks for these kids whose innocence are being ripped from them at such an early age.  We could blame technology, or we could blame the degredation of society.  We could blame teachers, parents and even the church.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  My question is what and how should Christian parents be teaching their kids in the face of these pressures and dangers?

Here are several principles that each parent should instill in their kids along with three suggestions for action.  When you talk to your kids, read the verses together.  Your children need to know that these aren’t Mom’s and Dad’s rules.  These are from God and His Word.
1.  You are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
You are more valuable than you can imagine.  God made you to be like Him.  He created us to be different than the animals.  He has a purpose for you that lasts forever.  And when we lower ourselves to misuse or mistreat what he created, we tarnish our value and diminish our purpose.
2.  Your body isn’t yours to do with as you wish. (1 Corinthians 6:12-19)
Christ paid a price for us.  His death on the cross makes us His.  And He died for our bodies and souls.  When we confess Him as Lord, it means that all we do belongs to Him.  If we are connected with Him in faith then when we sin we “connect” Him with our sin.
3.  Intimacy and modesty make you stronger and healthier.  (Genesis 2:24-25; 1 Timothy 2:9)
God created us to experience true intimacy with one other person.  Human sexuality was created as a gift to help a man and woman to become one!  Showing our nakedness to others ruins intimacy.  It makes us weaker.  And it makes it harder for us to have a real heart, mind, soul connection with our husband and wife later on.  If we protect our physical privacy, it will make intimacy easier to have later in life.
4.  We all experience the “law of diminishing returns.”  (Romans 1:21-32)
What makes our tummies tingle today won’t make them tingle tomorrow.  So, we’ll need to do something more in order to get the same thrill.  And that is how poeple get into so much trouble.  From secret texts, to graphic messages, to pictures exchanged, to physical experimentation, to pornography, to promiscuity, and abuse.
The longer you can stay off this dangerous path, the better you will be able to enjoy the real gifts God has given us.
(Here is one principle that isn’t clearly from Scripture, but is true nonetheless.)
5.  You will never get pictures you see out of your mind.
If you give a picture of yourself to someone, that person will never forget it.  Snapchat may make it disappear in a matter of seconds, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone.  Do you want that person remembering you and your private parts when they are 50 years old?  I don’t think so – that’s just gross!
Ladies, if you don’t believe this ask an honest man if he remembers the first time he saw a suggestive or pornographic picture.  I haven’t met one yet who doesn’t remember that image from a movie, a poster, a magazine, or in person.
Along with teaching these principles, there are some things we parents can do to promote a pattern of openness and honesty.
1.  Listen and watch for clues that something is going on.
Whenever kids are into something they shouldn’t be, there are clues.  Like with all of us, guilt has an impact on all areas of life.  Is your child becoming more quiet and withdrawn?  Is your child spending more time in his/her room?  Disengagement from family often means unhealthy engagement in other areas.  Has their attitudes toward school, friends, homework, church changed?  Ask open ended questions.  Spend time together.  Pull your child closer.
2.  Limit access to technology.
I may be seen as a fuddy-duddy, but my kids didn’t have a texting plan until they were in high school.  And for a long time, the phones stayed on the counter at night.  My kids didn’t have their own computer until they graduated high school.  We shared a family computer.  We look at their facebook.  We checked the browser histories.  Take the phones away often and when you are alone take time to look at them.  These things still didn’t eliminate all the danger or temptation.  But don’t risk your kids innocence for your own convenience.
3.  Set a “no secret” policy at home.
From early on, our kids could expect that we had the right of going through their computers, phones, and rooms.  At home, there is a no-secret policy.  When people keep secrets, whether adult or child, it is usually bad news.  My kids know they can go through my room, closet, drawers, computer accounts any time they choose.  And I can go through theirs.  Living in openness creates healthy accountability.  Certainly, as adults there are things we don’t openly share with our kids, like Mom’s and Dad’s private moments.  But I’m assured by my boys that there are things they don’t want to know!
I haven’t been a perfect Dad.  As a kid, I struggled with the things that were available.  And I know my kids have struggled at times.  We live in a fallen world.  Our responsibilities as parents in this modern world are to plant the principles of God’s Word in their hearts and minds; and limit the damage they can do to themselves and the damage the world will do to them.
What would you teach, or do to help a kid who is tempted with sexting?

4 Reasons to Celebrate Life No Matter What

2 Jun 20140602-081032-29432496.jpg

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending about an hour with my wife, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.  My wife and I went to the Celebrate Life event put on in honor of cancer survivors.  I was invited by Corie Rectenwald, one of my church members, to offer a closing prayer for the event.

As I looked around, I saw life!  There were young and old, men and women, a few different ethnicities.  Some people had hair, some didn’t.  Some clearly had families with them, others were there alone.  They had door prizes, vendors and face painting.  We didn’t participate in any of that.  But we watched!  The one thing that showed up again and again were smiles.

These were people who had struggled, were struggling and would struggle again.  But they were treasuring their day.  They were treasuring those who were striving with them.  They were treasuring the opportunity to give thanks for the life they’ve been given.  The scene was encouraging and thought-provoking.

This morning, I am renewed in my passion to live life and celebrate it for the gift it is. Here are 4 reasons to celebrate life no matter what.

1.  Life is found in the trouble. Continue reading

What If the Darkness Continued?

19 Apr

491102673_f395dc3a9dMatthew 27:57-61
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.  And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock.  And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The Sabbath day, after the burial had to be the darkest day in earth’s history.  The candle of God had been extinguished by the ugliness we call death.  A light had gone out for the disciples and for the world.  Any sense of hope was gone.
The question for me to consider is, what would it have been like for that dark day and night to continue?  What would have happened to this world if Jesus hadn’t been raised, or if Satan had gotten the victory over God’s Son?  Or what would it have meant if Jesus was just a defeated prophet, true or not?  What would I be missing?  I would certainly be missing the New Testament record.  I would be living a life without these words:
1. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).”
2. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name (Matt. 6:9).”
3. “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:14).”
4. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Matt. 20:26).”
5. “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28).”
6. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”
7. “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and they know me… (John 10:14).”
8. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… (John 11:25).”
9. “Let not your heart be troubled, Believe in God; believe also in me (John 14:1).”
10. “…I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3).”
I can’t imagine a life without the promises Jesus gave.  I am grateful that I don’t have to.  And I pray with a heavy heart for those who don’t know this Jesus who made the world one dark day, but offers to give light today.

What Jesus Did for Me – A prayer

18 Apr

the road Jesus walked to the cross...

Via Dolorosa – the road Jesus walked to the cross…

Matthew 27:45-50
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “ This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “ Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
“On this Good Friday, I am moved, Lord Jesus that you stepped into my abyss of aloneness in death.  You experienced separation by choice, so I could experience unity by grace.  You were excluded so I could be included.  You so redeemed my life, that even death is not an enemy but a friend that ushers me into Your glory.  You hung in destitute darkness, so I could stand in Your light.  I grieve over my sin that drove You to the cross.  I rejoice over the love and grace that held You there.  Today be praised, O Lover of my soul.  Be magnified in your humiliation.  Let me love you once again and love you more fully, my Savior and my King.”
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